What is automatic time tracking?

Last updated on 
October 14, 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. At its simplest, it's about getting a tool to tell you what you worked on, instead of you having to tell the tool. Automatic trackers completely remove the need to manage timers or manually input data, accurately recording all your work activity for you in the background. Some even use artificial intelligence to create your daily time sheets. But how does all this impact your time reporting? How does automatic time tracking work in practice? And what makes it different from mainstream digital time tracking solutions?

Digital vs automatic time tracking

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

All this work happens flexibly across an expansive toolset, with the average worker using 36 different cloud services in one day. Instead of working with one tool at a time, we use them fluidly – with 68% of us switching apps 10 times an hour.  

In this blur of digital activity, it's practically impossible to accurately capture everything we work on using traditional digital time tracking. In fact, manual time tracking only ever yields time sheets that are 67% even when done meticulously every day. Manual time trackers can also be disruptive and intrusive, since remembering to manage timers and taking notes as we move between tasks requires us to split our attention between our work and the clock.

These are the essential problems that automatic time tracking tries to solve. This table lays out the main differences between automatic and mainstream digital trackers:


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. As the lowest-effort time tracking technology available, it also frees up more time for productive work.

How does automatic time tracking work?

Automatic time tracking sounds complicated, but from a user perspective it's 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 time sheets for you. Using the example of Timely, here’s how automatic trackers are able to do that:

1. Automatic data capture

Timely looks at the time you actively spend on web and desktop apps (capturing page titles and timestamps only) and records all your daily activities in a private 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-generated time sheets

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. From there, you just need to "Approve" draft time sheet entries to make them public to your team.

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.

⚠️ If an app still requires you to start and stop timers, it's not automatic.

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 actually just simplify certain manual tasks. Don't be fooled – a nicely-designed start button doesn't make manual timers any more efficient or easy to manage.

⚡️ Trial automatic time tracking for free

Keep your team ticking

Timely automatically tracks team hours,
activity and capacity to keep remote work visible.
Lead happier, healthier teams.

Book a demo

Keep your team ticking

Timely automatically tracks team hours, activity
and capacity to keep everyone connected.
Lead happier, healthier teams.

Book a demo

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