What is automatic time tracking?

Written on 
January 13, 2020

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Automatic time tracking represents a radical new approach to one of the business world’s most essential (and hated) administrative tasks. Doing away with manual timers and data entry, it uses smart digital technology and artificial intelligence to track and process your daily work activities. In doing so, it effectively removes the need to consciously track time or create time sheets. But how does it work in practice, and how is it any different from established digital time tracking?

Digital vs automatic time tracking

Modern work can be hard to keep up with. Our job titles and ways of working are increasingly fluid, meaning many of us juggle a lot of cross-functional responsibilities. A typical day can see us jumping between emails, Slacks and client calls, attending meetings to plan and sync with our teams, researching tools and industry news, and producing reports.

This work happens flexibly across an expansive toolset, with the average worker among us using 36 different cloud services in one day. And we don’t just work with one tool at a time – in fact, 68% of us switch apps 10 times an hour.  

So how can we expect workers to accurately capture all of this themselves – especially in a way that doesn’t wrench their focus away from their work? This is the essential problem that automatic time tracking solves, and traditional digital time tracking doesn’t. This table lays out the main differences between the two:


For modern workforces operating across suites of digital tools, automatic time tracking is a no-brainer. It lets people focus fully on their work while enjoying full time compliance – minimizing human error and distraction in the process.

How does automatic time tracking work?

While the technology sounds complicated, from a user perspective automatic time tracking is remarkably straightforward. You just need to download an automatic time tracking app on your computer to get started.

There are essentially two main parts to automatic tracking: remembering what you work on and drafting accurate time sheets for you. Using the example of Timely, here’s how automatic trackers are able to do that:

1. Automatic data capture

It looks at the time you actively spend on web and desktop apps, capturing page titles and timestamps to present all your daily activities in a clean timeline:


That means every second of your work gets captured – from project work and internal team communication, to email, meetings and travel. But don’t worry –websites you browse in “private” or “incognito” won’t show up. ;) All this data and your timeline is completely private to you, so no boss or colleague can access it.

2. AI data grouping

Using artificial intelligence, automatic trackers can then translate this data into time sheets for you. You’ll need to log a few of your tracked activities first to effectively train it – so it knows how you categorize work and what you don't want to log publicly.

ai suggestions week@2x@2x

As a result of your training, your AI will work out the relationships between activities and understand the projects different pieces of work belong to. It even learns your logging preferences, making your time sheet as authentically "you" as possible. Over time, you can effectively outsource time sheet creation to your AI.

What isn’t automatic time tracking?

“Automation” has become somewhat of a buzzword in recent years, being liberally interpreted by marketers to sell technology which doesn’t actually qualify to use the term. Sadly, this puts greater pressure on consumers to self-educate and understand exactly what they’re getting from a new technology.

To avoid being mis-sold automatic time tracking, watch out for apps that still require you to:

  • Start and stop timers to capture any time data
  • Enter notes to provide context for time data

Remember, a tool promising to save you time does not necessarily use automation. Many time tracking tools that claim to be automated are actually just simplifying UI navigation – making time logging slightly easier to manage, but essentially keeping it manual.

Try out automatic time tracking for free

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