Time Tracking with ActiveCollab

Time tracking apps have a terrible reputation because they're mostly associated with employee monitoring. As much as some people hate it, it's very often a necessity, but not because of the lack of trust. When you charge by the hour, you have to know precisely how many hours to charge. We'd like to show you time tracking doesn't have to be that bad and showcase its benefits, as well as its simpleness when using ActiveCollab.

time tracker app

What is time tracking?

Time tracking is recording the number of hours and minutes spent working on a specific task or project. It can be done in several different ways and for a variety of reasons. Pen&paper, spreadsheets, and time tracking apps are just some of them. Their purpose can vary between employee monitoring, adequate payment, and equal distribution of working hours between team members.

Why is time tracking important?

We're not fans of employee monitoring, and we're strongly against any form of screen spying, so we'll focus only on resource management, planning, and charging by the hour.

Venturing into a new project also means estimating the effort necessary for completing each part of it. An accurate estimate will ensure correct due dates and no deadline anxiety. Of course, unpredictable events may come your way at any moment, but you can only do so much about including them in your plans. When your team keeps track of the amount of time they spend on each task or project, you'll be able to compare these records to the given estimates. This will provide you with great insight for future planning.

Here's an example. You ask the content writer how long will it take them to wrap up a 1000 word article for a client, and you ask the designer the same question, only regarding the illustrations needed for the said article. The writer estimates 16 hours, the illustrator 20, so you set the due date to be three days from the moment they start working on it. In the end, it turns out the writer tracked 22 hours (6 hours more than planned), and the illustrator 18 (2 hours less). It's not easy to make accurate predictions, especially when it comes to creative work, but these estimate vs. reality comparisons can help you plan better in time.

All this applies to solo freelancers, small teams, and large companies with many different departments.

We're all too familiar with setting a deadline for ourselves that we can hardly accomplish and then end up pulling all-nighters. The same goes for waiting around on a colleague to finish their part so we can take over.

We're here to say: it doesn't have to be that frustrating!

The 5-step guide to time tracking

1. Define why is time tracking needed for yourself or your team(s)

Before making any investments in terms of effort, time and money, think about why you want to do this in the first place. Discuss it with your team, see how they feel about changing the way they work. If this activity is already established in your company, take a chance to reexamine it. Perhaps your team doesn't need to clock in or out at all!

2. Choose your weapon

Once you determine why you need time tracking in your company, you'll know what to look for. A simple note may be enough, perhaps a spreadsheet. However, if your needs are more advanced, or if you're managing a large team or various teams, you may need to look for an app to help you out.
There are so many options out there that we can safely say you're spoilt for choice! The process is analog to when you're shopping for clothes or gadgets: knowing precisely what you need speeds things up.

There are apps focused only on a stopwatch, meaning you can only set it off, pause and stop, and get a total for that day. Other apps are stopwatches enriched with employee monitoring instruments such as taking screenshots at random times during the day, tracking browsing and activity data.

3. Onboarding

If you want your team to start using the chosen solution properly, you'll need to explain thoroughly why and how they need to change their habits. Clarify the reasons behind the decision, motivate them and give simple instructions with examples. Make sure everyone is familiar with the changes they need to make to their day-to-day.

4. Give time to adjust and check-in occasionally

Unless it's extremely urgent to start tracking time, give the team some time to adjust to the new way to work, perhaps a week or two. Also, ask them how they're adapting from time to time, make sure to resolve any doubts and issues they're encountering. If you'd like to motivate the team, show them the benefits of time tracking and the improvements you've made after a while. Maybe you managed to charge more billable hours, or you've rearranged some tasks, and now the team is more efficient.

5. Quit if it's not working out

Be brave enough to admit if an app or time tracking, in general, is not suited for your team. Most apps have a free trial period or a monthly subscription, so it shouldn't be too costly to back out.

    How do I use time tracking in ActiveCollab?

  1. Create a project
  2. Enable time tracking
  3. Invite your team to the project
  4. Add tasks and organize them in task lists
  5. Set off the Stopwatch on a task or the project as a whole
  6. Press pause or upload the time record
  7. Review your team's time records
  8. Let's break down each of these steps and show you what it looks like.

1. Create a project

ActiveCollab doesn't limit you, as an unlimited number of projects can be created. It's pretty straightforward: create it, name it, add a description if needed, set up a label and a category. Choose the client company this project is for, or leave the field blank if it's an internal project. When you invite clients to a project, you'll be able to collaborate directly with them and put an end to the endless email chains. It's also possible to tick the "Hidden from clients" box on each task, note, and discussion.

2. Enable time tracking

Make sure you enable time tracking on your project. Then, you can also choose one of the three budgeting types (fixed, time and expenses, non-billable).

3. Invite your team to the project

If you already invited the people you work with to ActiveCollab and created one or more teams in the People area, you can invite whole teams at once. You can also invite people one by one or by their email if they haven't joined your workspace yet.

4. Add tasks and organize them in task lists

This is the backbone of the way we work. Breaking down a project into smaller bites should make it easier to chew. Each task has its assignee and due date, making it easier to check who's accountable for every assignment and if they're meeting their deadlines.

5. Set off the Stopwatch on a task or the project as a whole

Note: you'll only be able to see the Stopwatch if you've enabled time tracking in the project settings. The project leader and Owner roles can always change these settings.

You'll see a play button on each task and a tiny clock in the upper right corner of a project. Activate either one of them, and voila, you started tracking time!

6. Press pause or upload the time record

Once you set off the Stopwatch, you'll see it running in the upper right corner. If you'd like to stop tracking time on the project as a whole, for example, and start tracking hours on a specific task, just open the task and press play. The previously activated Stopwatch will automatically pause. You can also shuffle between the previously activated Stopwatches or upload them as time records.

When you decide it's time to upload a time record, you'll see it rounded up to certain intervals. Edit the record or upload it as is.
This is not the only place where you can add time records. Each team member can add them from their personal Timesheet (My Work > Timesheet). Very handy when someone forgets to start the Stopwatch!

Note: Stopwatch settings such as rounding intervals and minimum entries can be set up and changed by Owner roles.

7. Review your team's and your own time records

There are so many places in ActiveCollab where you can check out your teams' time records! We'll start with individual projects. The Time tab will show you all the time tracked on that specific project.

If you'd like a more extensive overview, check out the Timesheet. There you'll find all the time records, week after week, by employee, project, and task. Filter out by individuals or teams, and discover the info you need.

An even more thorough analysis can be found in the time report, where you can look for and group time records by plenty of criteria.
Finally, as already mentioned, tracked time can be found and added in the personal Timesheet within My Work.

freelance time tracking

Real-life example (not really, we've made it up)

Jim, a freelancer, landed a project with a new client, Barry. He needs to redesign the entire website, and after reaching an agreement with Barry on an hourly rate and deadline, he creates a project in ActiveCollab and invites him as a Client. After setting up the hourly rate they agreed upon, he creates tasks with due dates, labels, and files. Each time he starts working on a specific task, Jim presses play and lets the Stopwatch track his working hours. When taking a break or doing something else, he hits the pause button and resumes when he comes back. If any doubts or questions pop up, they can be discussed through the comment section on each task, files and changes can be shared as well, as the project progresses. At the end of the day, Jim uploads his time records, turns off his computer, and enjoys a Margarita! When the project is finished, Jim can send an invoice to Barry, with his tracked hours multiplied by the hourly rate, plus expenses (if there were any).

Some real-life feedback from our customers
(these are not made up!)

For over a decade,
more than 50,000 teams made Real Work happen with ActiveCollab.
  • "The possibility to log time for every created task allows us to track and analyze how much time was invested in each assignment for every team member. Our day-to-day business improved significantly as our team is better organized and a lot more efficient."

    Dragan Hrgić

    New Plant

  • "We use an hourly billing model for most of our clients. This means that accurate time tracking is essential. Luckily, it's one of the best features in ActiveCollab. We can track time on projects and tasks and even choose between billable and non-billable activities. ActiveCollab's time tracking feature allows us to record billable hours and easily invoice clients."

    David Blinov

    The F Company

  • "A big part of my role working as a producer for our clients and also as a business owner is managing budgets, so it's really useful for me to be able to track the time that's being put into projects. Also, it means our clients know what's going on."

    Sarah Griffin

    Flyte Creative Media

  • "ActiveCollab offered us an all-in-one-solution, which made our workflow much more efficient. Tasks can easily be assigned and are immediately ready to be tracked. Even our billing process got significantly easier because we can use ActiveCollab to create bills based on tracked time records or fixed budgets."

    Michael Friedrich


  • "So, time tracking has become vital – it's visibility for everyone. The team knows exactly what they need to do each day and how much time to spend on it, and Account Managers can dish out new work fairly. We've gotten way more efficient with our time management and communication, and a big part of that is because of ActiveCollab."

    Cam Lee

    Rock Agency

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