How to Fill Out Timesheets Like a Pro

How to Fill Out Timesheets Like a Pro

A step-by-step guide to walk you through timesheets, from start to finish.

How to Fill Out Timesheets Like a Pro

In 2015, an infamous study estimated that incorrect timesheets cost the U.S. economy $7.4 billion a day. That figure was based on unbilled time spent on digital communications like email.

Fast forward to 2023. Many resource management tools have been entirely digitized. With remote work becoming normalized — as well as increased demand in the service industry — the value of time entry cannot be understated.

That said? Some places are still calculating payroll the old-school way. In those cases, you might need to learn how to fill out a paper timesheet.

The Big Picture

  • Time recording methods such as timesheets aren't just necessary for payroll — they're a part of legal compliance.
  • Your timesheet data can be used for effective project planning, resource forecasting, scheduling, and budgeting.
  • An online employee timesheet system automates the time tracking process and makes generating reports much easier.

What is a timesheet?

A timesheet is a record of work hours. They may also include working time spent on specific tasks, jobs, or projects.

Timesheets have uses beyond time tracking. For example, they can be used to track progress and productivity, as well as forecast resources. Complete timesheets are used for processing payroll.

Different workplaces will have different timesheet requests. Some may simply ask employees to log total hours worked. Others may ask for detailed information, like a list of tasks completed.

Need an example? We’ve got a free timesheet template to help.

Types of Timesheets

There are 6 common types of timesheets. While most of them have to do with time-based intervals (i.e., weeks or months), project timesheets offer a different way to measure progress. Allow us to explain:

  • Daily Timesheets: A daily timesheet breaks days down into small segments (typically, hourly blocks). Daily timesheets often allow the most space for adding details on tasks completed.
  • Weekly Timesheets: A weekly timesheet is a document that asks employees to log hours worked during a 5-7 day period. They may also log which project or task they worked on for that day.
  • Bi-Weekly Timesheets: A bi-weekly timesheet is similar to a weekly timesheet. The difference is that bi-weekly timesheets span 2 weeks (14 consecutive days, or 10 business days).
  • Monthly Timesheets: A monthly timesheet is a document where employees can log hours worked for an entire month. These are best for workplaces that pay monthly.
  • Project Timesheets: A project timesheet tracks the time taken to complete a specific project (or assigned subtasks). Typically, employees will enter the date work was completed.
  • Time Card Sheets: A time card sheet records your shift start and end times. Typically, this includes in/out times for breaks. Many time card sheets span an entire pay period (often, this is bi-weekly).

Timesheets aren’t exclusive to the workplace, either. Personal timesheets can provide a ton of insight into how you spend a day. For example, business professor Dorie Clark was stunned to learn that she was dedicating more than 2 hours a day to reading (like many other professionals, she felt like she wasn’t reading enough).

Similarly, students are often encouraged to use timesheets to manage their workload. One study suggested that as many as 75% of college students find timesheets to be useful to keep track of their academic productivity. Time blocking is another effective timesheet management strategy that helps with time management both on and off the clock.

Types of Timesheets

How to Make a Timesheet

Ready to give timesheets a try? How you fill it out depends on the form of timesheets you’re provided. But, generally speaking, an employee timesheet will typically need the following info:

  • Your name
  • Dates
  • Start and end times
  • Task descriptions

Here’s the nitty-gritty.

Filling Out a Daily Timesheet

Step 1: Write your name, date, and start time.

Writing your full name (first and last) is recommended. It will make it easier when it comes time to process the timesheet for payroll.

Step 2: Write down your first task.

In the description field, you’ll want to record exactly what you’re working on. It’s best to do this when you first start the task because it will be easier to keep track of your progress. If you haven’t yet, include the time you started your task.

Step 3: Record your task end time.

When the task is completed, write down the time you finish it. If your timesheet template allows it, record the exact time, down to the minute. If you’re completing multiple tasks quickly, it may be easier to list each task within a given time block.

Step 4: Repeat steps 2 and 3 for each subsequent task.

On to the next thing! As your workday progresses, record your tasks and the time spent on completion. You’ll want to do the same for any paid or unpaid breaks taken, too.

Step 5: Total up the hours.

At the end of the day, write your total hours worked in the “total” column of your timesheet. If you need help, our time duration calculator can help. If you prefer to do the math in your head, we’ve got an explainer on how to add hours for payroll.

Filling Out a Daily Timesheet

Filling Out a Weekly, Bi-Weekly, or Monthly Timesheet

Step 1: Write down your name and the date range.

Again: it’s best practice to write your full name (first and last). This makes it easier when it comes to processing payroll. You’ll also want to record the date range for your timesheet (i.e., start and end dates).

Step 2: Record your “in” time.

Write down the time you started your shift. Most weekly, bi-weekly, and monthly timesheets won’t have room for you to record more specific details about your shift — they’re more focused on recording hours worked.

Step 3: Record your break.

When it’s time to take a break, write down your “out” time. When you return to your shift, you’ll write another “in” time. This second “in” time notes when your break ended.

Step 4: Record your shift end time.

At the end of your day, you’ll write down your final “out” time. This second “out” time notes when your workday ended.

Step 5: Repeat steps 2-4.

Keep it going! Record your shift start/end times for each day listed in the timesheet.

Step 6: Total up the hours.

At the end of the timesheet period, write your total hours worked in the “total” column of your timesheet. Again, our time duration calculator can help, or read more on adding hours for payroll.

Filling Out a Project Timesheet

Step 1: Write down your name and basic project info.

Just like with other types of timesheets, you’ll want to start by writing your full name. However, project timesheets work a little differently than timesheets based on dates. Instead of writing down a date range, you’ll record your client’s name or the name of the project.

Step 2: Record your task.

With a project timesheet, you’ll want to write down the specific work you’re completing. In some cases, you’ll write a job code, rather than a task description.

Step 3: Record time spent.

As you complete project tasks, you’ll also need to give some indication of time spent. Some project timesheets will want to know exactly how much time is spent, while others are merely interested in knowing what was worked on during a given day. Refer to your template for the specifics.

Step 4: Repeat steps 2-3.

Here we go again! As you work on your project, you’ll continue recording your tasks, as well as when you worked on them. For a project timesheet, you’ll continue doing this until your project is completed, or it’s time to create an invoice.

Step 5: Total up the hours.

When the time comes, you’ll need to total up the number of hours worked. With project timesheets, this can be particularly tricky. That’s because you may be doing piecework (i.e., when you bill for work completed, as opposed to an hourly rate). If you’re doing this manually, our time duration calculator can help, or read more on how to calculate hours worked.

Why Timesheets Matter

Why Timesheets Matter

Correctly filling out a timesheet is crucial to productivity. But if an employee already practices good time management, they may question the value of timesheet tracking.

The truth is that an accurate timesheet helps give the big picture when it comes to business outcomes. It’s also necessary to keep records of hours worked for legal compliance. It’s less about tracking time for an individual employee and more about optimizing the workplace as a whole.

A good employee timesheet management system does more than just time recording. It also helps keep track of billable activities, your project schedule, and general productivity. A digital system with online timesheets, plus the right features, can be a huge convenience that automates multiple manual processes.

Reason 1: Timesheets track project costs

Business owners and project managers need to keep track of how much they’re spending on each project. This helps them ensure that they’re seeing a return on investment (ROI). It also helps them fairly invoice clients, distribute workload, and assign subtasks.

Reason 2: Timesheets help payroll

The fun part about timesheets is how they turn into money. Your company’s accountant will use timesheets to figure out how much to pay each employee.

Of course, paper timesheets are less user-friendly, and almost always will require a little guesswork from the employees filling them out. You can combat this by using time tracking software that easily integrates with payroll platforms — more on this later.

Reason 3: Timesheets help measure performance

Does your employee want to get a raise? Their timesheet offers an objective measurement of workplace performance. That’s because high-performing employees are significantly more productive than their low-performing counterparts — as much as 800% more productive, according to recent research.

Of course, when deciding whether to give a pay raise you’ll want to take into account factors other than hours worked. That said? Timesheets can still be helpful when looking at the big picture of worker performance.

Reason 4: Timesheets create accurate billing

Depending on where you work, timesheets may be used to create client invoices. In this scenario, it’s especially useful when timesheets are used in conjunction with project planning software. For example, the ability to break down costs based on specific projects or even tasks within that project can let clients know where their budget is going.

Reason 5: Timesheets save money

Because timesheets are so useful for budgeting, implementing timesheets can help save money over time. When collecting timesheets, you’ll see the big picture of how your workers spend their time. This will help them plan future projects and staff responsibilities in a way that maximizes profits.

Reason 6: It’s required by law

The U.S. Department of Labor Wages and Fair Labor Standards Act legally requires employers to keep certain records. That includes daily hours worked, total hours worked per workweek, pay rate, and total wages paid. Timesheets are one way to maintain records in order to be compliant with the law.

Common Timesheet Challenges

Like anything else in business, there are pros and cons to using timesheets. However, many of the challenges can be addressed by automating timesheets with software. Allow us to explain.

Challenge 1: Timesheet Management

Manual timesheets are tedious. They’re tedious for the employees to fill out. They’re even more tedious when used for administrative work or as they're processed for payroll.

In fact, it takes, on average, 5 minutes and 16 seconds to process a timesheet by hand. If you have a staff of 10 employees, it will take an hour just to calculate their hours worked. That time adds up for each pay period!

Challenge 2: Human Error

Think about the last time you sent an email. How much time did it take to push send? 20 minutes? An hour? When you’re filling out a timesheet by hand, you’ll end up doing a lot of estimation when it comes to time on task.

Timesheet Challenges

For the person processing timesheets manually, the stakes are higher. A small mathematical error could result in under or overpaying an employee. If these errors aren’t caught before payroll is complete, it can be costly for the business — even causing legal repercussions..

Challenge 3: Resource Forecasting

Hoping to use timesheets to gauge productivity? With paper timesheets, you’ll have your work cut out for you. Keeping tabs on project completion (and the associated costs) is a lot to do by hand.

Even if you have a small staff, generating reports is a lot of mental work. Properly forecasting your resources will take some serious head-scratching. Basically, you’ll feel like you’re doing a never-ending load of homework for your high school statistics class — but with money on the line.

Why Automated Timesheets Rule

Modern technology can automate employee time tracking, making it easier for employees to create time entries while also reducing the workload of administrators, supervisors, and managers.

Online timesheet software easily addresses common challenges presented by paper timesheets, helping to keep your projects on track while also taking the guesswork out of tracking time for both you and your employees. This software transforms tedious time tracking processes such as tallying a manual timesheet, completing time-consuming work for humans with the click of a button.

Here are some common features to shop for in your online timesheet management system:

  • Cloud-based Time Clocks. Your employees can clock in and out using a designated device. No more guessing their start and end times.
  • Job and Project Costing. This feature allows employees to clock in and out of specific tasks, making resource forecasting a cinch.
  • Payroll Integration. When your software can integrate with your payroll provider, you can process pay periods in just a few clicks.

OnTheClock can do all 3 and for a fraction of the cost of our competitors. Plans start at $3.50 per user per month (with discounts for every 10 employees). Plus, you can try it risk-free and at no cost with our 30-day free trial — no credit card required.

Written by

OnTheClock Team

OnTheClock is the perfect app for businesses that want to keep track of their employees' time without spending hours doing it. With OnTheClock, you can forget about the old way of doing things.

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