Not the Perfect Time Tracking Tool

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The last post received some very interesting comments, and even a few mentions of specific time tracking systems that our readers use. As a process and methodology fanatic, I’m always interested in any tools that can help me to be more efficient – especially if they are related to time management.

Personally, I’ve only had success with two time tracking systems. The first was Microsoft Excel, which means we didn’t really use a ‘system’ at all. Instead, we had a standard spreadsheet form that each employee would complete and submit every Friday. This crude system worked well because it was flexible, easy, and required no maintenance or training. Unfortunately, it still required an administrator to manually process each timesheet as we created client invoices and prepared payroll for the developers. So, the ‘manual’ process of time tracking could be described as low risk and very effective, but cumbersome.

For the last few years, we’ve been using the QuickBooks timer system. The QuickBooks timer is a small time tracking application that comes bundled with QuickBooks, and it’s far from the ‘perfect’ solution. It’s a standalone application, requiring every employee to install the software. To make things even more cumbersome, the Customer/Job list needs to be exported from QuickBooks and distributed each month to ensure that all active jobs are available for the employees to bill against. At the end of each month, the employees export a file from the timer program and e-mail it back to us for processing.

Sounds like a painful process, doesn’t it? It is, but the QuickBooks timer system has one great advantage – the employee files that come in at the end of each month are imported right into our master QuickBooks system and all invoices and contractor payments are effortlessly generated from there. This saves an incredible amount of time, and helps to maintain 100% accurate books. So, this lackluster solution actually does wonders for the bottom line!

While the QuickBooks timer has worked well for us, I wouldn’t say it’s a quality solution by any standard. Its quite old, a bit buggy, and generally annoying to use. We’ve dabbled in various online time tracking systems, but the QuickBooks integration has always been the deciding factor and that’s the one thing that the QuickBooks timer does very well. A slick web-based system is always attractive, but if the timesheets don’t import well, it’s not worth it in the end.

I’d love to hear more about what kind of tools you are all using, and your thoughts about the effectiveness of those tools. With so many workflow and project management tools on the market right now, it’s tough to choose one and we’re still looking!

Dave HeckerDave Hecker
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