Time tracking apps compared: what’s the difference?
Last updated on
October 16, 2020
The internet is saturated with time tracking apps promising to simplify the business world’s most hated form of admin – just googling “time tracking app” returns a whopping 1,250,000,000 results. But a quick scan of the apps on the first results page reveals the same timer-based spreadsheet interface in various different pastel shades.
So what is the difference between all these apps? How do you know which time tracking app is the best for you? And crucially, what should you look for if you want to definitively solve time tracking – not just simplify it?
To aid your research, we’ve compared the biggest differences between the most notable time tracking apps currently on the market – from the most basic online timesheets, to the most sophisticated automated time trackers.
Types of time tracking app
The apps we’ll be looking at fall into three main categories. To help you shortlist tools, it’s good to know which of the following type of tool you’re looking for:
Automatic time tracking apps
As the name suggests, automatic time tracking apps take on time tracking admin for you. They work by tracking your activity while you work and drafting timesheets for you using AI. There are no manual timers or notes to worry about – everything is captured for you in the background. As such, they are the most hands-off approach to time tracking going. By leveraging machine accuracy, they are also one of the most robust time tracking solutions out there – remembering every detail of your work day, even if you don’t.
Manual timer-based apps
The biggest names in the time tracking app market fall into this category. They require employees to manually start and stop timers as they move between tasks. Most also ask you to enter notes ask you go, to qualify what you worked on during a certain time frame. The sophistication of design within this category can vary wildly – from a “slightly nicer” spreadsheet interface, to a clean space with automated reminders and brightly colored buttons. Regardless of how fancy the interface may look, they don’t actually remove the time tracking burden – you still have to attend to the clock and manage timers throughout your day.
In-app time tracking features
Many business tools – particularly invoicing, payroll and accounting apps – offer time tracking as part of their vast feature set. This can be useful if you’re looking to pay one subscription fee to address a general business requirement. However, it often means sacrificing the quality and efficiency of a bespoke time tracking tool; as just one feature among many, these tacked-on time tracking tools don’t always get the regular developer attention you would like. They generally also offer a rather primitive user experience, using fiddly manual timers with little chance of smart automation.
There are a lot of things to consider when picking a time tracking app – we’ve already listed 7 questions to ask when buying a time tracker here. To help that process, we’ve broken down the main offerings from some of the biggest apps in time tracking.
The best time tracking app for you will depend on your personal priorities, but one aspect of your tool requires particular attention: employee privacy. “Tracking” understandably makes employees nervous, and using a tool that involves underhand monitoring can completely destroy trust and culture. As such, we’ve marked questionable tactics with an alert sign ⚠️ and provided an “Employee privacy” rating in our comparison.