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Techniques For Managers Why Time Tracking Software Does Not Work

Why Time Tracking Software Does Not Work

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Have you tried tracking time for yourself or your team? Did it work? Not likely. Probably you ended up with half completed time sheets, or if your company required staff to complete them it is likely the time sheets were invented with little relationship to the reality of how time was spent. There are several reasons why almost all time tracking software on the market does not work to track time accurately.

It’s Too easy to add blocks of time that have no relationship to reality

Let’s look at some major web based software that companies use for tracking time: Basecamp, Harvest, Freshbooks, Toggl, Wrike … and there are dozens of others. They all have one thing in common - it’s easy for any employee to write down any activity that they did, for example “accounting report”, without any way for management to check or know the reality of what is going on. Also because it is not tracked in real time it is highly unlikely that the time written in the report reflects the time in reality.

Real time tracking is not the standard or default way of tracking time

Applications such as Basecamp do not even have a way to track in real time. So all time slots are basically a guess from the staff member. Other applications such as Harvest do have a way to track in real time, however this “real time tracking” is not the standard or default way of adding tracked time to the system. It’s easier for staff to just “guess” or possibly “invent” the times that they worked on various tasks, and that’s likely the way that they will use the time tracking tool.

No way to distinguish what was added “manually” and what was tracked in real time

Some applications such as Toggl do use real time tracking as the standard or default way to track time. However, in the time tracking reports there is no way to distinguish between time that is tracked “real time” and time that is just added manually. This way as a manager you don’t know if staff are tracking in real time. Real time tracking is the ONLY way to get accurate statistics of what is going on. However if you don’t know what is tracked real time, versus what is added manually you can’t get an accurate picture of how staff are tracking time.

Tracked time is not allocated to a specific time during the day

This is the most obvious thing you should do when tracking time. When a staff member works on something for 2 hours for example from 1pm to 3pm, that 2 hour work block should be allocated to the specific time in the day (1-3pm), and it should be IMPOSSIBLE to allocated another 2 hour block of time to this time period. Incredibly that’s not how almost all web based time tracking applications work! Staff can actually theoretically work on many separate things at the same time, and the time tracking software allows it! Almost like your staff are mysteriously cloning themselves and doing multiple things at once. This is crazy and systems that work in this way are highly unlikely to have accurate records of time tracked.

No confirmation or way to check what the person is really doing

If there are NO checks as to the accuracy of the data, it’s highly likely that at least some (if not all) employees will cheat a system to their advantage. You require employees to increase their billable time? Great, all they have to do with most time tracking software is change the description in the software! It’s really useless because it’s way too easy to change the time tracked and the description of what was worked on.

Time tracking software should have incorporated in the software some methods to confirm the person is indeed working, and some idea of what they are really working on.

Too hard to remember to track your time!

If staff have a busy day it’s very hard to remember to click on the “track time” button. Much of the time they are likely to forget and just get to the end of the day and then try and remember what happened. This is another significant reason why time tracking software fails to track time accurately.

What features would you want ideally in Time Tracking Software?

Here are some of the features that the ideal time tracking software could provide. Actually there is no software that has all of these features, so you will have to prioritize which is most important:

Track time effectively when offline – sometimes staff need to track time when on the train, plane or not otherwise connected to the Internet.

Tracked time is allocated to a specific time in the day – this is an obviousl feature but overlooked by many time tracking tools! You only have 24 hours in a day, and time that is tracked should be allocated to a specific time in the day. If not, staff can easily record that they are working on two things at the same time without any way for you to know about it. Generally this feature is essential for accurate time tracking.

Export to an excel spreadsheet – ability to export time used to a csv file or excel spreadsheet.

Invoicing – the ability to invoice clients based on the hours provided from the time tracking. Note that some applications do not provide invoicing directly and instead through integration with other services.

Integration with task and project management – either an in house project management tool or the ability to integrate with other tools.

Real time tracking is the standard tracking method – Comprehensive real time tracking that is the default way to use the application. If the “default” or easiest way to use the application is real time tracking then it is more likely that staff will utilize this real time tracking feature.

No Data Entry – This would be ideal in some respects, to not have to do anything! In reality there is only one application that does this effectively, Rescue Time. The no data entry benefit has a disadvantage also, which is that with Rescue Time you can’t integrate effectively with invoicing and with task and project management. It’s more of a guess as to what was worked on based on the application used or web site visited.

Management can see what was tracked real time versus what was added – the ability for management to know the difference between items that were tracked real time and items that were added manually. This means that management can see if staff are generally tracking time accurately in real time

Reminders to make sure that time is tracked – some kind of system to make sure that a person remembers to actually track time when they start using their computer.

Tracking of web sites and applications – The ability to know what web sites and applications were visited and use this data to confirm the person is working (and not playing games on Facebook).

Additional confirmation of accuracy – What other methods does the application use to confirm that the hours tracked are accurate?

Comparison table of time tracking software applications

This table includes many of the top software as a service time tracking applications that provide time tracking reports to management.

See excel spreadsheet

Unique features of different time tracking software

Time tracking is a standard problem, and most applications use a fairly similar method of trying to track time. Let’s take a look at some applications that have a unique approach and interesting features designed to tackle the problem of accurate time tracking .

Rescue time – this application is more for time management rather than tracking time. The main advantage is that staff can use it without any data entry. This means no hassle for users, but the disadvantage is that you can’t use the time tracking data for invoicing and you can’t actually know what were the tasks that were worked on. Rescue Time works by tracking applications used and web sites visited, so the “activity” of the person is really a guess based on what type of web site they visited for example.

Toggl – this application is built specifically for time tracking and has a unique feature that tries to learn what staff members are working on (based on the web sites visited and applications used). So for example if someone is working on “accounting report” it tries to remember what applications they normally are using when working on the accounting report (perhaps a word document), and when they switch to a different application it will pop up to ask them if they are still working on “accounting report”.

Time Doctor – several unique features designed to ensure that time tracking is accurate. It will pop up when visiting web sites like Facebook to ask the person if they are really working. This reduces the amount of personal Internet use at work. It also records the websites visited and applications used and presents this in a report. If the person says they are working on the computer and then they stop using their computer it will, after a while, automatically put them on a break, which really makes sure that time tracked is accurate. Also it reminds the person when they come back to the computer to start tracking time again. Everything is tracked in real time and it is impossible to allocate two activities to the same time slot.


As you may be aware the owners of timemanagement.com are also the owners of timedoctor.com. So this article is biased! However we have tried to make it comprehensive and show the benefits and disadvantages of a variety of software that is available for time tracking.

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