7 Proven Time Tracking Methods for More Productivity

7 Proven Time Tracking Methods for More Productivity

August 31, 2022

Time tracking has been an important part of business for a long time. However, time tracking methods have seen a lot of change in the last few years.

These changes have been caused by multiple reasons.

  • Availability, AKA The bloom of internet and mobile technology – time tracking has never been easier and more available. Most employees in all industries have access to these technologies. In other words, they can track their time more quickly and effectively.
  • Necessity, AKA The large shift to telecommuting and remote work – if your team is working from their homes, sometimes all over the world, you need an accurate way to track their time. Simply put, you cannot check whether they’re working by popping up to their office. On the other hand, you need to know the state of your projects and pay each team member accordingly.
  • Opportunity to Fix Issues AKA New time tracking technologies – numerous new options make life easier for employers in any industry. Different time tracking methods and systems allow employees to easily track time, clock in and out, confirm their locations, allocate resources and costs, etc. All you need to do is choose the right software for your business.

The Importance of Time Tracking

Precision is available to all organizations. However, it isn’t always necessary.

Some businesses only need basic time tracking, as their charging systems don’t demand more detail. For example, these are the businesses that negotiate a fixed fee for a certain project.

Secondly, some organizations are looking for more accuracy when it comes to time tracking. Yet, they aren’t interested in detailed calculations. These are usually small businesses that have reached their planned reach. In other words, they do not have the means or the intention to grow in the foreseeable future

Finally, some companies are looking for a system that will turn their time logs into detailed reports. They usually turn to more complex time tracking solutions that deliver those reports. They usually contain key performance indicators the business needs to increase profit and implement better business practices.

Here are the most popular time tracking methods, ranked from the simplest to the most complex when it comes to their features.

Clock-in and clock-out

Clock-in and clock-out


This is one of the oldest time tracking methods. That is to say, the employees will clock in and out when they come in and leave work. No other information is added.

The method itself saw many different versions. Here are the most important ones, chronologically

  • Signature method
  • Time clocks and punch cards
  • Phone application and clock-in kiosks

As you can see, the only information you will be able to receive is the time an employee has entered and left their workspace. Their daily obligations, tasks, and projects they partake in, are not accounted for.

In other words, this method gives the least amount of information. If you are running a business that doesn’t require your employees to record their time on specific activities, this time tracking method can be a great solution.

For example, you are running a construction business, where your managers are present during the entire day. In this case, you don’t need more accurate time tracking options. Especially so if the daily or hourly rates have been determined for the entire team.

Pros of The Method

  • Extremely simple input method
  • Very clear output with no hurdles in between
  • Relatively low costs

Cons of The Method

  • Very little information – You won’t be able to determine whether the employees have worked up to your standard or not
  • Buddy-punching – it is enough for an employee to know their coworker’s signature or have their punch card. On the other hand, if you use dedicated kiosks and mobile apps, the benefit of affordability goes out the window



The Honor System

The Honor System

This is the simplest method of time tracking. It consists of the femployees reporting directly to their managers. This usually means some guesstimation will be involved in the process.

The simplicity of this method relies on the employees not having to record their work. They simply look at the time they’ve spent on a project and report it.

The manager, then, has to calculate the employee’s salary based on these reports and the employee’s hourly rates. And here is where we find the method’s big issue.

The system may be very simple for the employee. The managers, on the other hand, have to repeat the process for each team member they manage.

Pros of The Method

  • Extremely simple
  • Basically no costs
  • No equipment needed

Cons of The Method

  • Precision and honesty – some employees will misremember their activities. This is especially prevalent with weekly or monthly reports (as opposed to daily). Other staff members will even commit time theft and purposely increase their hours
  • Manager overwork – since there are no records of the time, the managers will have to create payroll lists from scratch. Multiply that with the number of employees they manage, and you will have chaos and burnout
  • An inherent lack of details – as the employees only report the number of hours they’ve worked and projects they’ve spent them on, there are very few details available. This can create issues with your clients as well, as many of them are used to receiving more details in their invoices



Pen-and-paper timesheets

timesheetPen-and-paper timesheets

This type of timesheet is the oldest one. it is as simple as the name says. That is to say, this method requires a piece of paper and a pen.

There are two ways to fill paper timesheets. The first one is free-form, with simple blank paper. The more organized version requires a pre-printed template.

This is one of the time tracking methods that should give you a good amount of information. In other words, you should include mandatory details each employee should write down. These include

  • Start and finish times for each task
  • Details about each task – type, project, client
  • Break time (start and finish)
  • Additional industry- or position-related fields like hourly rates, etc.

It doesn’t matter whether you use the free-form or pre-printed method. All paper timesheets should contain this information.

Managers should take the timesheets and – again – calculate the employees’ salaries based on the information in them

Pros of The Method

  • Extremely affordable
  • No tools except for office supplies
  • No training requires

Cons of The Method

  • Time-consuming – filling in all required details by hand can take quite a bit of time. Especially if you’re juggling a large number of tasks.
  • Human error – people can make many mistakes when filling out the timesheets. Some won’t remember the exact time and turn to guesstimation. Others will, by accident or design, enter more hours. finally, some will simply forget to fill the timesheets or lose their papers.
  • Focus – having to switch back and forth between tasks can be confusing and reduce focus



Excel spreadsheets

Excel spreadsheets

Excel has been used to document employee activity for a while. Some businesses stay faithful to this method even today.

There is a common thread between pen-and-paper and Excel spreadsheet time tracking methods. Basically, Excel allows employees who work at computers to enter all the data they would otherwise enter in a paper template.

The advantages of Excel reflect in the lack of physical items an employee has to interact with. Simply put, they will keep using their basic work tool – their computer.

Excel also removes the necessity of a manager going through the employees’ timesheets. The program can calculate the payroll on its own. Additionally, you can add as many columns as you want to the reports as well.

That being said, this means there are certain limitations of this method, as employees whose days aren’t spent at their desks may not have the chance to be accurate or even record their time at all.

Pros of The Method

  • Good organization
  • Ease of use
  • More tracking options and high customizability

Cons of The Method

  • Human error – a single period instead of a comma can create a huge issue. Not to mention other random and unexpected mistakes any of us can make
  • Time-consuming – the fact that you’re typing instead of writing by hand doesn’t reduce the time needed to write the data down
  • Overwhelming – if you use this time tracking method in a small team, you can make your life much easier. However, looking through tens, or even hundreds of spreadsheets isn’t an easy feat



Timesheet software

Software designed specifically to track time is one of the most effective time tracking methods. However, we are going to look at the software specifically designed to manage timesheets.

This is yet another step up from the pen-and-paper and Excel methods. That is to say, these software solutions are created for the purpose of tracking employee time through timesheets. Hence, they take the usual time tracking issues into consideration.

This, in turn, means, the software will most often come with useful pre-refined features that will make the entire process easier.

For example, most timesheet-based solutions will have categories for clients, tasks, projects, etc. That means your employees and managers won’t have to create them.

Pros of The Method

  • Most are simple and intuitive
  • High level of automation
  • Reliability

Cons of The Method

  • Human error – even having time tracking software doesn’t prevent your employees from being forgetful and inaccurate
  • Learning curve – if your team isn’t that computer-savvy, they will take some time to learn to use the system
  • Pricing – some time tracking platforms can get quite pricey. This is especially prominent with apps that deliver complex reports, or with companies that employ a large number of people



Automatic tracking with timesheets

Timesheet software

When we are talking about time tracking methods, we cannot skip over automatic time tracking apps. Especially if said apps also offer a timesheet solution.

The combination of these two methods is very effective. The main reason for that is that the employees can turn a time clock related to a specific task on, and their time will be tracked automatically.

Programs like this often automatically allocate resources and costs to a specific client. This, in turn, makes them very useful for professional service companies that have a large number of projects going on at the same time.

The previous time tracking methods we’ve gone through have a common deficiency. Namely, they can easily succumb to human error.

When it comes to using automatic solutions with timesheets, you’re allowing your team to automate the process. However, you’re also giving them the opportunity to edit their reports and eliminate any mistakes.

These possibilities, combined with usually great reports, propelled this method into popularity and extremely wide use.

Pros of The Method

  • Ease of use
  • Reduced human error
  • Combining the strengths of the previous two methods

Cons of The Method

  • Pricing – the systems that have both an automatic timer and a timesheet option will, naturally, cost a bit more than other, simpler options
  • Learning curve – again, an even more complicated system will take some time to implement. That is why you should make sure the settings of the platform are set up well before you start using it company-wide




Finally, we’ve come to monitoring platforms. These systems don’t allow any oversight. They are programs you install on your employees’ computers and let them do the time tracking from start to finish.

This means the apps register all user activity and inactivity. Some automatically assign the usefulness of the apps and web domains. Others, on the other hand, allow managers to determine which apps and websites are considered useful and which ones aren’t.

Then, the app generates reports on its own and delivers them to the management. Some even calculate any employee’s pay considering their computer usage.

Apps with these features can be a great asset, but there are some drawbacks as well. For example, if a person is in a meeting, they will have to either make a manual entry or add the said meeting to their calendar app.

Some monitoring apps offer the option of taking timed screenshots of user devices to make sure they’re working and not wasting time.

Monitoring apps often have a reminder option as well. If an employee leaves their device for a while, they will get a nudge to keep working.

Pros of The Method

  • Accuracy
  • Detailed insights
  • No human error

Cons of The Method

  • Privacy concerns – employees who will have their every move overlooked can rightfully be concerned for their privacy. Especially so if the monitoring options include keystroke tracking and screenshots
  • Precision issues – as we have mentioned, there are going to be some items your team members will have to enter manually, such as phone calls and meetings. This reduces the precision of the tracking significantly
  • Lack of details – even though time monitoring programs recognize the programs and web pages used, most of them cannot allocate the costs and time to specific projects and clients
  • Morale – a company that records each team member’s every move isn’t signaling trust. This can negatively impact the entire team’s morale and motivation.

To Conclude

There are many time tracking methods available. We have tried to present them all with their advantages and flaws. However, it is up to you to decide which one will be the best for your business. Here are some things you should consider before making a decision:

  • The size of your organization – having a hundred employees causes different priorities than having ten or ten thousand. There is also the issue of who will manage the time records and whether your managers have enough time for that or not.
  • Your industry – simply put, a library will have different needs than an accountancy business. For example, a librarian works for a single employer, but an accountant has many clients. Thus, the payroll is determined differently and requires different systems.
  • Your company culture – implementing sudden changes to a team is going to cause some stirring. Especially so if you are mandating an additional step to everybody’s daily routines.
  • Compliance – some labor laws require certain types of time tracking and reports. For example, DCAA compliance requires a timesheet as an additional document to payroll slips.


Inadequate time tracking methods can lead to some serious issues. This is another reason to pay close attention to the following indicators:

  • Are you starting to lose clients?
  • Is your team finishing projects within deadlines?
  • Is the motivation in the team dwindling?
  • Are your team members less effective than before?
  • Is there a feeling of overwork and burnout?

These could all be the results of bad time tracking practices. The reasons could relate to your own approach to the system. On the other hand, the system may not be compatible with your business or company culture.

There are many positive and negative effects time tracking can cause. So, consider your circumstances and find the best solution for you. Hopefully, we have helped you see the pros and cons of each method.


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