Time tracking software is an irreplaceable tool for businesses at all levels. Whether you’re big or small, have one employee or one thousand – chances are your business stands a lot to gain from accurately tracking time.
Why use time tracking software?
Time tracking is useful in a lot of ways, but the overarching benefit is that it is a method to gather data. Data is practically a form of currency in and of itself, and this data, in particular, is a measure of productivity so it’s especially valuable.
Here’s a breakdown of the reasons why time tracking software should be a top priority.
- Create accountability and transparency. People are, understandably, defensive when it comes to money. By having a central location where both the employer and the employee can reference hours worked, conflicts about hours are avoided. It can help to combat time theft by recording precisely clock in and clock out times.
- Improve the accuracy of estimates and quotes. If you don’t know the exact amount of time spent on a project, you can’t accurately calculate the profit. Furthermore, having a deeper understanding of time allocation during projects will allow a business owner to give out better quotes – leading to more profit and less frustration for business and client alike.
- Enhance scheduling and project management. When juggling several contracts or internal projects, it’s often difficult to appropriately allot time to make sure everything stays on track. Many time tracking software has the ability to organize hours by team or project so you can maximize efficiency and stay on schedule.
- Increase business valuation. If you’ve ever sold a business, you know just how important it is to have in-depth bookkeeping. While financial information is the obvious first step, knowing the state of employees and productivity is equally valuable. The more numbers you can provide to a potential buyer, the more the business is worth.
- Maintain a professional appearance. When charging an hourly rate, sending a client an invoice with simply the amount owed looks unprofessional at best. At worst, it may be interpreted as underhanded. Put your best foot forward with a detailed invoice so they know where their money is going.
- Identify areas that need improvement or reward excellence. If an employee is using their time poorly, it’s better to address and correct it before major issues arise. Likewise, for those employees that excel or are especially productive, you can acknowledge them with promotions or bonuses to incentivize that behavior.
- Reduce micromanagement. Time tracking tools give you a bird’s eye view of progress at any given time. There’s no need to ask if so-and-so has started on a project when your software tells you what’s in the pipeline and how many hours have been put into it. It also gives employees a better idea of when it’s acceptable to take time off.
Who uses time tracking software?
Time tracking is important for just about every industry, but there are a few types of people who utterly rely on it.
- Employees – Here’s an important distinction to make: time tracking is beneficial for both the employee and the boss. Employees get rewarded appropriately for their efforts and the boss has a better understanding of their capabilities. It also helps individuals better track their work-life balance. Maintaining that equilibrium is key to long term happiness and productivity.
- Freelancers – For freelancers, tracking hours is a no-brainer. Either you’re getting paid hourly and you need to know exactly how long you worked, or you’re being paid by the project and it’s just as important to be able to calculate your hourly rate. Even more useful for the freelancer is the peripheral features that are common with time tracking software. Client management systems and invoicing are part of daily life for a freelancer.
- Contractors – Much like freelancers, contractors want precise timing so they can get paid for every minute they’re on the clock. While not all contractors have to send invoices, having a paper trail will be very useful for getting the most out of your deductions and write offs come tax season. In a career where you’re 100% responsible for your own money, it’s vital that you can keep track of every aspect of it.
- Lawyers – Most lawyers charge hourly, so having a time tracker is a given. Having one that manages your clients for you is especially useful (and much easier than organizing all of the documents and resources yourself). Having a time tracker that is at once both user-friendly for your customers and professional-looking will help increase the professionalism and prestige of your firm, which directly translates into higher rates.
- Accountants – Both in-house accountants and contract accountants will want a time sheet software, although it’s likely they’ll be even happier with those extra features such as invoicing and the analytics that comes with the top time trackers. Data is king, and no one knows that better than the money-man. As a business owner that doesn’t have a full-time accountant, you’ll find it easier (and cheaper) to get an accountant when your books are in order. Not to mention lots of the time tracking software we cover integrate into other services like Quickbooks.
- HR Departments – HR tends to wear a lot of hats and tracking employee’s time and productivity often falls under their purview. Having raw numbers is useful evidence during a performance review, or when disciplinary action is necessary. On the other hand, HR can use time data to incentivize and reward individuals or departments that are exceeding expectations.
What features are included in time tracking software?
In the most basic sense, time tracking software is just the electronic equivalent of a paper timesheet. These days, however, it can be so much more. There is a laundry list of possible features, and while it’s not quite a la carte, every software has its own combination of the following.
- Time Tracking – Obviously. As a general rule, it’ll track hours down to minutes, though some will track seconds. Most time tracking software require an employee to “clock in” by logging in to the software and hitting a button. Some have the ability to interface with a physical clock in stations to ensure that the employee is both on time and in the correct place. With accurate timekeeping, clients can be billed precisely and payroll calculated without error.
- Timesheet –While they often go hand in hand, timesheets serve a slightly different role than time trackers. They are used primarily for creating a centralized database of attendance records. You can also track requested time off and expected holidays. Timesheets tie in closely with payroll or invoicing.
- Analytics and Reports – Many time tracking software come with an in-depth data aggregation and interpretation tool. The functions of the reporting tool will vary based on the other features present, but common reports include budgeting, time allocation, project costs, and employee productivity. Most time tracking software also have the ability to visualize this data with charts and graphs.
- Invoicing – The capacity to send (and receive) invoices is par-for-the-course on any customer-facing time tracking software. If you are billing clients, it’s a must-have. Most software can integrate the time tracked directly into the invoice. For example, when Project A is completed you can create an invoice for it and the software will automatically populate the invoice with an itemized list of hours worked, the breakdown, and the total cost.
- Customer Relationship Management – CRM is an umbrella term for a wide array of programs and technologies that all have one purpose: to organize and enhance a company’s interaction with its customers. This often manifests itself in providing a central location where all forms of communication (email, calls, texts, social media) can be recorded for future reference. Some time tracking software will include elements of CRM such as keeping data about customers (such as the rate they’re charged at) or sending them notifications on invoices.
- Project Management – For the freelancer balancing several clients at once or a larger company working on multiple projects simultaneously, some sort of project management tool is a necessity. There are many to choose from, both with and without time tracking capabilities. The benefit of having a self-contained app ecosystem can’t be understated, however, so consider choosing a project manager/time tracker combo software.
- Scheduling, Calendar, Alerts – Reminders can be utilized in a few ways. For project management, having an overview of project timelines on a calendar is helpful for planning. For the time tracker portion, an alert can be sent to both the employee and the employer if someone forgets (or fails) to clock in. In a large office, an absence might not be noticed for a while – or at all. Notifications can be sent to any device or email so the team can adjust their work accordingly.
Clockify has one of the best free-plans available. It has a basic version of all the features present in every other software, but it doesn’t feel simple or stripped. It’s incredibly useful because it allows you to have unlimited users, unlimited projects, and unlimited reports without paying a single cent.
It’s not quite as advanced as some of its competitors, but it definitely does everything you’d expect from a time tracker and it does with style. Not to mention Clockify is available on practically every platform, and has the honor of being the only time tracker to deploy a desktop app to Linux.
Harvest is a the most popular time tracking app, and for good reason. Namely, all features are available at the free tier. For teams larger than 1, the pricing system is simple and fair.
The tools themselves are enormously powerful – it’s impressive that one app can fit all of those features and not feel bloated, but Harvest manages it. Its time tracking features are about equal to the rest of the industry, but the project management tools are stellar.
The mobile app is among the best, so if that’s important, consider Harvest carefully.
Toggl is the quintessential time tracker. It has no illusions of being anything else, either. The project management features are light but useful. The real joy of Toggl is the simplicity of the software and the easy to understand interface. It also integrates with lots of other tools, so you don’t need to worry about transferring data.
Toggl also has an excellent free plan for up to 5 users, and even the paid tiers are cheap for what they offer.
ClickTime is the perfect plug-and-play time tracking software. It comes pre-loaded with tons of templates for custom reports and analytics, so once you have the data to populate them you can get a good perspective on the health of your business.
ClickTime is decidedly on the pricey side, especially once you start subscribing to the higher tiers. It pays off in the ease-of-use; employee training isn’t necessary since the software is so intuitive and simple to pick up. The customer service at ClickTime is also among the best in the industry.
Dashable is an excellent choice for agencies of any kind. It’s set up to be a “project time tracker”, and so it organizes your clocked hours into how they were spent between all projects or tasks. It has nifty reporting features like daily and weekly summaries that let you know the progress on projects, as well as whether or not you’re getting behind.
The pricing structure is a bit annoying because it’s not per user – each tier just increases the cap of users by a set amount. The customer service somewhat makes up for it, though. It’s quite excellent and is one of the few that has a telephone number.
For full disclosure, Timely is geared towards the service industry. That is apparent in many of its design choices, from the way that staff are enrolled in the system to the way hours are tracked and clients billed.
Timely was designed around use in salons and related businesses, so managing employee time is one of its key strengths. The dashboard shows at a glance every detail of an employee’s shift, even sales made.
It’s a niche time tracker, not useful for in all use cases, but it zeroes in on its target customer very well.
TrackingTime is basically time tracker-lite. It’s got all your standard time tracking tools and reports, as well as few lightweight project managing tools. It has a pretty generous free plan and even the paid plan is not too expensive for small teams.
TrackingTime really shines in how it disappears. After all of your clients and projects are loaded in, other apps are integrated, and employees trained, TrackingTime fades into the background. It’s easy to forget that you’re even using a time tracking app.
Everhour is a perfectly acceptable time tracker that doesn’t excel in anything in particular. Its main draw is the wide variety of integrations, as well as the custom API that allows you to integrate it even more. While many time trackers integrate widely, Everhour has a few uncommon integrations, like FreshBooks, which may be a tipping point for some customers.
The pricing structure is a bit unorthodox. It’s the only time tracking software that forces you to pay yearly (instead of just offering discounts), and you can either choose a solo plan or have to pay for a minimum of 5 users. That being said, it’s fairly cheap compared to some of its competitors.
Freckle is a good choice for freelancers (even though you have to look a little to find the Solo plan). It streamlines much of the time tracking and project management features in such a way that it feels useful and powerful without having a lot of fluff.
Freckle doesn’t have many native integrations, but it does connect to Zapier. Through Zapier you can connect to almost anything, albeit with a couple of extra steps.
Freckle has a bit of a homey-community feel. The founders even step in from time to time to offer support and solicit feedback, as well as make each customer feel valued.
To call Scoro a time tracker would be a bit of an understatement. It’s a full-fledged business management tool and tracking time is only one facet of the business. Those parts that pertain to time-keeping are executed flawlessly and transition seamlessly into the myriad other management tools so you can track your entire business from one dashboard.
The only reason it was docked a point is because its scope is pretty far beyond that of a simple time tracker, so there are better options. Similarly, it’s pretty expensive for people who only want to keep time.
Tick is almost more of a project manager than a time tracker, despite the name. Even the pricing structure reflects that – you’re charged based on the number of concurrent projects your team has.
That said it has a great suite of tools to keep those projects on track and it ties in very well to the time tracking capabilities that are pretty run-of-the-mill. There are few unique features not found anywhere else, such as the ability to set up recurring projects (which is useful to businesses on retainer).
The customer service isn’t the best, however.
TimeCamp is a solid entry, although it only really has one standout feature to differentiate itself from its competitors. They have a “Visual Time Tracker” which combines elements of a standard time tracking clock with analytics and reports to give you a real time overview of the business, as well as drawing from past data to get trends and predictive suggestions.
It does include a few of the employee monitoring tools that feel kinda scummy, so we weren’t a huge fan over all.
Hubstaff has a well-rounded offering that includes some features not found in the competitor’s apps. It has some sales tools and HR tools that can make managing large teams (or those with temporary employees) much easier. It’s also pretty cheap.
It received a poor rating because it includes a whole host of employee monitoring features that cross the line from oversight to abusive. Frankly, if a business has so little trust in its employees that it needs to take random screenshots of their computer, time tracking is the least of their problems.