Every business with hourly employees needs a clear and effective way to track employee time. Many larger businesses already have access to a digital timekeeping system as part of a broader HR, payroll, or ERP suite.
But if you’re not quite ready for a solution like that, you still need to keep track.
A simple free Excel time tracking template can be a great short-term solution until you’re ready to implement something more powerful.
Below, we’ll show you how to build a weekly or monthly time tracking sheet in Excel. Plus, we’ll share what to do if you want to go deeper into task- or project-based time tracking — and why you definitely should.
Building a time tracking sheet in Excel: 4 steps
Many organizations new to formal time tracking choose to start with a time tracking spreadsheet, like those you can make in Microsoft Excel or Google Sheets.
We aren’t particularly fond of building time tracking spreadsheets in Excel because there are many better tools for this, including Teamwork Timer for tracking time across projects. But if you’re not ready to ditch the spreadsheet quite yet, it is feasible to build a basic time tracker in Excel.
Here are the four steps to get an Excel-based time tracker or timesheet built and running.
1) Open a new spreadsheet and start formatting
First, open a new blank Excel sheet. Before you start entering data and formulas, let’s get some basic formatting out of the way. Click on cell A1 and type a long-ish word, such as department. Then stretch column A horizontally, so the entire word is visible.
Now, delete the word department — we were only using that to establish width.
Make all the columns in the sheet the same width as column A by highlighting column A (click once on the A itself), then copying (ctrl + c or command + c). Now select the remaining columns (B through L should be enough for now), then paste (ctrl + c or command + c).
Now you should have a wider-format sheet with more room to see each entry.
2) Add titles and labels to your timesheet
Next up, let’s add some titles and labels so people will know what this chart is and where to enter information.
Click back into the A1 cell and type your company name (or business unit, or department — however you plan to use this sheet). Bold this text and increase the size — you may even want to use color and put it on a colored background to make it stand apart.
Some users might be tempted to merge and center that title across the top of the spreadsheet for aesthetics’ sake, but please don’t: Merged cells can cause problems later on if you want to sort or filter data using this sheet.
If you really, really want your title centered over the chart, there’s another way. Select the cells you would’ve merged. Next, click the pop-out arrow on the Alignment menu section and choose Horizontal, then Center Across Selection.
Next, add some orienting fields below the title field. You’ll probably want one for Employee and Manager and a Date or Month field; perhaps also the department name. Add these in row after row, or get creative and double-row it. For example:
A2 gets Employee:, B2 is blank for the employee to fill in. Something like A4 gets Manager:, and the next cell is also blank for filling in.
At this point, you should have a very basic file with a title and several important fields but no time data yet.
3) Add time-related fields
Below the label rows you just added, it’s time to make a new horizontal row of headings. Leave a blank row or two for visual space. For our example, we’ll assume you’re now filling in row 6.
Across row 6, input a series of headings. You can customize this list to fit the needs of your business, of course, but here’s the order that most traditional businesses would use. (Remember, these go horizontally across row 6, not vertically like this bulleted list might suggest!)
Because these are the headings on our chart, make them bold. Consider setting them apart further by centering the text or adding a color bar (or both).
At this point, your time tracking sheet is starting to take shape. It should be easy now to see how an employee would fill in a day of work, starting with the day and date and the start time, and rounding out with the end times for the day. We included two IN/OUT combinations to account for punching out for lunch breaks. If your team members follow a different pattern, adjust accordingly.
Along the same lines, not every business needs to track the same functions. Maybe you need biweekly timesheets, or you need to track billable hours instead of employee hours. Some agencies might need a way to track hourly rates for freelancers
4) Clean up and organize your sheet
Next up is making your Excel spreadsheet more user-friendly and visually appealing. Use the border tool to create a grid for the days of the week, or just around your row of headings. Experiment with colors and column widths (and row heights) until you find the professional look that fits your chart.
If you want a monthly timesheet template, copy the entire grid (including the row of headings and the column of days), then paste it three more times.
And that’s pretty much it! Now you have a basic Excel timesheet template, which you can save and then disseminate to all team members.
Advanced users can enhance this simple timesheet template with formulas to calculate hour totals, but doing so can be painfully complicated.
And even with formulas, your template is still pretty limited: Excel isn’t going to report time to HR or upload data to payroll. Even in the best-case scenario, it ends up creating a ton of manual data entry, which is prone to human error.
And using Excel time tracking templates creates more time-consumingdata entry work for someone — usually a manager with better things to spend time on — since all those time entries have to be logged in another system for payment and compliance purposes.
There are better tools out there for time tracking, project time tracking, payroll/HR reporting, and more. In other words, it’s time to break up with Excel — for your time tracking and your project management. Here’s how to break up with Excel and move forward into a more productive future.
And if you switch to Teamwork for the project tracking side of things, all the above is pretty much irrelevant: We provide pre-made templates for tracking project time. You don’t have to build them yourself — and they automatically sync data with the rest of your Teamwork project management suite.
The benefits of tracking your team’s time
Whether you stick with Excel or move up to a better solution, tracking your team’s time is definitely worth the effort. Consider all these benefits when businesses and managers start tracking time and task data.
Increases focus and reduces multitasking
We’ve said it before, and the Cleveland Clinic agrees: Multitasking doesn’t work. Instead of getting more done faster, multitasking reduces focus, increases errors, and actually slows down task completion.
When you track time down to the task and project level, you instantly increase accountability, which has a not-coincidental effect on an employee’s efforts to focus and get work done.
Creates teamwide accountability
When you track time on tasks and projects in an open way (like we do in Teamwork), you’ll create teamwide accountability: Sarah in Design can see whether Jeff in Writers actually got to the task she’s waiting on, and their project manager can see whether both are prioritizing properly.
This kind of teamwide accountability increases honesty, productivity, and trust between teammates.
Promotes effective team management
When you know whether someone is meeting their hourly obligations, you can better manage that person and their workload. A person who complains about overload but only manages to clock 35 of the expected 40 hours on average isn’t overloaded. That person just isn’t working enough.
Along the same lines, task tracking enables managers to lead better and manage their teams because it gives you clear insight into how employees are really using their time. This data is still self-reported, but it’s far closer to reality than vague verbal recollections at the end of a week.
Tracks undocumented tasks
Every work environment has at least some undocumented work tasks, and most employees (if they’re honest on their time reporting) don’t spend every second of their 40 hours hard at work. With granular time tracking, you can also gain insights into these sorts of tasks and events.
While no one expects 100% reporting (you don’t really want to time people’s bathroom breaks, do you?), you’ll quickly get a sense of the average in your work environment.
For example, if most people clock 80-85% of their work time on tasks but Gary in Accounting clocks 45%, someone needs to coach Gary on his reporting. Or they need to find out what undocumented task or project he’s spending half his work time on and turn it into a documented task or project.
Provides real-time insights into how everyone works
When you track employee time at the task level, project managers and department managers gain real-time insights into how people work. This is helpful in many ways: Savvy managers can use this data to identify which employees struggle with focus, organization, or time management. You can use the number of hours on a project to calculate budgets for future similar projects. You can even start calculating the number of productive hours on a monthly basis versus the total number of regular hours worked.
We’ve described some pretty powerful insights and visibility here — and it’s all possible when you streamline your time tracking, ditch paper timesheets or time cards, and implement a better time tracking tool.
Learn more with less manual work using Teamwork’s time tracker
Time tracking software can give businesses better visibility into how people spend their work hours — and the number of hours spent on specific projects and tasks. Teamwork’s time tracker lets you do all this and more: Teamwork can give you clearer data and reduce the manual work you’re doing to track this information using your current method.
We’d love to show you how Teamwork can improve your workflows and time and project tracking. Start with our time tracking overview, then reach out when you’re ready to see more!