We’ve all had those work days—you know, the ones you have no idea what you did all day. Truth is, time flies when you aren’t keeping track of what you and your team are doing at work. That’s why many small businesses (and individuals) have turned to time-tracking spreadsheets. Time tracking is a great way to stay on top of who’s doing what and how many hours they’re putting in.
When it comes to documenting this information, you might default to a spreadsheet. And that makes sense, since spreadsheets have been successfully used to track information for decades.
But it’s 2023—and we think you can do better.
Keep reading as we break down everything you need to know about time-tracking spreadsheets. We’ll even share some modern tools that can help you make the most out of your time, without having to fight with a messy spreadsheet.
What is a time-tracking spreadsheet?
A time-tracking spreadsheet is a grid-based document that’s used to track employee working hours.
It typically includes the time an employee started their shift, the time they ended their shift, and any breaks they’ve taken in between.
Here are some headers you might see in a daily time-tracking spreadsheet:
- Employee name/ID
- Start time
- End time
- Break start
- Break end
- Total hours worked
- Total regular hours
- Total overtime hours
More detailed time-tracking spreadsheets may also include the tasks and responsibilities during the working period or pay information for payroll purposes.
Typical time-tracking spreadsheets are commonly created using traditional spreadsheet software programs, like Microsoft Excel or Google Sheets.
Why do businesses track time in a spreadsheet?
From accounting to data tracking, spreadsheets have been a tried and true solution for tracking information for years. These days, most of us have the basic knowledge needed to use spreadsheets. Plus, there are many free spreadsheet tools available.
So it’s no surprise that many small businesses reach for spreadsheets when it comes to employee time tracking.
But while doing your time tracking in a spreadsheet is better than not tracking at all, it does come with some challenges.
Negatives of time-tracking spreadsheets
Despite being a popular tool for tracking time and other information, there are some drawbacks to using spreadsheets. Some cons to using time-tracking spreadsheets include:
- They’re prone to error: As much as 90% of spreadsheets contain errors. Worse, one typo or broken formula can lead to massive errors throughout your entire spreadsheet. And if you’ve ever tried to find an error in a spreadsheet, you know that it can feel like looking for a needle in a cell-based haystack.
- They require manual updating: Spreadsheets typically need to have data inputted manually since it’s not synced to something like a time clock.
- They usually aren’t scalable: Time-tracking spreadsheets may work if you only have a few employees. But if you have multiple employees working several shifts every week, or have multiple store locations, your spreadsheet can get out of hand really fast.
- Information can be lost: If you accidentally delete something or your file becomes corrupt, it’s possible to permanently lose your time-tracking information.
- You have to build your own reports: Spreadsheet software usually has data visualization tools to help you make better sense of your time-tracking data. But they can be complicated to use if you’re not already a wiz with spreadsheets.
|From accident to labor law violation: FLSA record-keeping rules require companies with hourly employees to keep timesheets and other time-tracking records for three years. If you accidentally delete a time-tracking spreadsheet, you might find yourself in a tricky situation.|
Benefits of time-tracking spreadsheets
Of course, spreadsheets aren’t all bad. Let’s talk about some of the benefits of using spreadsheets to track time.
- They’re affordable: For small businesses just starting out, spreadsheets can be a quick and easy way to get time tracking off the ground.
- They’re customizable: Since you get to build the entire template from scratch, you can easily add any additional information you need. (Although, you do need to factor in the time needed to build a time-tracking template from scratch.)
- They’re universal: Spreadsheets are incredibly common, so it’s easy for other stakeholders to read a spreadsheet. And if you ever need to transfer that information into another software, a formatted CSV file can often do the trick.
Types of time-tracking spreadsheets
As we discussed earlier, time-tracking spreadsheets can track anything from employee hours to tasks and responsibilities. There are many ways to track time that meet the needs of you and your business.
Here are some of the most common types of time-tracking spreadsheets.
Daily time tracking spreadsheets are often used by employees or businesses who tackle many different tasks on any given day.
They typically divide the work day into hours or other time increments. Employees can then input the tasks they were working on during the day. This helps keep track of tasks that were completed and the number of hours that were spent on specific tasks.
Employee time tracking spreadsheet
Employee time tracking spreadsheets are used specifically to track the total number of hours worked.
They will often break down working hours by day so it’s easy to calculate the total hours worked when payday rolls around. You’ll usually find employee information, start times, end times, and total hours worked on an employee time tracking spreadsheet.
Project time tracking spreadsheets are commonly used for project-based work where different parts of the project take place over a longer period of time. They keeps tabs on tasks that are pending and the number of hours dedicated to each task, helping stakeholders stay on track and on budget.
You’ll often see contract time tracking spreadsheets used by independent contractors or contract employees that need to report the amount of time spent on work for their clients or contract employers.
A contract time tracking spreadsheet can also refer to a spreadsheet where a construction contractor keeps track of the number of hours spent on a construction project.
Billable time tracking spreadsheet
Billable time tracking spreadsheets are typically used by businesses or solo entrepreneurs who need to keep track of working hours that they will bill clients for. Some versions make it easy to also track non-billable hours so you can keep track of the total hours worked.
As the name suggests, consultant time tracking spreadsheets are usually used by consultants or contractors working for a business. Consultants aren’t necessarily required to track time, since they’re not employees. However, it’s best practice so they can provide a clear picture to clients as to how billable time is being spent.
Time-tracking spreadsheet alternatives
Time-tracking spreadsheets are, well, fine. But we promise there are better solutions out there to track employee time effectively.
Here are some alternatives to time-tracking spreadsheets that will help you track time more accurately, and more efficiently.
1. Time-tracking software
Time-tracking software takes all the information you’ve been tracking in a spreadsheet, but makes it more interactive and easier to navigate.
Most time-tracking software works very similarly. You’ll enter a task, the time you spent on it, and any other necessary information. It will then pull that information into a calendar or a summary so you can easily see what you’ve been working on.
Some software requires you to enter information manually. However, if most of your work takes place on a computer, there are even time-tracking apps that will automatically track your activity for you.
2. Productivity trackers
Productivity trackers are very similar to time-tracking software. But unlike time-tracking apps, they don’t just summarize your tasks and working hours. Productivity apps typically include extra features to help improve your workflow and efficiency.
For example, some productivity trackers will identify wasted time. Meanwhile, other productivity trackers will use technology like AI to re-organize your workday so you can use your time better.
3. Project management apps
Project management apps are specially designed to track the projects and tasks that you’re working on. Most project management tools can track everything from simple to-do lists to complex projects with multiple stages and stakeholders.
Project management apps are often used in tandem with productivity trackers and time-tracking software. More robust project management tools may even include time tracking to help you stay on track and hit your deadlines and budgets.
4. Time clock apps
The last (and best) alternative to your time-tracking spreadsheet? Time clock apps.
A time clock app is designed to track your employees working hours in just a few clicks. It’s a great time-tracking solution for businesses that have hourly and shift workers.
Let’s explore time clocks a bit further below.
Track employee time with time clock apps
When using a time clock app, employees typically ‘clock in’ when they start their shift and ‘clock out’ at the end.
Here’s why we love time clock apps for tracking employee time:
- Improved accuracy of time-tracking: With smart time tracking, you’ve got an exact time stamp of when an employee started and ended work.
- Reduced time theft: When employees are paid for time that’s not actually being worked, that’s time theft. Time clocks can help minimize the risk of accidental or intentional time theft.
- Improved workflows: Time clocking makes regular admin tasks like payroll easier and quicker, saving you time and helping employees get paid properly.
Must-have time clock app features
Excited to upgrade your time-tracking spreadsheet to a time clock app yet? Not so fast.
Before you hit download on a shiny new time clock app, here are some features you’ll want to keep an eye out for.
1. Schedule syncing
Most of the time, hourly workers are assigned work schedules in advance. Schedules are carefully planned to match sales forecasts and to meet labor costs.
The best time clocks can show employee hours worked side by side with your schedule. Some will even sync your employee schedules with your time clock, so employees can only clock in when they’re scheduled.
When a time clock can sync with your schedules, you can easily confirm that employees are showing up when they’re supposed to. It also prevents any unwanted surprises when you reconcile labor costs at the end of the month.
2. Automatic timesheets
Timesheets are essentially spreadsheets that record and keep track of employee working hours. But what makes an automatic timesheet better than your trusty old spreadsheet? To start with, you won’t have to manually add in the hours your employees clocked in/out and you’ll reduce the risk of human error.
A time clock that automatically creates your timesheets is an absolute must.
3. Timesheet approvals
Sometimes errors happen, even when you use a time clock. Occasionally employees forget to clock out. Or maybe you caught an employee trying to sneak in a buddy punch.
Your time clock app should make it easy to review and approve your timesheets before finalizing hours every pay period. That way, you’re only paying for hours that have actually been worked.
Bonus points if your time clock can automatically flag time clock errors for you.
4. Payroll integration
When it comes to hourly employees, your time clock and timesheets are the source of truth for payroll. So when your approved timesheets can magically turn into payroll, you can save yourself the pain of payday prep. And you’ll reduce payroll errors along the way.
5. Reporting and insights
It’s not enough to just track time. You need to be able to see the full picture.
Make sure you choose a time clock app that offers robust reporting and insights. This way, you can compare employee working hours with your labor cost and sales forecasts, keeping you in control of your budget and making sure your small business stays on track.
By the way—did we mention that Homebase has all of these features and more?
Homebase: the time-tracking app built for small businesses
On the hunt for the perfect alternative to your old-school time-tracking spreadsheets?
Homebase’s all-in-one employee management software has got you covered.
- Turn any iOS, Android, or POS device into a time clock: Don’t tether yourself to your computer-based spreadsheet. Homebase’s mobile time clock app means you and your employees can clock-in and track time from anywhere.
- Track employee time and pay them—all in one place: Homebase makes payday painless by turning your timesheets into wages so you can run payroll in just a few clicks.
- Say goodbye to tax troubles: Calculate wages and payroll taxes, and send the right payments to your employees, the state, and the IRS. You can even opt to automatically process tax filings and issue 1099s and W-2s.
Spreadsheet who? Say goodbye to your time-tracking spreadsheet for good.
Ditch the data entry with Homebases’s free modern time clock app. Get started today.
Time-tracking spreadsheet FAQ
What is a time-tracking spreadsheet?
A time-tracking spreadsheet is a document used by employers to track the hours an employee works within a certain time period.
It can also refer to a spreadsheet that tracks times and tasks, so you can get a better idea of how many hours are spent on specific projects and tasks.
Both types of spreadsheets are designed to help you get a better picture of how your time is being spent.
What are the negatives of a time-tracking spreadsheet?
There are many drawbacks to using a time-tracking spreadsheet. For example:
- They are prone to human error
- They are difficult to scale as your business grows
- They don’t always offer collaboration tools
- They need to be manually updated in order to stay up-to-date
- Files can be lost or damaged
What are some time-tracking spreadsheet alternatives?
There are many great time-tracking spreadsheet alternatives including:
- Productivity tracker apps and software
- Project management tools
- Digital and automated time-tracking software
- Time clock apps, like Homebase