5 Reasons Why Most Time Tracking Software is Flawed

Have you tried tracking time for yourself or your team?
Have you ever tried to use software to track time in your workplace?

If you’ve answered YES to either of these questions it’s more than likely that you’re fully aware of how problematic time tracking can be.  Most options, with or without time tracking software, rely on user input, and more importantly, an honest account of how work time has been spent.

Forcing staff to complete time sheets or report time spent on particular tasks will never work with any degree of accuracy.

Here’s why:

1. Real time tracking is not the standard

Popular web based software tools that companies use for tracking time include Basecamp, Harvest, Freshbooks, Wrike (… and there are dozens of others). They all have one thing in common; they rely on the user to estimate from memory how much time they worked on an item. This guesswork is not likely to be accurate as the activities are not tracked in real time.

Some of these software solutions do offer “real time” tracking (html windows, desktop software and even iPhone apps). However the real time tracking is not the standard way of using the application and it’s all too easy for staff members to resort to estimating how long they spent on an item.

Relying on people to correctly “guess” how long they worked on each item is the most important reason why time tracking reports are vastly inaccurate.

2. There’s no way to distinguish between time added “manually”

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 (adjustments made after the fact).

Real time tracking is the ONLY way to get generate real reports and time sheets. If you have no idea what time was tracked real time and what time has been manually added, you have no idea if the time tracking is accurate or not.

3. Tracked time is not allocated to a specific block of time

It seems blindingly obvious, BUT 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 allocate another 2 hour block of time to this time period.

On other web based time tracking applications, users can divide themselves into 2 people and work on 2 separate things at the same time–just like in The Matrix

Bizarrely, 95% of web based time tracking applications will allow you to do this. Workers can theoretically divide themselves into 2 people and work on 2 separate things at the same time. While this would be possible in The Matrix, in the real world, most people are unable to clone themselves.

4. There’s no way to check what the person is really doing

Short of standing on top of someone while they work, most time tracking solutions don’t offer any way to verify exactly what a worker has been working on. Rescue Time is one application which purports to accurately track time spent working. While it does track application and web site usage, it’s really guess work. Other applications seem to have completely forgotten about this all together.

5. People forget to track their time

Real time tracking relies on the user entering the details of the task they are working on, as they are working.  This approach could work if each and every user is completely vigilant about tracking each and every minute of time spent working.

Unless prompted, most people will never remember to track their time, or enter the task they are working on. What usually happens is that people forget to track their time and they’ll end up spending more time trying “guess” what they did during the day, at the end of the day (refer to points 1,2,3 and 4 above).

Time Tracking that works

Time Doctor eliminates ALL of the flaws listed above AND it has several unique features designed to ensure that time tracking is accurate;

An example, if a person is working on a particular task, and they decide to start chatting on Facebook instead of the task they’ve specified, Time Doctor will ask the person if they are actually working. Features like this reduces the amount of personal Internet use at work.

Like Rescue Time, Time Doctor also records the websites visited and applications used and then presents this data in a simple weekly report – this creates an accurate picture of time use (alongside daily reports that include tasks worked on, tasks completed and time spent on each task).

If a worker stops using their computer, Time Doctor will, after a while, automatically stop tracking time – breaks, as well as time spent working, are tracked to the minute (although, users can still track time spent off the computer at the click of a button).

Time Doctor will also remind the person when they come back to the computer to start tracking time again, as well as asking what task they are working on. Everything is tracked in real time and it is impossible to allocate two activities to the same time slot  (even when adding time manually). It even works when there is no Internet connection available.

All of these features are fully automated, and require only minimal input from users as they are working. Because of it’s ease of use, and ability to address the flaws other companies have ignored, Time Doctor easily stands apart from other time tracking software options.

Try it with your business and let me know if you disagree.

 

Rob Rawson is a co-founder of Staff.com, a global recruitment platform where you can access very talented staff at affordable rates. They also have a technology called Time Doctor a productivity software that helps keep track of your team, even when working from home.

Rob resides in Sydney, Australia but can also be found in major cities around the globe, like Paris, Kiev or San Francisco.

Find Rob on Google Plus

18 Comments

  1. James July 20, 2014

    As an engineer I would quit my job if required to use this software. It would be absolutely hellish to have my every action monitored.

    I would also never use this software in my consultancy.

    Promoting this software is like advising a business to whip their employees every 15 minutes. Can TimeDoctor be held liable for the resulting loss of productivity, decline in morale, and loss of technical talent?

  2. Anita July 10, 2014

    Hi Rob,

    You brought up some very interesting points about time tracking software and some of the limitations involved. We have a time tracking software called AccountSight at http://www.accountsight.com which is very easy and affordable. It has a stopwatch that records your time on tasks for better control and multi-tasking effectiveness. Plus, if you ever wanted to bill out your time, you could use the quick and easy invoice templates. We offer a free trial so it may be something for you to look at. I appreciate your blog and for your reading my comment. Thanks, Anita

  3. Dave October 2, 2012

    I’m an engineering designer who is pretty much in front of the screen the whole day. I’ve been using the tool only on myself, and I’ve found Time Doctor to be extremely helpful in staying focused and being mindful of what I’m doing. Some jobs are better geared toward this tool than others and I think it would be unfair to slam on this thing without even giving it a try. I mean, even when you’re not on the keyboard things could still get tracked. All a user has to do is put down things like “following up on the xxxx issue” or even just “thinking about xxxx”! It’s flexible.

    The only thing I wouldn’t use at all would be the screenshot feature, since much of my work is top secret and I would not want screenshots of my work stored remotely…

  4. Barbara July 24, 2012

    Unless one’s work is entirely manual, this is a ridiculous way to track time. I am a writer. If I stop typing and diagram thoughts in my notebook, for example, I have not stopped working! Ditto printing out a page to read and make edits. I’m with the attorney who commented.

    • admin August 1, 2012

      Yes it’s important to take into account activities off the computer. We do this comprehensively with Time Doctor.

  5. Tom Bowden March 17, 2012

    As an attorney who has worked in law firms and as general counsel for over 30 years, I can easily remember they days when attorneys did not have access to computers let alone have their own laptops and PDAs available 24/7. Yet somehow we did valuable billable work. So the notion that one can accurately track billable time solely by monitoring computer usage is laughable. In fact, the most valuable time is usually spent in contemplation and analysis, not keyboard and mouse manipulation. I have been a loud and vigorous advocate of technology since before I went to law school, and lawyers need more, not less, technology – but tracking time is not where it needs to be applied. Tracking and charging for time is like selling gold by the inch – no matter how precisely you measure, you’re measuring the wrong thing. Automated tracking of time is like a robotic buggy whip – of no use whatsoever in driving your car or flying your airplane from point A to point B.

    • admin March 22, 2012

      hi Tom, I think the time tracking needs to work well even when the person is away from their computer. Time Doctor does work well with the right settings for people working away from their computer. However if the Attorney spends less than 50% of the their time on the computer, then automated computer based tracking is probably not appropriate. Depends on the type of legal work they are doing.

  6. Gilles February 19, 2012

    I’ve been using time tracking apps for a long time, including rescue time, clockingIt (open source with really neat features) and others; I am using a project management app (teamworkpm) that has timers included, but none of those are satisfying. In fact, the best timetracking tool I found is the one that comes with Odesk, an outsourcing platform. I can see real time what my coders are doing, and that’s a really important thing to do because I pay they by the hour. There was recently a discussion on Odesk forums about how to replicate those features outside Odesk. It looks like timedoctor can do that. The screengrab features is a must for me, not only because it allows me to see what they are doing and I can track progress. One thing that the Odesk time management app has, and timedoctor does not have apparently, is the keystrokes amount. It’s a very good indicator of work type.

    • Daniel Punton March 12, 2014

      Has it occurred to you Giles to measure what is being delivered and pay based on that rather than a monkey on a seat punching keys.
      If you know what the deliverable is and cost the components and progress on the milestones then you are on track.
      Counting hours on a console is neolithic when you are measuring coding. Like many of the comments above most coding is done in the head too.
      I fear TD is giving ammunition to bad and unthinking management habits ;)

  7. Luthien January 1, 2012

    I find ‘TimeDoctor’ absolutely awful: I would quit my job if I was forced to use it. On top of that, it is useless. Here’s why. Managers exist because today people expect everything to be ‘manageable’. It’s not. Even if they try to track every twitch that a person is making to the last second and millimeter – they only get a big pile of useless statistics that basically says nothing at all. It’s just a pile of paper that the manager in question can hand over to their supervisor. The supervisor will then put that pile in a drawer, until it is thrown away a year later.
    BOTTOM LINE: you cannot manage good results by tracking every snort, twitch and jerk a person makes! Stop that spying nonsense: it doesn’t work! You only create a nightmare police environment. In order for people to create great results, you should treat them as responsible individuals; let them do what they are good at. Sometimes people NEED to do something useless (like chatting on FB or what) in order to be really inspired or to get into a flaw. But what does Time Doctor do? Report it as “unproductive time”. Gosh, I can’t believe that this simple truth is so hard to understand.
    Managers. Bwah,

    • admin January 25, 2012

      Hi Luthien,

      Timedoctor is mostly used at the moment in remote teams where you have for example you have team members in the Philippines and you have never met them. This is a completely different situation to an office where you see everyone come into work and you know what is going on with your team mates in a general sense. If you do not have an office, and have never met your employees, it’s nice to know what is actually going on each day.

      In terms of tracking and monitoring the majority of US corporations already monitor EVERYTHING when you are at work. Some are legally required to do it. Actually Time Doctor is better because you can at any moment turn off the tracking. So the employee has complete control and can use Facebook whenever they want.

      It’s nice to think that employees would work hard without any kind of discipline or structure around their work (for example a requirement to come in and work a certain amount of hours each day which is the fundamental basis of how most businesses operate) however a large majority of people simply do not have the discipline to work consistently without some element of monitoring. Come on! A large majority of people would go on 3 hour lunches every day if they could get away with it! Yes there are the minority that are so consistent and disciplined that they would never need that kind of monitoring. I’m one of those “minority” and I find Time Doctor quite useful in improving my OWN productivity. Why? Because I know exactly what I am spending my time on each day. I know how to improve and stay focussed on my priorities.

      It’s true the monitoring hours worked is NOT the most important thing to monitor. As a manager you need to monitor work output first. However hours worked is a nice adjunct that helps to evaluate business processes and improve systems. You can see exactly what people are spending their time on and create systems so that less time is wasted.

      Also my experience is that unproductive employees in 80% of cases do less work, are distracted in their workspace, visit sites unrelated to work etc. So it is useful as a manager to know this information.

      In summary tracking work hours is not the most important thing to do, but it is very useful especially when your team are working remotely.

      • Daniel Punton March 12, 2014

        The real potential power in something like TD which you seem to be missing is its capabilities to deal with super unreliable and distracted people like errr – everyone.
        I use it (with RT, aceProject, Zendone, GApps and some tools of my own) to measure my progress and compliance and it has been a helpful addition to that custom suite. (Thanks).
        I understand TD needs revenue and a tool for companies that bill clients for time worked and whom are deluded enough to think a monkey hitting keystrokes is working effectively makes commercial sense.
        I feel you are missing a more powerful universal use as a tool not just to passively measure computer time as RT does but further to set and measure goal and task behaviour which tools like zendone do the planning for but cannot measure compliance.
        Maybe when I get some that famous rainy month I will code something together . Have you ever thought of an api to TD?

    • Ari January 26, 2012

      @Luthien: For some jobs you’re absolutely right. Then again, those workplaces probably don’t need to be doing time tracking with that kind of accuracy anyway.

      I work at a company that does outsourced work on a certain field to multiple different clients. It’s critical that we’re able to track every billable second our staff – me included – does. It’s not to prevent them from taking a break to use Facebook. It’s to allow us to know when one of us has done something we can bill the customer for. Without that we’d make no money and we’d be bankrupt in a matter of weeks. We’ve tried multiple different software to accomplish that and so far I’ve heard no complaints from anyone. Everyone knows their paycheck is directly affected by the amount of hours we can charge from our customers.

      BOTTOM LINE: If you don’t like something it doesn’t make the software useless. Quoting you: “Gosh, I can’t believe that this simple truth is so hard to understand.”

      Just to make sure everyone gets it: I’m not in any way affiliated with Time Doctor nor have we even tried it yet. My opinions above are based on the general situation, not TD itself. If it works with our way of working and with our hardware/software we might give it a try.

    • Jiga April 2, 2013

      What do you think facebook (traceBook) is doing while your using it? Facebook is a waste of the only true asset you have in life, i.e. TIME!

  8. Andrew December 7, 2011

    Interesting article but I have to tell you I have been around the block and the best software tool I have come across is http://www.briefcase.net.au it’s job management software for creatives and is amazing and does everything needed to run a business

    • admin December 13, 2011

      Just checked it out, thanks for the tip!

  9. admin April 21, 2011

    Hi Karen, firstly want to say that we really like Harvest and are looking to integrate with you guys when we are a bit further developed.

    I think there are basically two types of time tracking – real time, and manual timesheet type of entries.

    The only way to track time accurately is with real time tracking. However there are some companies who will not want to track time accurately and will want to instead have the flexibility to add whatever hours they want into the timesheet. Our software is more for companies that want accurate time tracking.

    Using a timer is part of the way to solving the accuracy problem, but it is not enough to get really accurate tracking.

    Sorry for the delay in posting your comment it got lost in our wordpress admin site!

  10. Karen January 4, 2011

    This is an interesting article about accurately tracking your time, and the best practices that companies should aim for – thanks for sharing!

    I’d like to point out that Harvest actually is based fundamentally on tracking time with a timer. It’s our most recommended way of tracking time, and we also offer the ability to record time stamps, to ensure all time is accounted for.

    Additionally, we offer other ways to track time that can vary in granular accuracy, depending on what the user is looking for with their time tracking (example: some people prefer to use a timer, others prefer to fill out durations on their timesheet at the end of the day, or the end of the week).

    Thanks for letting us clarify!

    Karen Schoellkopf, Harvest Community Manager

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