How time tracking software works
Forget looking through your planner to remember how many hours you spent on different tasks. Those quick emails that you thought would only take five minutes (but never do) or last-minute calls can be easily forgotten when logging hours.
How can we avoid the headache of tracking hours and move away from manual spreadsheets? Time tracking software.
Why track time using software?
The methods of keeping track of worked hours have changed over time and for the better. From using sundials, hourglass timers, and punch cards, we can now use simpler and more accurate digital tools. The best part is–some of them, like Timely, work in the background while you work.
Time tracking is no longer only used for monitoring hours worked by employees for accurate wages. Understanding how we spend time across different tasks and what are our time-stealing pitfalls can help us plan for a better-balanced work week.
The same goes for all levels of an organization. Even executives have realized they spend too much time on activities or interactions that drain their energy and increase information overload.
Seeing data on where your time goes can keep you accountable and give you a realistic overview of your commitments. For a business, the tracked data can be an invaluable tool to set financial goals, reduce admin, and help estimate project resources.
What are the two types of time-tracking software?
Are you more of a pen-and-paper fan, or do you need something that adds to your current digital workflow? Look at the differences between manual and automated time-tracking methods to find the best solution.
Manual timer-based software or apps
The more traditional time-tracking methods are all manual. You have to remember when you started and finished a task, regardless of which tool you use.
While some of the options below also offer insights and other features you may find useful, don’t forget you still have to add notes or context for each task.
For manual time tracking, you can use:
- A physical logbook or a spreadsheet and record the start and finish times of each task and project
- Apps or web extensions with a stopwatch function
- CRM platforms with built-in time trackers linked to your projects or clients
- Time-tracking software with business features, like reports, client and project management, customization, and integrations
Automatic time tracking software
Unlike manual methods, automatic time tracking software runs in the background and captures your daily activities on your device. As soon as you start your computer, the software can begin tracking, or you can enable it yourself if you use the device for personal purposes before work.
For example, Timely uses Memory app, which you install on your desktop. It logs every tool you use daily, like Slack for messages or Zoom for meetings. Even if you switch context from one project to another, the software will accurately record it.
When using Timely, the captured data (“Memories”) is initially only visible to you. By dragging and dropping the different Memories into projects or categories, the software will add up all the hours. When you’re ready to share the logged time with your employer, click submit, and they will receive the data in their dashboard.
How does time tracking software work?
Using artificial intelligence and automation apps like Timely shows you everything you worked on. You don’t need to remind yourself about starting and stopping timers between each task. Or try to remember when you took a break.
You can work confidently knowing that Timely doesn’t capture screenshots or track mouse clicks — only the logged hours you submit. Your employer or manager doesn’t need to know every minute detail of your workday. Feeling monitored and surveilled is a fast-track route to eroding trust between you and your employer.
The software automatically adds your approved activities to a timesheet. You don’t have to prepare and send the report to your employer because the software will automatically make it accessible on their dashboard.
If you’re a freelancer or a contractor, you can generate invoices based on tracked billable hours and make sure you’re compensated for all of your work, including quick calls or minor project changes.
Why use automated time tracking software?
Even with the best intentions, manually tracking your daily activities is difficult. 88% of professionals admit they don’t follow a consistent system — they use a combination of a calendar, email inbox, a to-do list, or respond to each day as it comes.
Remembering to fill out a timesheet daily can fill most employees with dread. For those who multitask or whose memory is not the best, logging time can soon become a worry. An automated system takes the pressure off because it runs in the background, allowing you to focus on the most important tasks of your day.
Automatic time tracking also:
Reduces time spent on admin
Nobody wants to spend any more time on administrative tasks than necessary. Avoiding manual timesheets will save hours, just like it did for the accounting firm Grant Thornton. No more recalling every detail of your day, instead, “Timely tracks time; employees verify and validate the data.”
In the same manner, employees in PTS Group used to spend two hours a week tracking time across tasks using a mix of tools like SAP, Excel, or Jira before switching to automated time tracking for desktop work and GPS tracking for consultants who travel.
Helps with accurate billing
If you get paid hourly, it’s more important than ever for your time to be compensated properly. It may be tempting to do a few quick tasks without billing for them, but every minute spent working for a client or employer adds up. Using automated time tracking, you can ensure all your billable activities are totalled and you don’t lose money by forgetting to add any minutes.
Eliminates human error
Guestimating can work for high-level planning but not for accurate reports. Human error can show up in overestimated and underestimated logged hours. Sometimes, it can be a simple input mistake, but even that can be costly to the business.
Above all, human failure is normal and predictable. Still, you can identify the issue and solve it by letting an automated system do the hard work of tracking hours on behalf of the employee.
Monitors employee health and happiness
Using the recorded time data can help businesses keep track of employee satisfaction. You can spot early signs of burnout from employees with intense workloads and enforce better ways of assigning workloads.
Like the tech company Healthfinch, you may even learn that some employees regularly receive tasks outside of their role, and they may be more fitting to work under a different job title. Being fast to respond with meaningful action in situations like these will help boost employee productivity, which is a win-win situation for any business.
Improves your or your organization’s profitability
Track time with automated software and use the data to help you do a time audit. Doing so will help you see where your team spends time and give you ideas on how the workflow could be improved. For example, assigning non-critical and time-wasting tasks to employees with a better-suited skill set or outsourcing some activities, to protect highly skilled workers from spending valuable time on the wrong things.
Time audits for freelancers and contractors will give a similar result. Seeing how much time you spend on every part of a client project will help you better plan your future workflow. You may notice some tasks take you several hours, but you can easily outsource them to preserve energy for demanding tasks that help move projects forward.
Embeds in your tech stack
Our modern workdays are already filled with many apps, tools, and software. If you add an online time tracker without integrating it into your existing tools, logging activities will become tedious, and you’re back to square one.
If you use a time tracker like Timely, you can integrate it with other essential tools already in your business tech stack, like QuickBooks, GitHub, Jira, Todoist, Google Calendar, Asana, Zoom, Zapier, and Outlook.
Don’t waste time tracking work manually
Avoid manual methods when tracking time if you want meaningful and accurate results. There is rarely a linear pattern to our working days. We may encounter unexpected tasks or switch contexts frequently. Logging our activities is time-consuming and difficult if we rely on our memory.
An automatic time tracker can provide all the information a business needs to plan and review its processes. Then again, you should consider looking beyond some of the metrics and instead see your employees (or yourself if you're a one-person operation) as individuals who are the backbone of your company.
Metrics or numbers can't capture every aspect of employee performance, but using tracked time insights and a people-first approach can foster employee engagement and encourage innovative ideas (which will help your business grow).