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Why are you still using a work timer?

Last updated on
September 24, 2021

We get it: you need to track your hours. But why use the most ineffective method going to do it? We’re talking about work timers – thousands of professionals still use them to track tasks and record billable hours, even though they’re potentially the worst tool for the job. In 2020, it's about time we shrugged off this industrial-age time tracking technology for something smarter.

Fresh out of the 1800s

If you use a work timer to record your billable hours, you’re using a method that’s centuries out-of-date – from the mid-19th century, to be precise.

It all started with the shift from small-scale “cottage industry” to the mass organized labour of the Industrial Revolution. A new form of employee-employer business model arose, introducing the move from daily to hourly wages and thus the need to record hourly work.

In 1888, Willard Bundy developed what is widely recognised to be the world’s first work timer – the time clock. Using a simple card punching format, it stamped the exact times a worker arrived and left the work site. A week’s worth of cards formed a timesheet that company clerks used to calculate an employee's weekly wages.

So when you use a work timer on your phone or computer to start and stop task durations, you’re essentially using a digitized version of this antiquated time clock method. Don't be fooled by the fancy UI and nicely designed timer buttons; the basic end-result is the same – manually punching in a timeframe.

Why are work timers so useless?

Modern electronic work timers are certainly a huge improvement on their time clock ancestors – you can use them on your mobile on-the-go, they can total weekly timestamps into earnings, and some let you export timestamps directly into timesheets.

But these small digital innovations don't detract from their fundamental design flaws:

They produce bad data

Even when logged meticulously each day, manual timesheets are only ever 67% accurate.

Being reliant on manual input, work timers introduce huge room for error. You might forget to stop it after your meeting finishes or only remember to start it half-way through, and estimate a total instead. Or you might stop it too soon and miss out on related billable work (like post-meeting actions, emails and meeting preparation). It effectively creates a collection of guesstimated timestamps that don’t accurately represent what actually happened, making it unfit for its basic purpose.

They require cognitive effort

Humans are fundamentally bad at tracking time - and it's not something we can get better at.

You only start a work timer when you recognize you’re in a working environment. Any work outside of these boundaries tends to go unrecorded – things like work calls you receive in the back of a taxi, travel for client meetings and the odd piece of out-of-hours work. They also don’t mean anything without your help; work timers just spit out a timeframe. It’s completely up to you to enter notes to justify what that time actually represents. Since that’s a pretty dull task, we often put it off or forget it completely.

They’re not user-friendly

It can take two hours each week to track time manually across all projects, clients and tasks.

Entering notes, staying conscious of when you switch task or project, physically starting and stopping timers – these inefficiencies eat into your time and make it impossible to focus fully on your work. To be vaguely accurate, you need to continuously attend to tracking your time, splitting your attention between your work and admin. The constant management quickly adds up, requiring you to log timesheet entries for the time you spend tracking your time.

A modern time tracking tool

Essentially, manual work timers don't solve the problems of industrial time tracking – they just transpose them to a slightly nicer-looking digital setting. But in 2020, you shouldn't have to waste time just trying to understand the basic workings of your business. In fact, you don’t even have to actively track your time at all! Automatic time tracking now exists, so you can outsource the whole task and ensure every billable detail is recorded.

Tools like Timely automatically record all the time you spend at work, creating a flawless digital memory of your day. All your activity – from time in work tools, documents and websites to meetings, emails and GPS locations – is recorded to a secure private timeline that only you can access.


They then use AI to draft accurate timesheets for you using this data. There are no manual timers, notes or forms; just focus on your work and dip in the app to review your draft daily timesheet when you're ready.

🧠 Try automatic time tracking free for 30 days

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