What Is Time Tracking Software? Your Ultimate Guide!

  • August 28, 2020
  • by Kate Kurzawska
  • No comments

What is a time tracking software? For some—damnation, for others—salvation. But, wait a minute, how can you track something that is abstract? Something that cannot be physically measured, touched, or, in a sense, experienced?

If you’re wondering what time tracking is, how to track your time, and want to know what you can use it for, here’s your guide. The good, the bad, the ugly—everything you need to know about time tracking software.

Contents:

  1. The Origins of Time Tracking
  2. Who Uses Time Tracking?
  3. How Does Time Tracking Software Work?
  4. Methods of Tracking Time
  5. Types of Time Tracking Software
  6. What to Look for (and what not to) in a Time Tracking App?
  7. A Few Words on the Benefits

 

What Is Time Tracking Software—The Origins of Time Tracking

what is time trackingPeople have always tried to gain the upper hand over time. Now, in the era of advanced technological progress where things are running fast and smooth, you may have more control over time than ever. Sure, you can’t jump into a capsule and travel to the future, but you can fully control how, when, with whom you spend your time. It’s never been easier.

And even though an abstract thing, time can be stolen, limited, or wasted. That’s why people invented time tracking software. The history of timekeeping has its beginnings in the commencements of the human race. From watching stars, old Egyptian, Greek, and Roman measurement systems, to candle clocks, hourglass, and geared clock, people have tried different solutions.

But the origin of time tracking software as such has a specific moment in time. It dates back to the 1880s when Willard Le Grand Bundy designed his first time recorder.  After obtaining a patent in 1888 for Bundy Time Recorder, Bundy created the first punch clock in the world. Ever since that day, Bundy’s invention has revolutionized the business world and it’s in use until today, although its form has changed through the years.

In its current form, time tracking software is a category of computer software that allows people to record the time spent on computer activities, work, particular projects, and tasks. It’s a subcategory of attendance and user activity monitoring (UAM) with a specific purpose—automating the time-recording process.

Time tracking software allows freelancers and companies to monitor and improve employees’ performance, organize workflow, and generate reports to bill clients for their work.

Who Uses Time Tracking?

According to the TSheets study, 66% of surveyed are hourly employees who need to track their time. That comes with the necessity to keep the record of work hours. And there is no one group of people who keep track of working hours.

Time tracking software is widely used in different sectors. From accountants, architects, construction, to non-profit organizations, or IT firms, a time tracker finds application in every type of business.

A time tracking tool is the modern, electronic version of traditional paper timesheets and a more advanced version of a punch clock. And because many time tracking apps are a combination of project management and other apps, they are helpful in many aspects of running a business.

Some of the most popular use cases of time tracking include the following:

  • Large organizations: to automate multi-layered paperwork and organize the hierarchy within the company
  • Departments that need to measure the profitability of projects compared to initial estimates
  • Small teams: to establish workflow, and structure of their growing companies
  • Freelancers track billable hours for different clients and projects
  • Firms specializing in outdoors work such as landscaping, construction, etc. to track employee location with GPS tracking
  • Individuals who want to assess and work on  efficiency and improve time management
  • Productivity lovers: there’s a certain group of people who enjoy using time tracking software to work on their professional and personal efficiency

A time tracker can be used in many ways depending on what features you need and what kind of data you want to get. It’s a great way to boost work performance, learn how to save time, and improve the company’s profitability.

 

How Does Time Tracking Software Work?

The most popular and convenient form of a time tracker is a desktop app that works in the background and lets you flexibly switch between tasks and projects whenever you need to. Time tracking software is improved and evolved form of a punch clock and a timesheet. But every time tracker has different functionalities and may serve various purposes, depending on its design and function.

Either way, the core feature is an automatic (in most cases) recording of computer activities including applications, websites, documents, etc. You can also track time manually, add, edit entries to customize your reports. So the two features complement each other.

In some apps, you can find such functionalities as tracking time based on keywords, tags, tracking keystrokes and mouse movements, or automatic screenshots.

All your data is gathered in reports so you get real-time insight into your efficiency and hours worked.

Usually,  a time tracking tool generates two types of reports:

  1. Timesheets – a record of time spent on work hours with time values in the form of timestamps
  2. Time reports – specific record of tasks, projects, and other data collected by the software

Usually, the reports are interactive and generated in real-time. That allows you to freely operate the information and instantly adjust the workflow.

You can use the time tracking app as a stand-alone solution or part of other software. But the apps dedicated specifically to track time, already offer rich management features.

And if you want to optimize and automate your work, you can also use integrations with other apps. You can find them in most of the popular time trackers, or use the API, if offered by the software creators,  to build your own integration.

? PRO TIP: Invest in a time tracking software that offers integrations with your favorite tools to streamline workflow and processes between the apps. That way you’ll avoid using many tools and have all your data at hand.

 

Methods of Tracking Time

There’s not much philosophy in time tracking. It’s not complicated, and if you’re using the right tool, you won’t even notice it’s happening. You can try out some of the older methods like an hourglass, the classic stopwatch, or writing down working hours on a paper timesheet.

But people have come up with better techniques to track time. To give you  a baseline for modern solutions, here’s a short overview of time tracking methods:

  • Manual time tracking: still used in many organizations, the method is to fill in spreadsheets (usually an Excel file) at the end of the day or week. However, it’s time-consuming and risky as it’s easy to enter inaccurate numbers
  • Automatic time tracking: any form of time tracking software
  • Mobile app with location tracking: equipped with GPS, this method is best for outdoor employees
  • Clock in/out: a form of a punch clock. Employees use an electronic tool to register arrival and departure times
  • Biometric time clock: a special time tracking tool that uses fingerprints, iris scans, facial recognition, and hand geometry. It’s mostly used in specific work sites including government buildings, airports, large stores, etc.

On the market, you can also find apps with different combinations of features, for example, an automatic time tracking app with GPS tracking, or some project management functionalities. But usually, a typical time tracker will have all these elements in some form.

 

Types of Time Tracking Software

The market of time tracking tools is filled with different apps. They all vary with features and purposes. Some are autonomous solutions with extensive time management features, while others are part of other apps such as project management software, scheduling, accounting, billing, payroll, or HR software. Or even a combination of them all.

The choice is wide. Here are examples of the best time tracking software categorized by their types and most often look-after features.

 

1. Timecamp – tracking billable hours & invoicing

Best for: people who want track project, client and task time with ease, friendly employee monitoring of apps and websites

Timecamp is an automatic time tracking software best for teams of any sizes and freelancers who need to track billable hours, measure project profitability, and control the budget. You can either track time with web timer, on mobile, desktop, the Google Chrome plugin, or add time entries manually and adjust timesheets. You have full flexibility.

Timecamp can help you not only work on your productivity but also make sure all numbers add up. You can set up billing rates for your team members, projects, and clients, and define project costs and timespan budgets to track the numbers against estimates. Reports show you all the data about your projects, the attendance module gives insight into the team’s availability, and timesheets allow you to turn all the data into professional invoices.

Timecamp is a convenient hub for managing all data about your company, projects, and clients as it helps to save time on paperwork and administrative tasks. Additionally, it integrates with other apps for better workflow and business management.

2. QuickBooks – accounting & payroll management

Best for: people who look for personal accounting system with advanced financial features, and keeping track of billable hours worked

QuickBooks time management app

QuickBooks is one of the most popular tools used for bookkeeping and accounting. It’s suitable for companies, individuals, and professional accountants. It’s not a typical time tracking software, rather an accounting software with a time tracker as an additional feature.

But if finances are an important part of your job, QuickBooks will help you manage and organize an individual or company’s budget.

The tool offers many granular accounting functionalities. You can track income and expenses, create and sends invoices, accept credit cards ad other for faster payments, snap receipts a track miles with your smartphone’s GPS for faster financial processing. There’s also the possibility to deduct taxes, run and export different financial reports, clock employees, manage billable hours, and many, many more.

QuickBooks can be helpful in payroll processing, HR, and keep track of important financial data. You can also share all the information with your accountant or other people. However, some features are limited to certain plans.

3. Calamari – leave & attendance management

Best for: HR departments that need to manage leaves and attendance and monitor employee availability

Calamari is the perfect tool for managing people. The app contains two modules (Clock in/out and Leave management) and you only pay for these that you choose.

With the attendance management module you can track time with iBeacon, QR codes, web browser, mobile app, Slack, or use Calamari’s API to integrate your system. The tool allows you to track attendance with all kinds of billable or nonbillable breaks, manually correct timesheets and approve them, get notifications, or track project time.

Leave management module lets you manage leaves, PTO, time-off requests, approve changes, and more. In a word—everything you need for convenient attendance management.

4. ClockShark – crew management app with GPS

Best for: on-site employees, crews working in the field, and employees who travel to clients

clockshark

ClockShark is great software for those who need mobile timesheets. It’s a robust geofence time clock app with automatic time tracking. It’s best for teams and individuals working outside of the office since the software comes with a variety of features that help not only to keep track of employee location but allow the staff to keep a record of their work and easily schedule jobs.

Its biggest advantage is GPS tracking, location monitoring, and ease of use on mobile devices. The web punch clock allows team members to conveniently clock-in and out of their job. There’s also Kiosk time with facial recognition for faster clocking in/out.

Other features include time tracking with reports and timesheet approvals, scheduling with the drag-and-drop feature, advanced job costing controls, or file attachments.

ClockShark also offers third-party integrations with the most popular software: QuickBooks Online, QuickBooks Desktop, Run Powered by ADP, ADP Workforce Now, Xero, Sage 100 Contractor, and Zapier.

5. When I Work – team management & scheduling

Best for: teams who need to schedule workflow, and improve team management processes

WhenIWork dashboard

When I Work is a scheduling and attendance app. The tool has several features that make it easy to track employees’ hours and attendance.

With When I Work, employees can clock in and out their shifts on a computer, from a mobile phone or a time clock terminal. Notifications and customization let managers oversee workforce actions. You get informed when people clock in early, are late, clock in from a different job site, and you receive overtime alerts.

You can then review timesheet with time cards and approve them for payroll. Digital timesheets let you audit time records. There’s also the possibility to manage labor costs in real-time, manually enter time, overtime hours, and breaks—you can configure paid and unpaid breaks.

It’s a convenient time tracking option for managing a schedule and team attendance.

6. PomoDoneApp – simple productivity tracker

Best for: personal time tracking and simple time management

PomoDoneApp productivity tracker

PomoDoneApp is a time tracking app for the Pomodoro technique. It’s easy in use, minimalistic time tracking app.

In PomoDoneApp, you track time in the 25-minutes intervals with 5 minutes of break. The task list lets you select items and track time against them. It has a simple and user-friendly interface.

The app is available on the web, on desktop (Windows, Mac), and for mobile devices (Android, iOS). Simple but effective productivity tracker for minimalists.

7. FocusMe – distraction blocking app

Best for: people who want to improve productivity by blocking distractive apps and fully focusing on work

FocusMe productivity tracker

 

FocusMe is a nice time tracking app that helps to stay focused. It blocks any type of distractions that you find harmful to your productivity and tracks the time you spend on your activities.

FocusMe lets you plan focus sessions with an automatic scheduler, set time limits for distracting platforms, apps, or websites, and set daily limits on opening an email, website, etc. You can also use the Pomodoro timer. And at the end of the day, see time spent on all activities and the number of launches in reports. You can even have the app prevent itself from being uninstalled.

It’s an interesting and creative time tracking app for everyone who wants to build better habits and improve time management.

 

What to Look for (and what not to) in a Time Tracking App?

What to look for and how to look for a good time tracking app? It can be challenging with all the tools available.

Here’s a short checklist of all the most important features to consider when looking for a time tracker:

  • Free trial: test the app before you decide to purchase it to see if it fits your needs.
  • Usability: you should be able to easily and flexibly add and edit time entries to fully customize timesheets and reports. On the other hand, avoid micromanagement—you don’t want to spend extra time adjusting every little aspect of your time records. The app should do all the job for you.
  • Basic monitoring: there are apps that monitor keystrokes, mouse movements, record every little move of the user. Avoid it at any cost since it’s unethical and invades the privacy of employees! Instead, look for basic time tracking that will help your staff work on productivity and measure the profitability of projects.
  • Available for mobile: to track working hours when, and how you need to.
  • Offline tracking mode: you never know where you’ll have to work, be it the middle of the ocean, desert, or your basement without a good wi-fi. It’s better to be safe than sorry!
  • Integrations with other apps: to flexibly work between your favorite tools and have one hub for smooth project management.

Don’t look for a time tracking software that will make your employees feel like suspects of a crime. It’s only beneficial if based on mutual trust and respect.

Make sure to choose the best time tracking app for you and your business needs. Some options are really tempting because of the design or extra functionalities, but it doesn’t mean they’re better. Use the free trial, and opt for your favorite!

 

A Few Words on the Benefits

For some people, time tracking has negative connotations. Many employees treat it as employee monitoring software that is harmful to their well-being and productivity.

But when done in a responsible and respectful way, it can bring many benefits. Here are some of the biggest advantages of using time tracking software.

1. Accurate billing

Billing is one of the most important aspects of work, especially, if you’re charging an hourly rate for your services. With automatic time tracking, you don’t have to remember the start and end time of all tasks and projects, you have it all done for you.

Time tracking also helps in payroll management because it allows you to streamline administrative activities.

2. Increased productivity

“Time tracking showed me I was most productive between 10 am and 2 pm. I now guard that time, block it in my diary when I can, and dedicate it to deep work.  As much as possible I schedule emails and meetings outside of that time.  I’ve never been as productive as I have since gained these insights into when I’m most effective.” says Warwick Brown, a Leader and an expert on Account Management.

Time tracking can help you understand how you operate and how much time you dedicate to certain activities. That way you can organize your workday just like Warwick Brown—work in the deep mode in the most productive time and adjust your schedule to it.

3. Better workflow

Time tracking apps generate data-rich reports. Look at them to figure out the optimal work process, understand how people work, what are their roles, and how they organize their activities.

It’s also easier to delegate the right tasks to the right people because you know who’s overloaded with responsibilities, and who’s excelling at which tasks. As a result, people are more satisfied and engaged.

4.  Transparency

With all the data right in front of you, you can learn a lot of things about your company, its state, budget, employee performance, clients, and task and project dependencies. You can use it to analyze profitability, productivity, and find weak spots for improvement.

As Ronald Coase said, “Torture the data, and it will confess to anything.” Data can give you all the information you need about your business, the market, and your clients.

5. Improved communication

According to the reports, disengaged employees could cost organizations over $450 billion dollars per year, the loss being in wage dollars, retraining time, loss of profit, loss of sales, and more.

If you want to retain your employees and be profitable, use time tracking for project management to keep the staff in the loop. People need to know the company’s strategy, ongoing projects, and all important information, that includes the numbers.

6. Clear feedback

It’s hard to measure your progress and improve without knowing what your weaknesses are. Once you start using time tracking software, you’ll feel just as if you’ve walked out of the fog—no more secrets, staying in the dark, no more guessing.

Reports that you get from your time tracker can be like a box filled with gold. Exact time spent on different activities, lowest and highest productivity periods, overtime, distractions. Everything that’s part of work. It can be used by employers and employees and help both sides to fix specific problems, to think of what the company and the employer can do better.

7. Measuring profitability

When you don’t track your time, you can’t know whether you’re fitting in the estimates. Amber Gray, the founder and CEO of Trusty Oak, points out that it’s important to measure the profitability of the project in real-time.

“Our business model requires us to keep a close eye on the time budget for each of our clients. Clients pre-pay for a package of hours, their virtual assistant tracks time minute-by-minute, and when the time is gone, the client has the option to buy another round of time. Before using time tracking software (Timecamp), it was difficult to keep up with the budgets for each client and sometimes we would work over the budget or miss an opportunity to sell more time.”

To Wrap It Up

Now that you know that you can measure even such an abstract thing as time, think about how you can use it and convince your boss (or yourself) to implement it. It can be fun, effective, and help you save money. And in the meantime, make sure to share your thoughts on time tracking software in the comments section below.

Happy time tracking!

Kate Kurzawska

Kate is a freelance translator, copywriter, and a content writer specializing in time tracking software, time management, and productivity. When not researching new software, she's reading books, or spending time outdoors.

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