Time tracking
min read

From Sundials to AI Time Tracking

From Sundials to AI Time Tracking

When will the sun rise? What time is dinner? How long have I been staring at my screen? Since time began, the human race has been fascinated by time.

This article looks back at traditional time tracking methods and follows their progress to where we are today, highlighting the importance of keeping track of time when it comes to business success.

Early Time Tracking Methods

Keeping track of time is nothing new. The ancient Egyptians invented sundials, while the ancient Greeks used water clocks to measure how much time had passed. By the time the 18th century rolled in, and the Industrial Revolution kicked off, accurate time tracking became more and more crucial.

Factory owners needed to ensure that workers adhered to certain schedules, leading to the development of time clocks and punch cards. With the advancement of technology, the 20th century witnessed the rise of more sophisticated timekeeping devices, such as mechanical, electronic and, eventually, digital clocks.

Today, time tracking uses methods such as web-based platforms, biometric scanners and mobile apps – enough to make those Egyptians’ and Greeks’ heads spin.

Traditional Time Tracking Methods

What are they?

Punch clocks

Punch clocks were widely used in workplaces before the advent of digital technology. Employees would physically insert a time card into a machine and ‘punch in and out’ to record their working hours. The time cards would be collected and used for payroll calculations.

Computer-based clock-in systems

Computer-based clock-in systems use software applications to track employee work hours. Employees usually log in with a password and indicate their start and end times, which are then recorded and used for attendance and payroll purposes.

Timesheet templates

These are forms that employees fill out to record their working hours and tasks. They often include columns for dates, start and end times, breaks, and project-related information. There are many templates out there to suit your needs – check out these ones for starters.

Benefits of traditional time tracking methods


Traditional time tracking methods are often straightforward and easy to understand. Punch clocks, timesheets, and manual clocking-in systems require minimal training and technical knowledge. Employees can quickly learn how to use these methods without extensive instruction or reliance on complex technology.


Compared to more advanced time tracking systems, traditional methods are often more affordable. Punch clocks and timesheets are relatively low-cost options, requiring minimal investment in equipment or software. This makes them accessible to small businesses or organizations with limited budgets.


Traditional time tracking methods can be flexible in terms of implementation. Timesheet templates, for example, can be adapted to suit specific organizational needs and can accommodate different work structures, such as part-time or shift-based schedules.

Limitations of traditional time tracking methods

While traditional time tracking methods have their advantages, they also have limitations in terms of accuracy, ease of data analysis, and potential for errors. Certain drawbacks may include:

Human error

Traditional methods heavily rely on manual input, which leaves room for human error. As it’s a boring task, employees may forget to punch in or out, record incorrect times, or make mistakes while filling out timesheets – particularly if it has to be done after the fact. These mistakes can lead to inaccurate time records and cause issues with payroll.

Time theft

Time tracking methods of yore are susceptible to time theft or ‘buddy punching’, where employees punch in or out on behalf of their absent colleagues. This can lead to inflated hours worked and inaccurate attendance records, resulting in financial losses for the company.

No real-time visibility

With traditional methods, there’s no real-time visibility into employees’ work hours or insights into where productivity peaks and troughs occur. Managers may not have immediate access to information regarding who is currently working or available. This can hinder effective resource allocation and workforce management.

No integration with other tools

Old-school time tracking methods often do not integrate well, or at all, with other tools or systems used in an organization. This can result in time-consuming manual data entry, duplication of efforts, and difficulties in generating comprehensive reports.

Lack of capacity information

Traditional methods typically focus on recording work hours but may not provide insights into an employee’s capacity or workload. As such, it’s hard to assess how effectively employees are utilizing their time or identify potential bottlenecks in productivity.

AI Time Tracking

To overcome these limitations, many organizations have transitioned to automated time tracking, with the use of artificial intelligence (AI). By using machine-learning algorithms and data-analysis capabilities, AI time tracking systems can accurately capture and analyze employees’ time-related data, such as clock-in and clock-out times, breaks, and the tasks they work on.

Benefits of AI

There are many advantages of using AI for time tracking, such as:

Minimizing errors

With an AI system, there’s no need for employees to recall what they’ve done as it’s been recorded automatically.  This means human errors, which are often due to fatigue, distraction or oversight, become a thing of the past when it comes to time tracking. By automating tasks and processes, AI technology ensures a higher degree of accuracy and precision, leading to improved outcomes and reduced operational costs.

Better resource allocation

Using analyzed data, recommendations for better resource allocation can be generated – such as reallocating manpower to specific tasks, adjusting the inventory levels based on demand patterns, or tweaking financial allocations for various projects. The result? Improved productivity and cost-effectiveness. 

Real-time visibility

AI systems can provide real-time insights and visibility into various aspects of operations. By continuously monitoring data streams and processing information in real-time, organizations can make informed decisions promptly, respond quickly to changing circumstances, and identify and address issues before they escalate. So, say, a task is running behind schedule, managers would see this and intervene to adjust things such as resources and timeline as necessary.

Analysis of data to identify patterns and trends

Coupled with advanced data analytics techniques, AI enables organizations to analyze vast amounts of data quickly to identify patterns, trends and correlations – in areas such as sales, conversions and customer satisfaction – that might be difficult for humans to spot.

This analysis helps businesses gain valuable insights into productivity, customer behavior, market trends, and other factors that impact performance, leading to better decision-making, process optimization and predictive modeling.

Optimizing workflows

By automating repetitive and time-consuming tasks – such as invoice processing, data entry and report generating – workflows can be enhanced, allowing employees to focus on more complex and creative aspects of their work. This streamlines operations, increases efficiency and reduces bottlenecks, ultimately boosting overall output.

Easily combined with task-management software

AI seamlessly integrates with task-management software, providing enhanced capabilities and functionalities. By combining AI algorithms with task-management systems, organizations can automate routine tasks, prioritize activities and generate task recommendations based on various parameters, leading to improved efficiency and performance.

The potential of AI in time management

AI has enormous potential to transform time management practices through:


AI-powered tools and software can automate various time-consuming tasks, allowing individuals to focus on more critical responsibilities. These tools can handle activities such as email management, appointment scheduling, task organization, and even document management. By automating repetitive and mundane tasks, AI enables individuals to save time and expend their energy on more strategic and value-added activities.

Data analysis

AI excels in processing and analyzing large volumes of data swiftly. In the context of time management, AI can analyze data related to work patterns, task-completion times, project deadlines and individual productivity.

By analyzing this data, AI systems can provide valuable insights into how time is used, identify inefficiencies, and help people make informed decisions about balancing their workload, time allocation and prioritization to optimize their schedules.

Predictive scheduling

Want to leverage historical data, personal preferences and external factors to predict future scheduling needs accurately? Use AI! By analyzing trends in data, algorithms can anticipate the time required for specific tasks, estimate project completion timelines, and provide recommendations for allocating time to different activities.

AI-powered predictive scheduling can help individuals and teams stay ahead of deadlines, proactively manage their workload, and make adjustments in their schedules to accommodate unforeseen circumstances.

Three AI-Powered Time Tracking Tools

My Hours

My Hours is a web-based time tracking tool that offers a range of features to streamline time management. It allows users to track work hours, monitor project progress, generate detailed reports, and collaborate with team members.


  • User-friendly
  • Offers detailed reports
  • There’s a good free version
  • Easy to switch between projects and tasks
  • Helpful customer support


  • Issues with third-party integrations
  • More customizable options are needed
  • The export feature could be smoother
  • The mobile app needs work

Time Doctor

Time Doctor is a comprehensive time tracking tool that offers features to track and manage work hours, monitor activity levels, analyze productivity, and improve time management. It provides real-time insights into how time is spent, allowing users to optimize their workflow and power up productivity.


  • Good for measuring billable hours
  • Its client-view feature increases trust among collaborators
  • The timeline report offers a real-time view
  • Time spent can be edited to account for non-computer-related tasks


  • The mobile app often malfunctions
  • There’s no free version 
  • Screenshots can be a breach of privacy
  • The timer stops tracking if the mouse and keyboard are not being used

Timely’s AI

Timely is a user-friendly time tracking tool that offers a range of features to track and manage projects, tasks and work hours. It provides users with accurate time tracking, insightful reports, and integrations with popular project management tools. Timely aims to streamline time management processes and make workers more productive.


  • Brilliant memory feature
  • Simple user interface
  • Completely private to the user
  • Provides efficient reporting
  • Responsive customer service


  • There’s no free version
  • The mobile app would benefit from more features
  • An invoicing option is not available
  • Doesn’t track phone calls

Key Takeaway

Keeping track of time is nothing new. The ancient Egyptians invented sundials, while the ancient Greeks used water clocks to measure how much time had passed. Today, time tracking uses methods such as web-based platforms, biometric scanners and mobile apps.

Traditional time tracking methods include punch clocks, computer-based clock-in systems and timesheet templates. The good thing about these methods is that they’re simple, inexpensive and fairly flexible.

However, there are limitations of traditional time tracking methods, including:

  • Human error
  • Time theft
  • No real-time visibility
  • No integration with other tools
  • Lack of capacity information 

There are many advantages of using AI for time tracking, such as:

  • Minimizing errors
  • Better resource allocation
  • Real-time visibility
  • Analysis of data to identify patterns and trends
  • Optimizing workflows
  • It’s easily combined with task-management software

AI has enormous potential to transform time management practices through automation, data analysis and predictive scheduling.

Three AI-powered time tracking tools:

  • For detailed reports, use My Hours.
  • For measuring billable hours, use Time Doctor.
  • For a simple, effective user interface, use Timely.
Try Timely today!
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