Time Tracking Methods
People generally track time either by using a simple, basic method (like paper, rule-of-thumb estimates, and spreadsheets) or by using a dedicated time tracking software.
List of time tracking methods
Part I: Types of time tracking methods
- 1.1 The paper method
- 1.2 The honor system
- 1.3 The spreadsheet method
- 1.4 Time tracking software method
Part II: Time tracking software
- 2.1 What is time tracking software
- 2.2 Functions of time tracking software
- 2.3 Who is time tracking software for?
- What specific tasks can you use time tracking for?
- 2.4 Is time tracking software useful?
- 2.5 Most common problems when not tracking time
- 2.6 Why use time tracking software
- 2.7 Types of time tracking software
Part I: Types Of Time Tracking Methods
1.1 The paper method
For this time tracking method, all you need is a pen, paper, and your phone (or a stopwatch).
You use the phone or stopwatch to measure the time it takes you to finish an activity and then simply write down your time results on the paper.
- This method is easy to use anywhere.
- If you want to send someone a report of the time you’ve spent on a project, you’ll have to scan the report or take a clear picture of it, and this can be time consuming.
- You can lose or damage the paper, in which case you are left without the report completely.
1.2 The honor system
The honor system of time tracking relies on an employee’s rule of thumb estimate. You report the time you think you’ve spent on a project to your project manager, and they create a rough estimate of the amount you should be paid based on the hours you’ve worked and your hourly rates.
- This time tracking method is the easiest.
- Inaccuracy. You may underestimate or overestimate the time you’ve spent working, so your compensation may be less or more than what you actually earned.
- If you wish to provide a client or a project manager with detailed reports on the assignments you completed and the time that went into them, you can’t because you don’t have one.
1.3 The spreadsheet method
In the spreadsheet method, you use a spreadsheet template to manually add the time when you started working on a project and the time when you finished the project.
Spreadsheet templates in Excel are a popular choice, and the best practice is to add the following columns: Activity, Client, Start Time, End Time and Total Hours Worked.
- You can easily send reports to clients or the project manager
- It’s more accurate than the honor system method.
- Time consuming, as you have to manually type in the data for your every move during work hours.
1.4 Time tracking software method
With time tracking software, you use an app to record your time automatically.
The main appeal of time tracking software is its accuracy as you’ll know how much time you’ve spent on an activity down to a second.
However, some employees may find time tracking software to be an invasion on their privacy. That really depends on the type of time tracking software you use. Some tool take screenshots of employee's desktop and some don't.
Still, it's important to highlight main benefits of tracking time:
- The project manager will know how team members have spent their working hours
- The team members will always have proof they have actively worked on their assignments, and they’ll be paid accordingly
There are several types of methods and types of time tracking software:
- Automatic time tracking software
- Manual time tracking software
- Part of a larger project management solution
1.4.1 Automatic time tracking software
This method is the quickest, as it is the only one that doesn’t need your participation at all: automatic time tracking software automatically records the time you spend on any computer activity.
But, the main issue with this effortless method is that, although it is accurate in the amount of time you spend on a computer activity, it doesn’t show whether that activity was work-related or not.
For example, the app indicates you’ve spent 20 minutes on Facebook. But, it doesn’t indicate why you’ve spent 20 minutes on Facebook. Were you promoting your company’s services, or were you idly browsing your feed?
Although your automatic time tracking software report will show all your computer activities and the time you’ve spent on them, it cannot be used as a proof to the client that you’ve been working on your assignment, because it shows what you were doing, but not why you were doing it.
1.4.2 Manual time tracking software
With manual time tracking software, all you have to do is start the timer, indicate the type of assignment or the name of the activity, work on it, and stop the timer once you’re finished.
Unlike automatic software, manual time tracking software allows you to indicate why you’ve spend those 20 minutes on Facebook, or other computer activities.
This makes manual time tracking software especially useful when it’s time to send a detailed, accurate report to your client, which indicates that even though you've spent 20 minutes on Facebook, you’ve done actual work.
1.4.3 Time tracking as a part of larger project management solution
This method of time tracking involves a more sophisticated approach to typical time tracking software as you also have full access to tasks, files, collaboration, and other things typical to project management software.
These additional features can help create better estimates, capture all billable hours, create detailed reports, track attendances, set budget limits, allocate resources or time to projects quickly, and almost anything you need to make the project management process smooth and easy. You can track time, collaborate, and manage projects from the same place.
The problem with this integrated type of software is that:
- You may not like the project management or the time tracking aspect
- It’s more difficult to use
- While good at each thing (jack of all trades), the software isn’t as good as a dedicated, standalone project management or time tracking tool
Part II: Time Tracking Software
2.1 What is time tracking software
Time tracking software is a category of software which helps its users track the time they spend on specific tasks.
In business, every minute is valuable, but you may not know how you spend these precious minutes within your business day. You may spend too much time on unimportant tasks, and too little time on actually important tasks.
But, with our busy everyday schedules, it can be difficult to manually track the time we spend on individual tasks. This is where time tracking software can help you.
Time tracking software can help you gain an insight in your daily work, help manage your time, as well as help maximize your productivity.
2.2 What are the functions of time tracking software?
The main function of time tracking software is to measure the time you spend on individual tasks.
This software can also help you track employee attendance or absence, collect labor analytics, collect data, generate invoices, generate reports and more. These features depend on the type of time tracking software you use, but the actual time tracking component is always present.
2.3 Who is time tracking software for?
- Freelancers, consultants, and agencies who work by the hour can use time tracking software to bill their clients more accurately.
- Organizations that receive government funding track time because they have a legal obligation to account for each hour worked
- Employers, employees, clients, and freelancers can have a better insight in the time it took to finish a project or task.
- Managers so they can identify problems and bottlenecks by quickly glancing at a time tracking report.
2.4 What specific tasks can you use time tracking for?
- Billable and non-billable work
- Time for professional development
- Free time
A time tracker gives you the ability to understand how you spend your day, so that you can make changes in your everyday habits, organize your work day better, and even gain more free time as a result.
2.5 Is time tracking software useful?
When people don’t track time, they don’t really know how they spend time. It helps you:
- Organize your schedule better,
- Finish your tasks at a faster pace,
- Minimize distractions.
- Have a better insight in the working hours of everyone involved in a project
Companies can also greatly benefit using additional features, such as automatic invoices, labor analytics, and data reports.
2.6 Most common problems when not tracking time
- Not setting personal priorities
- Poor planning
- Underestimating the effort a task will take
- Doing things at the last minute
2.7 Why use time tracking software
If you are unfamiliar with the concept of time tracking, the entire idea can seem a bit intimidating. After all, tracking the time you spend on every activity within a working day may not sound as a profitable activity.
Plus, you have to install another software, so it sounds like a waste of time. But, there are many benefits for why you should use time tracking software.
2.7.1 Saves time
The entire purpose of time tracking software is to save time, not waste it. With a time tracker you can gain a deeper insight in your daily activities, so you can pinpoint:
- How much time you spend on important tasks
- How much time you spend procrastinating
- How much time you spend on distractions
- Once you understand how much time you spend procrastinating or distracted, you’ll be able to change your habits to maximize the time you spend on important tasks, and ensure you finish them faster.
2.7.2 Better teamwork and work flow
When working on a large project, it can get difficult to grasp the time team members spend on their assignments. For example, do you know:
- How much time each team member spends on billable work, and how much time on non-billable work?
- Or is each team member working according to the schedule or is there something blocking them?
With time tracking software, these questions can be answered in a matter of minutes. The project manager can pinpoint the team members facing issues in completing their assignments within deadline. Also, team members can enjoy better productivity, as they’ll feel motivated to focus on their tasks and results.
2.7.3 Better scheduling
Time trackers can answer how you spend your working hours down to a second. Once you know how long it takes you to finish a task, you can start working on organizing your time better.
For example, you’re writing an article, and you’re on a strict deadline. You have to research for the article, write it, find appropriate images, edit the article, and publish it. If you track the time it takes you to complete each of these steps, you’ll know what areas of the task you struggle with in terms of time.
This practice can help you create realistic schedules, work faster, achieve better work results, and even earn more free time.
2.7.4 Better grasp at profitability
Is your work paying off? Or do you need to raise your rates? With time tracking, you can have a better insight in what amount of time you’ve spent on a project vs. how much money you’ve earned in the process.
Maybe you’ve spent too much time on tasks that don’t pay off, and too little time on profitable projects. If that’s the case, time tracking software can help you notice this so you can prioritize better and create better estimates for future projects.
2.8 Types of time tracking software
The main function of time tracking software is to track time, and you can later use these results for various purposes.
2.8.1 Simple time tracker and employee timesheet
This type of time tracking software includes a timer, and it allows you to record employee timesheets and then create reports. Clockify is that type of a time tracker.
2.8.2 Time tracking software integrated in project management software
This is basic time tracking software integrated with a project management software.
This option is perfect for companies who work on multiple projects at a time. You can set the budget and the deadline, and share projects. Also, you can create project predictions, track tasks, create invoices and monitor resources.
2.8.3 Time tracking software integrated in the billing system
This is basically a basic time tracker that can generate invoices. Businesses working for clients often use this type of time tracking software in order to bill more accurately.
2.8.4 Automatic time tracking software
This time tracking software uses a connected device to automatically calculate the time you’ve spent on a project, task, or website. You can later retrieve the reports that display duration, start times and end times of each of these activities.
2.8.5 Time tracking software designed to track employee work
Businesses use this type of time tracker software to monitor their employees, when they arrive at work, when they depart, as well as how they spend their day at the office.
2.8.6 Monitoring type of time tracking software
You can use a monitoring time tracker to track the time employees spend working, but also the time they spend idle. This software may also have the feature of capturing random screenshots to show what the employees are doing at random times.
2.8.7 Clock-in / clock-out time tracking software
This type of time tracking software records the arrival and departure time of employees. Employees log in when they arrive to work, and enter their arrival time; when they finish their work for the day, they enter their departure time.
2.8.8 Location based time-tracking software
This type of software is similar in purpose to the previous type, as it also tracks your working status, but automatically, based on your location.
2.8.9 Exception-based time tracking software
This type of software automatically records time you spend working, taking into account your approved time off.
2.8.10 Enterprise time tracking software
This type of time tracking software offers monitoring of employees, assistance with payrolls, expenses tracking, resource scheduling, and similar features, all designed to streamline your business process. Enterprises also use self-hosted time trackers and later integrate it with their own systems.