Time Tracking Tools – What Are They And How Do They Work?

time tracking tools

Why Use Time Tracking Tools?

How often do you say “I didn’t have time for that” when you really mean “I didn’t organize my time well”? And how often do you know through what mysterious crack that time leaked out? What were you doing all day? Luckily there are time tracking tools to help you unravel that mystery.

While you might just be curious as to how you distribute your activities over time, there are generally two main reasons why time tracking may be of great practical use:

  1. Determining billable hours

With all your work logged, you’ll know exactly how much you should be charging your clients.

  1. Monitoring productivity of your employees

Knowing how much time people take to finish some task is bound to help in your reviews, make it easier for you to get a sense of who your superstar workers are, who are the ones that could use a motivation boost, and who you might consider letting go.

Manual Time Tracking

Most time tracking tools come in the form of a web app so you are not place-bound. However, there are some, like MyHours and TimeDoctor, that have both a desktop and a mobile version.

time tracking tools

After setting up your account and logging in, you’ll first need to define the projects and the tasks you’ll be working on. Once you start working on them, your time will be tracked. You can always pause it by clicking on the start/stop button. Those are the basics. Different apps bring in different levels of complexity, such as team tracking and grouping by project, automatic invoicing, granting holiday or day off bonuses after a certain amount of accrued hours, and more.

One of the easiest time tracking tools to use is Toggl.  When you log in everything that follows is self-explanatory. Start tracking your time right away and possibly sort the logged time into projects later, add tags, involve your team and more. It comes as a browser extension too and makes logging your activities super quick. It even has a handy achievement map that uncovers new areas whenever you do something you haven’t done before.

Toggle desktop turns off after 5 minutes of inactivity to prevent you from unintentionally logging the time when you weren’t working.

All of these apps can give you a clear daily/weekly/monthly overview on what you’ve been working on.

Unfortunately it’s not difficult to forget to manually log your hours worked. Though these tools send you notifications such as “Your timer has been on for 74h”, and then let you retroactively change your hours worked, it would be easier if somehow the app would know right away when you have stopped working. That’s where automatic trackers kick in.

Automatic Time Tracking a.k.a Time Capture

Also called time capture tools, software solutions like Chrometa or RescueTime provide automatic time tracking based on timestamps on your computer’s system, without you having to lift a finger. They show time you’ve spent on a word document, on each email, or on a browser tab. They can give you insight into what you did every minute of the day, or show you exactly how much time you spent on an activity.

time tracking tools

It does bring up some dystopian images, but it frees you from thinking about yet another task on the endless list of tasks you have for the day – starting and stopping time tracking tools. Plus, Timely assures us that no one else but us can see the actual report. It is just here to help – primarily freelancers – to bill the dedicated effort. If you have no problem with being tracked, this app can take it up a notch, allowing you to integrate it with various GPS tracking solutions, to show where you have been and for how long

On the downside, automatic reports could be misleading, since they cannot discern whether you were reading up on relevant products for your work, or if you were just aimlessly surfing the web. Maybe you’d also like to monitor your activities with finer granularity, say, what particular problem within a script you were solving, or what different activities you were engaged in within a single document.

Pomodoro – Time Tracker Crossbreed

What if an application could not only track what you do, but also pace you to do more? Focus To Do is a time tracking app that aims to do just that. Based on the Pomodoro Technique, the concept is simple: once the time runs up, you hear a notification, and the time spent is logged.

You can see how many “pomodoros” you have already spent on a task, and how many you have left. You can setup your schedule for days to come by granting little pomodoros to each planned activity. Once you associate tasks with projects, they will show up all colorful in a report, which you can see any time, on a daily, weekly or monthly basis.

time tracking tools

If this is all you really need, there are many Pomodoro timers you can choose from.

While Focus To Do revolves around tomato timers, most other time tracking tools also offer integration with the Pomodoro technique as a side option.

Time Tracking Tools Integrations

Time tracking tools on their own are great, but they really fulfill their purpose when integrated with a more complex project management tool. For instance, TimeCamp integrates seamlessly with Jira, and 7pace fits well with Azure DevOps, so you can manage your projects and time them from the same environment.  

If you are already using a project management software, then look for their “Integrations” page to see which time tracking tools they have partnered with. If your favorite time tracker is not on the list, ask them to add it. They just might.


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