Time Tracking for Individual Tasks

      Various time tracking methods - from time clocks and paper forms to electronic devices which input to a computer. May 10, 2005

I am looking for a good way to accurately track employee time spent on jobs. I have one employee plus myself and I am trying to get a better handle on whether I am pricing my jobs accurately, so I want to add some sort of device where we can enter the amount of time spent on each project during the day. For instance, when he arrives in the morning, instead of writing his time down on a timecard, he would log into a particular job and enter what he is doing, like staining or assembling cabinets. When he goes to job B and is cutting panels, he logs out of job A and into job B and notes what he is doing.

I think this would cost me a little time as he is inputting the information, but would give me a much clearer picture of where the labor is spent.

Does anyone do this and what software do you use? I have Quickbooks Pro but I don't see anything there that does what I want. I was hoping there was a PDA like Palm Pilot that I could get him to log the info on and then be able to download it to my laptop for billing. Is there a better way with a dedicated time clock that has these features and doesn't cost a thousand dollars?

Forum Responses
(Cabinetmaking Forum)
From contributor G:
Tractivity is an option.

From contributor M:
We were using Jobclock up till a few months ago. Very easy to use and loads directly into Quickbooks. We recently switched to the Nextel GPS job tracking because we have employees that were clocking in and then leaving the job site on errands. The GPS system tells you exactly where they have been all day. It will also let you log from job to job.

From contributor K:
Zoskware will do what you want and is very inexpensive right now. It also downloads to Quickbooks.

From contributor J:
Have you tried doing this just on paper? I would think that with just two workers it would be quite manageable with a self-made form, maybe a self-made spreadsheet to enter the numbers into.

From the original questioner:
The problem with the paper method is that you need to enter and transfer everything manually, plus you rely on the employee writing down an accurate time. With an electronic device, even though they can fail to, it is less prone to error than one written down.

From contributor P:
Got to disagree with you on that. I tried the electronic time clock and it is okay for in and out at the beginning and end of the day. But for tracking time, you end up with a lot of errors. Tracktivity is pretty good because the worker has the device with him all the time, but this is still prone to errors.

I do the paper method and the data gets checked and entered into the erp software by hand. In the past, with as many as 10 guys, it takes about 15 minutes to enter a day's time. (Of course, you have to think through how you want the data broken down and it can't be in too much detail, or too much time is spent on data recording.) The plus is that the person entering the data sees when things don't make sense and gets them corrected.

The other question on this subject is what do you with the data? For me, that's kind of like asking "what do you need a memory for?" I guess if you have highly repetitive jobs, then it isn't important, as you can just count widgets built at the end of the week. But if your work is more varied, then the time studies become vital for estimating, employee evaluation, job profitability, planning for machine purchases, cash flow, marketing to what type of customers, type of employees to hire, ad infinitum.

From the original questioner:
Disagreement is fine with me, but 15 minutes at the end of the day only works if you are around. That is not always the case and then when you get backlogged, it becomes cumbersome compared to being able to plug in and download the information. I agree that there is no perfect solution, but I want to do it electronically. Your last point sums it up for me. I do many varied projects and my work is not standardized.

From contributor B:
Take a look at Sundial PC time clock lite, only $100. We looked and tried several software programs but this is the best we found. We wanted it to be able to download directly to Quickbooks for payroll, assigning time to jobs, and this does.

From contributor C:
I have to agree with writing down your activities on paper on a daily basis. It is just a matter of getting in the habit of it - just as it would be to enter it into a computer. What I think you are looking to do is then enter accurate time studies into a pricing spreadsheet. Computers are great tools but I see folks spending inordinate amounts of time trying to do absolutely everything on them.

From contributor D:
I am also a two man shop and I have exactly the same concerns as you do. I feel I need to better track my shop time to make sure I am charging what items are worth.

While a computer program sounds nice, it seems that it would be more effort than something more manual. I have just purchased a used time clock for $40 on E-bay and I feel it would be a simple matter to punch in and punch out on various jobs during the day. I will just need to set up a time card for each job/task I want to track this way.

From contributor I:
I had good luck asking the guys to track a particular operation such as fitting and hanging inset doors instead of constantly stopping and noting times for each operation in the job. I tried to make it clear that I was not grading their performance but that I was fine tuning my pricing. It was a good opportunity to improve everyone's productivity by asking the front line people for suggestions. If the paperwork becomes too much of a hassle, I have found that people will short cut it. You don't want a time keeper spending the last 20 minutes of Friday afternoon filling in his time sheet for the week.

From contributor R:
I have Quickbooks Pro and it came with a timer module that allows the user to choose a job to apply the time to. I have never used it but it looks to be very simple and you can print out various reports in Quickbooks.

From contributor T:
You can do it in QB Pro. Go to help, type in hours, then click on timing or entering a single activity.

I have done it with a cheap time clock. Have the employee stamp in and out of each part of each job (cutting, assembly, milling, etc), and write in the activity next to the time. Put it into QB at the end of the week or daily. Not that hard. Very eye opening.

You don't have to do every job, just do a few. You will see where the time is going, and can adjust your future billing, or change your processes, or both.

From your other responses, it looks like there is a lot of software to automate this, but if you do a couple of jobs manually, you don't have to buy any extra software. Just a cheap time clock.

I changed my quotes upward after doing this, and changed some of the processes we use to make cabinets also.

Be sure to uncheck the box for billing to customer on invoices, or all will show up when you try to print an invoice for the customer. If I remember right, it showed up on payroll also. Might be easier to make a dummy employee to charge all the hours to. The hours for a certain job, of course, go into that job in QB. Be prepared: reality hurts!

From contributor N:
I use a PDA and a program called Titrax. It is a free program that works great.

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