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6 min read

[Pros & Cons] Excel timesheet vs online time tracking

Do you wonder if exchanging your Excel timesheets for timesheets in a dedicated time tracking system is worth the effort? See the pros and cons for both solutions now.

[Pros & Cons] Excel timesheet vs online time tracking

Is your hair turning grey waiting for delayed Excel timesheets? Or when you need to compile the timesheets into something, you can invoice your customers?

If not you, then maybe that's the case for your CFO or bookkeeper.

But despite these drawbacks, Excel is still an incredibly solid and thoroughly tested tool. So maybe it does cover your company’s needs just fine.

The question is whether Excel is enough. Or does investing in a dedicated system for time tracking make sense?

To help you find the answer, we have listed the essential pros and cons for both solutions.

But first, we should address a common misunderstanding.

Misconception: Excel timesheets are best for small companies, and time tracking systems are only for large companies

small-or-big-company-600


The short answer is: Not quite.

The benefits of using a time tracking system do not depend on your company's size. A sound time tracking system will scale and adapt to your company as you grow from a small start-up to a large enterprise.

excel-timesheet-vs-time-tracking


If you have a small company, it is not the size of your organisation that dictates the pros and cons of one solution or the other. Most smaller teams use Excel timesheets as their go-to solution.

But as soon as you grow above 15-20 employees, the cons related to Excel timesheets will be increasingly pressing. At this stage, administration, invoicing and analysis become time-consuming and cumbersome.

And as you grow, the advantages of time tracking systems will be even more pronounced.

So, what are the pros and cons of timesheets in Excel vs time tracking systems?

The list of pros and cons could potentially be very, very long. But we have picked out three main areas essential for a consultancy.

Then, we will take a look at the price in the end.

  • 1) User-friendliness
  • 2) Invoicing 
  • 3) Reporting and analysis
  • And then there is the price.
effortless2


1) User-friendliness: Ensure you collect your hours

When you select a solution, it is customary to focus on the advanced features of the individual solutions.

But arguably, the most crucial feature in time tracking is that it has to be easy because everyone in the organisation will use it.

If it's not easy, your employees will not track their times correctly, or it is too inaccurate for you to make money. Or you will not know if you earn or lose money on your fixed-price projects.

”User-friendliness is crucial to achieve a good billable utilization rate”

The reason employees do not fill out their timesheets is rarely based on ill will. It's usually because it is too difficult.

This makes user-friendliness decisive for timesheet completion, a strong billable utilization rate, and making money on your projects.

Let’s take a look at that now.

Great recognisability but clumsy user-friendliness in Excel

Excel’s significant strength is that everybody knows it.

If you do not use advanced formulas, an Excel timesheet is easy for the employee, and you do not need to introduce your employees to the program.

Excel can be a good solution if you are busy putting out fires because you do not need to spend energy on changing work processes.

user-friendliness-in-excel


At the same time, Excel is a go-to solution for many employees for other work tasks. It may be appealing for them to have “business as usual”.

Excel is built for analysis and desk work

For consultants who spend most of their time with customers, opening up the computer and entering the hours in an Excel timesheet while they are on their way from customer to customer may be troublesome.

It may, in general, be a bit disturbing to open Excel to open the timesheet, as it may not be part of the employees’ other work processes.

Experience shows that most people track their time at the end of the day when they track time in Excel. It affects precision, and the employees, on average, track fewer hours and minutes than they have actually worked.

This is why many companies experience an increase in the invoicing percentage when they move away from this practice.

The bookkeeper is charged with heavy administration

Finally, Excel has the con that you, as a user, need to manage the timesheets manually. The bookkeeper is primarily entrusted with all employees entering their hours in the Excel sheets.

Because Excel cannot automatically notify when a timesheet is completed, the bookkeeper has to manually open them all to control if they are completed and remind employees.

With opening sheets and tabs, this procedure takes place over 3-4 rounds until everything is filled out.

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New routines are required, but great user-friendliness in time tracking systems

Contrary to Excel, all systems are designed for you to fill out a timesheet.

It is a good point of departure for a solution the employees find easy to use, as user-friendliness in the time tracking tasks has been included in the systems from the beginning.

user-friendliness-in-a-time-tracking-system


For instance, employees can track their time on the right tasks without worrying about handing in Excel sheets.

It makes it more simple and manageable.

In addition, most time tracking systems offer alternatives to the online timesheet. It is very easy to track time on your mobile with dedicated apps. Or during the day via applications running in the background on your computer.

If we should point to a con about time tracking systems, it is that an implementation often requires changes in your employees’ routines.

On the other hand, this is often an advantage.

invoice


2) Invoicing: There is a crucial difference in how much you invoice

One of the routines which can go badly in many companies is linked to the invoicing process.

The transformation of timesheets to invoices has countless creative solutions in companies. Often, an e-mail is sent to the bookkeeper when the project manager remembers to do so.

All in all, it involves several employees handing over information and invoicing.

In invoicing,, many experience a specific difference between using Excel sheets and a time tracking system.

Invoicing from timesheets in Excel is a lousy business

You see the weaknesses of Excel in the invoicing. And there is not much positive to say about it.

invoicing-from-excel


The symptoms of Excel sheet invoicing include a low invoicing percentage, managers flowing up on delayed timesheets and a bookkeeper or finance employee trying to create invoices from a pile of Excel timesheets.

It often takes 3-4 days and is full of errors.

The errors are often not due to the bookkeeper. But those numbers are moved between Excel sheets, which makes it impossible to control the correctness of registrations or follow de- and appreciations.

”You lose money because you invoice too little using Excel”

The problems keep getting more prominent as the company grows. But this is also the case for the smaller companies.

In short, you lose money because you do not invoice enough and spend too much time if you do it in Excel.

Time tracking systems increase the invoicing percentage

Contrary to Excel, time tracking systems provide a financial profit when you use them to invoice the hours.

invoicing-in-a-time-tracking-system

A sound system lets you (or your bookkeeper) pull hours linked to projects or customers and convert them to invoices.

Without sending any e-mails to the organisation.

Usually, tracking systems integrate with the most prominent finance systems, so the chain from registering hours to invoicing is linked.

This means no errors occur because data must be moved between Excel sheets or systems. And because all data is linked and the hours are easily traceable, it becomes easy to control the time registrations and follow-ups and appreciations.

math-reporting


3) Reporting and analysis: Timesheets are your most important data source

In consultancies, the main purpose of time tracking is to form the basis for the invoice.

But as your company grows and matures, the need to analyse time registrations increases.

How do you spend your time? Which project types and customers are time-consuming? What are your consultants’ realised hourly rates compared to the sales price?

You can get the figures you need in both solutions.

Excel offers advanced reporting for advanced users

If you collect the timesheets in Excel, you can build comprehensive reporting. Excel is an advanced analysis tool for those who understand to make use of it.

At the same time, the formulas are open, and you can follow the calculations and adjust them if you need to.

reporting-in-excel


It requires a high user level to build reports advanced enough to see the figures you need for a deeper analysis.

And it is time-consuming to fill in data in the reports when you need to collect and process timesheets and pull data from different sheets.

At the same time, there is a big risk that errors occur. A single wrong calculation or erroneous data source can cause a chain of wrong calculations. And it is challenging to track across Excel sheets.

Comprehensive and deep reporting are standard features in time tracking systems.

Most time tracking systems have a set of pre-defined reports that pull data directly from the time, expense and mileage registrations.

It means that the work of collecting and preparing the timesheets disappears.

If you need reports different from the pre-defined ones in the time tracking system, or if you calculate KPIs like invoicing percentages differently, you can often extract the data and process it in Excel.

Time tracking systems have a clear advantage in the depth and filtering of the reports.

Often, you gain insights into the profitability of single projects and customers or the employees’ internal and external time without building complex Excel sheets.

Try the benefits of TimeLog 30 days for

Try TimeLog for free if you want to test different time tracking systems. You can create projects you can have your employees test time on, pull reports with the data from the time registrations and follow your key figures. If you link your TimeLog to your finance system, you can also send invoices to your customers quickly, simply and without errors.

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