Why are you still using a work timer?

Written 13 February, 2018, 3 minutes to read

We get it: you need to track your hours. But why use the most ineffective method going to do it? We’re talking about work timers – thousands of professionals still use them to track tasks and record billable time, even though they’re potentially the worst tool for the job. In 2018, it's about time we shrugged off this industrial age method of time tracking.

The history of the work timer

If you use a work timer to record your billable hours, you’re using a method that’s centuries out-of-date – from the mid-19th century, to be precise.

It all started with the shift from small-scale “cottage industry” to the mass organized labour of the Industrial Revolution. A new form of employee-employer business model arose, introducing the move from daily to hourly wages and thus the need to record hourly work.

In 1888, Willard Bundy developed what is widely recognised to be the world’s first work timer – the time clock. Using a simple card punching format, it stamped the exact times a worker arrived and left work. A week’s worth of cards formed a timesheet that company clerks used to calculate an employee's weekly wages.

When you use a work timer on your phone to track meeting and task durations, you’re essentially using a small-scale version of the antiquated time clock method. You tap “Start” when you begin, and “Stop” when you’re done. Work timer application may have diversified and they may now have sophisticated electronic interfaces, but the basic end-result is the same: creating a timeframe using manual input.

Why are work timers so useless?

Why are we hating so much on the humble work timer? Surely modern electronic work timers are a huge improvement on their time clocks ancestors – you can use them on your mobile on-the-go, they can total weekly timestamps into earnings, and some let you export timestamps directly into timesheets.

Sadly, work timers are riddled with some pretty serious problems:

  • They’re inaccurate: being reliant on manual input, work timers introduce huge room for error. You might forget to stop it after your meeting finishes or only remember to start it half-way through, and estimate a total instead. Or you might stop it too soon and miss out on related billable work (e.g. that short post-meeting email). It all leads to a set of timestamps that don’t accurately represent what actually happened. It’s unfair for both the worker and the client who create a relationship around this data.

  • They’re incomplete: you only start a work timer when you recognize you’re in a working environment. Any work outside of these boundaries tends to go unrecorded – things like work calls you receive in the back of a taxi, travel for client meetings and the odd piece of out-of-hours work. They also don’t mean anything without your help; work timers just spit out a timeframe. It’s completely up to you to enter notes to justify what that time actually represents. Since that’s a pretty dull task, we often put it off or forget it completely.

  • They’re inefficient: Entering notes, being mindful enough to recognize what counts as work, actually physically starting and stopping the timer – these are all inefficient time drains that take your attention away from your work. If you manually enter your timestamps into personalized spreadsheets, the cost is even worse.

Perhaps the work timer’s biggest crime is that it reinforces the outdated idea that time tracking is something you consciously have to do yourself. In 2018, time tracking really shouldn't involve any effort.

Try automatic time tracking

It doesn’t have to be this way. You don’t have to use a method created in the 1800s to track your time. You don’t even have to actively track your time at all! Automatic time tracking now exists to track your hours for you and it’s the most accurate method going.

Tools like Timely sync with all the tools you use at work every day to get the full picture of what you did. They track all your activity – from desktop and web activity, calendar entries, phone calls and even GPS location data – to show just how long tasks take you.

You never have to remember to start or stop a timer, write down what you did, or actively track your time again. Everything you work on is logged for you in the background, meaning you capture all your billable hours. The really fancy automatic time tracking apps even use AI to create your time entries, so you never have to create another timesheet ever again.

It’s time to drop the industrial age work timer method once and for all. Try out automatic time tracking free for 14 days and see if you agree.

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