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7 questions to ask when buying a time tracker

Written 08 November, 2018, 4 minutes to read

When time tracking isn’t fun to begin with, finding a time tracking tool can be a painfully boring process. Review comparisons, trials and dealing with sales teams can make the whole process drag on for weeks – and after a while everything seems to blur into one.

While it’s important to make a considered decision when buying any new software, the research process shouldn’t destroy you. To cut through the marketing noise and quickly single out the right time tracking tool for you, try using these seven focused questions:

1. Does it actually solve your problem?

Keep your key motivation for buying a time tracker front-of-mind when evaluating tools. Be brutal – ask if the time tracker will actually:

  • Reduce your admin burden
  • Produce a more accurate record of your time
  • Simplify team time tracking
  • Provide you with project insights
  • Remove the need to track time manually altogether

A lot of time tracking tools simplify instead of solve these root problems. So, if your end goal is hands-off time tracking, you probably won’t want a tool that uses a ton of timers. And if you prize accurate data above everything, choosing an automatic time tracker over one that relies on you to input something is a no-brainer.

2. How do you use it?

Your new time tracking tool should work harmoniously with your existing set-up. It should fit easily into your workflows, integrate with your other work tools and display your data in the way you want to receive it.

Pay close attention to how you actually interact with the tool – does it require you to hunt for information? Interrupt your work to switch timers on and off? Build a work-around to speak to your existing work apps? What about getting data out of the tool? Does it offer intuitive reporting? Can you export data in formats you already use? The less time you have to spend managing the tool day-to-day, the better.

3. Is there a learning curve?

All new software requires some effort to get going; you need to adjust to a new interface, grasp the basic features, and set your own ways of doing things. But this learning curve should be tiny – a speed bump at best.

Have a nose around the tool. Is the functionality simple and intuitive? Is it easy to navigate your way around? Does the design make you want to cry? Then consider training and support: if you have a problem, will you be able to solve it quickly? Are there any demo videos, walkthrough guides or customer case studies? What key problems do people seem to have with the tool? And what are your options for getting support? Ultimately, you shouldn’t have to dig too deeply just to get started with the tool.

4. How does it treat users?

This one question is essential for making sure the tool actually fits your company culture. You don’t want to bring in a tracking tool that completely undermines your work environment. The idea of “tracking” can itself seem pretty sinister, and sadly a lot of time tracking tools out there support a weird “overlord manager” dynamic.

So be clear on exactly what the tool is designed for and how it treats each individual’s tracked data. Who has access to what data? Is employee data protected until they choose to share it? What information can bosses see? Where even is the tracked data stored? Does the company take data security seriously? Honesty, employee respect and security should come top of your priority list.

5. Do real-life humans actually rate it?

Don’t just believe the fancy website; you need to know what users actually make of the tool. Check testimonials, discussion boards and app ratings to get a sense of how it works for different people.

Don’t waste hours on this – just do a brief scan of a few sites for the problems people have encountered and how they think it compares to other time tracking tools. Be aware of issues that come up again and again, and decide if it’s a deal breaker.

6. Is the feature set right?

Price will obviously be a key factor in your decision, but features arguably matter more. You don’t want to be paying for a ton of features you don’t need, and – on the other side – if certain features are missing from the tool entirely, it’s unlikely to be a good long-term investment.

Check out the different pricing plans and feature bundles to get a better sense of it can grow with your business. What features do you definitely need? Which might you need at a later date? Is the tool set up for individuals and teams, or just one exclusively? How much will you be paying for all the people in your company?

7. Will people actually use it?

This one will make or break all your research efforts. Once you’ve whittled down a couple of tools that you feel are the right fit, you need to get buy-in from the people who will actually use it.

Consider trialling the tool together (almost all time tracking tools let you do this for free). Then open up a discussion with your team: get feedback on any pain points, how easy it was to use and whether people felt comfortable using it. Did it enable your colleagues or make them feel weirdly monitored? Was it intuitive enough to notify and support them when they forgot to do something or got stuck? Did they actually enjoy using it?

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