How to Fill Out a Timesheet: A 7-Step Guide

Timesheets are an integral part of measuring working hours and wages and have found numerous use cases throughout history.

While the concept of measuring work hours dates back to ancient times, timesheets, as we know them today, originated in the latter half of the 19th century.

If you’re new to the timesheet system, then keep reading to find out the basics of timesheets, their applicability, as well as their advantages, and caveats. In the end, you’ll also learn how to fill out a timesheet and why software timesheets, in particular, might hold the biggest value for your team.

How to Fill Out a Timesheet: A 7-Step Guide
In this guide, you’ll learn:
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What Is a Timesheet?

By definition, timesheets are data tables that an employer, manager, or individual employee can use to track the hours that have been clocked in on the job during a certain period of time

Timesheets are used by businesses and corporations to record the hours spent by their employees on completing tasks and projects or client communication regarding invoices, ETAs, and other activities. 

Furthermore, freelance workers can use timesheets to keep track of the hours they’ve spent on different projects so they can send accurate invoices to their clients.

The classic timesheet is on paper, but nowadays, paper-based timesheets are on the decline, and alternative, streamlined, and, most importantly, digital formats have been on the rise, such as spreadsheet and online time-tracking software.

The simplest variant of a timesheet records both the date and the time an employee starts and finishes work.

However, more advanced timesheet variants can record a variety of other data, which is something we’ll explore in detail in a bit.

Are Timesheets Legal Documents?

Timesheets are considered legal documents as they are used as the basis for payroll transactions and a key document in sending client invoices.

They also serve as the legal ground upon which employees receive the payment, benefits, and time off they are entitled to. 

How to Fill Out a Timesheet?

Now that we’ve covered the basics, it’s time to show you how you can fill a timesheet. There are two types of timesheets - the regular old paper timesheet and a software timesheet system.  

The basics of filling out timesheets remain the same for both paper timesheets and timesheet software.

Step 1 - Name and Surname

The name field in a timesheet should be filled with the name and surname of the team member filling out the timesheet. 

You can write the names of your employees yourself, or you can ask them to fill out the timesheets themselves.

Step 2 - Date

The next step is to enter the date for the timesheet. 

Most companies ask their employees to complete timesheets on a daily, weekly, or monthly basis. 

It’s important that you enter the correct figures and dates for payroll, taxes, and audits, as inaccurate records might become a legal issue.

Step 3 - Project Details

It’s time to put tasks in groups that clearly display what the employee was working on and how long they worked on that task/project.

In their most basic form, project details cover a broad field of operations but usually contain data such as:

  • Project roles
  • Timeline
  • Project goals
  • ETAs
  • Estimated budget.

Step 4 - Add Working Hours

Most timesheets include a field where you can insert the hours worked on a particular day. 

For example, Monday 4 hours, Tuesday 6 hours, etc. 

This allows you to spot problematic weekly patterns, as you can notice whether an employee starts working late on Mondays and stops working early on Fridays.

Step 5 - Calculate the Hours

Once the field for working hours is filled in, you can calculate the total hours for the week or month and fill them in the total tab of the timesheet. 

Here, you can see the total amount of time that an employee has worked each day and use this information to calculate any overtime or double time for the payroll.

This process is completely automated when using a software timesheet. Software timesheets display every working hour from every project for every individual employee since they’ve started to fill out the software timesheets.

Step 6 - Notes

Most timesheets or software timesheets have a notes section where you can enter some details regarding weekly or hourly rates and approvals for overtime, delays, and absences. If you need to leave work for a couple of hours to tend to some tasks, you can freely put it in the notes sections.

Most commonly notes contain:

  • Overtime approvals
  • Daily rates
  • Hourly rates
  • Weekly rates
  • Project delays
  • Submittals for leave
  • Time-off requests

Step 7 - Approval

When a team member completes a timesheet, they have to (ideally) submit it to the manager for approval. It’s the manager’s job to verify the details written on the timesheet and sign it for approval.

Software timesheets like at My can be approved with a single click, and you won’t even have to send an email to your employer.

What Types of Timesheets Are There?

Timesheets can be categorized based on the time period they represent, the information they require, and themedium used for tracking.

Types of timesheets

The main types of timesheets are:

  • Monthly timesheets.
  • Weekly timesheets.
  • Bi-weekly timesheets.
  • Daily hourly timesheets for employees.
  • Daily timesheets for management.
  • Project timesheets.

Paper Timesheets

  • Paper timesheets are considered an outdated method of tracking employee working hours these days. 
  • They display and record how many hours per day an employee spends working on their designated projects or tasks. 
  • When an employee starts working in a company, they receive their paper timesheets and have to fill them out with data according to company policies. 
  • Most companies use weekly timesheets to record man-hours of work, but some also require daily, bi-weekly, and monthly timesheets.

Software Timesheets

  • Nowadays, many industries use automated time tracking systems. 
  • Top-of-the-line companies use web or cloud-based time tracking systems. 
  • Timesheet software offers sophisticated timekeeping, asset tracking, projects, clients, time-off management capabilities, and more. 
  • Moreover, you can integrate most timesheet software with smartphones in the form of smartphone apps on both Android and iOS devices. 
  • Employees and employers can view all sorts of data with a simple click. 
Types of timesheets

Timesheets vs Timecards

Most people think that timesheets and timecards are one and the same thing. In reality, even though they both calculate work hours, a timesheet typically holds more data compared to a timecard’s hourly punch-in/punch-out capabilities.

Timecards are time-stamped cards that work as a simple clock-in/clock-out system, and employees use them to measure their shifts’ starting hours and end hours. These are largely outdated as most companies use automatic time card calculators or automated timesheet software.

The timesheet is the evolved variant of the time card as it doesn’t only measure working hours but it also allows management to record the time spent on work for the purpose of project accounting, client invoices, payroll processing, and much more.

Paper Timesheets VS Timesheet Software - Why Timesheet Software Is Better

Paper timesheets are tried and tested, and while they are effective at getting you the data you need - they are simply outdated. Moreover, they can quickly become a hassle as they are an endless stream of paperwork, week in, week out.

Digital spreadsheets such as Excel and Google Sheets will do the job just fine, but they aren’t much more than a digital “paper” sheet. The process for entering correct figures or dates is still manual.

Timesheet software is the way of the future, as it offers solutions designed to combat the biggest challenges in tracking work hours and performance with timesheets.

Let’s take software such as My Hours as an example. What can it offer that paper timesheets or spreadsheet software like Excel or Google Sheets can’t?

With My Hours, things are much smoother and don’t make the employee feel like a slave to the timesheet as we offer more than just an hour tracking software. We offer a platform that can be used to interact with employees, clients, and different projects and one that’s capable of calculating the hours put in for work with just a few simple clicks.

To conclude, software timesheets are the best at providing teams, employees, or freelancers with the tools they need to focus more on their work instead of losing time on filling Excel or paper timesheets for punching in and punching out features. 

Many companies are pleasantly surprised by the boost in productivity that automatic timesheet software can bring about. 

Why Your Team Needs a Timesheet System

Looking from the angle of small or medium-sized businesses, in particular, a properly maintained and enforced timesheet policy is a great asset.

To illustrate this better, let’s explore the advantages and disadvantages of timesheets in even greater detail.

Reasons to have a timesheet system

The Advantages of a Timesheet Policy

Accurate Wages for Accurate Hours

This is the most basic advantage of using timesheets. In plain terms, employee timesheets are used to calculate the total payroll, i.e. the wages an employee receives as compensation for their work. 

A Neat Historical Database

Timesheets put numbers to the tasks at hand, and managers can use these numbers as a reference for future projects. 

For example, you notice that most team members needed around 4 days to master the basics of the last couple of projects they’ve worked on in the last two or three months. 

Armed with this information, the manager can then use this ace in order to enhance client communication channels and provide an ETA about future projects. This also goes for ETAs regarding time, costs, and resources.

Automated Systems for Increased Efficiency

Timesheets are a great way to uncover activities in the workflow that are less efficient than other activities. This data lets the manager make modifications and alterations to improve the work process. 

But, even more importantly, timesheets just make tracking everything easier and more efficient on their own.

In small businesses, the management team can be stretched too thin. Even if the business is medium to large, with an in-house HR team, timesheets can still streamline the huge task of managing payroll, invoices, man-hours, holidays, time off, etc.

In both cases, a timesheet system can:

  • Free up managers’ time while still ensuring they stay on top of things. 
  • Help managers look after employees and nurture crucial company practices more efficiently by automating a large portion of their tasks.
  • Help you downsize management or alleviate their workload.
  • Help the business or particular team be more profitable in the long run, as these management resources can be allocated elsewhere.  

Accurate Invoices and Making Sure Projects Are Profitable

When sending invoices to clients, managers or employers should make sure that these invoices are clean, i.e. accurate in correlation with the hours worked. 

The clients that pay for the company’s services should only pay billable hours appropriate to the work that was done by the employees. Timesheets help you with that. 

If you are tracking time to bill clients, whether as a company, team, or in the capacity of a freelancer, doing it with timesheets will help you keep it transparent, professional, and accurate, and will make it easier for you to be adequately compensated for your work. 

And most important of all, filling out a timesheet or asking team members to log their time will allow you to keep your client projects profitable.

On the other hand, if you’re enlisting somebody else’s services, that is, if you’re the client in the scenario, getting a timesheet along with the invoice will help you gain perspective of the value you’re getting and determine whether your expenses for a particular project are justified. 

Track and Adapt Different Roles

Another advantage of using timesheets is that they can help you evaluate the performance of different teams. The data they help you accrue over time can power all sorts of business and management decisions.  

For example, you can use them to identify which departments or teams are late with their work and have employees stay longer to get the job done. This can indicate that the department might need a few extra hands on deck, which will be your cue to send them more manpower.

On the other hand, they will also allow you to potentially identify which departments have things a bit too easy - employees may be clocking out early on a regular basis. In this case, you can downsize that team or use its resources on other projects. 

Software timesheets, in particular, can be used to track and monitor tasks in a project or separate projects and see whether team members:

  • Are efficiently executing their tasks on a project
  • Are qualified to be in a certain role within the team. 
  • Are making a below or above-average effort. 
  • Are starting to develop a particular area of expertise that can be used to the company’s benefit in the future.
  • Have enough time to do their tasks justice. 

All of this provides valuable insight into the performance of your teams that can help you decide to give a promotion, distribute the workload differently to increase overall productivity or meet project deadlines, notice and take measures to avoid scope creep and more.

With valuable timesheet data and regular assessment, the possibilities are endless.

The Caveats 

Human Error

No matter how advanced your automated timesheet system or online algorithm is, timesheets always require a human interaction factor to be completed. And it’s only human to err.

The inevitable human error factor might be completely accidental, a result of the forgetfulness factor, or, in a worst-case scenario, an instance of an employee manipulating their work hours. This is often called time manipulation or time theft.

To fight human error, regardless of the reason behind it, you should implement some type of timesheet check, especially if the timesheets are used for billing clients or affect payroll or tax.

This means tracking timesheets (on a daily, monthly, or weekly basis, depending on your business dynamic) or adopting the practice of having each timesheet a team member fills out approved by a manager.

Difficulties When Tracking Intangible Tasks

Events of a collective nature such as meetings, brainstorming sessions, and project catch-ups are known to be particularly difficult to track.

For example, you have 4 employees in a meeting with a client for an hour or so. Should you bill your client for a single hour only, and if this is the case, then which employee adds that hour to their timesheet? Or do you charge 4 hours for each employee’s work hour?

To combat this, the best way to go is to make a company decision to make difficult-to-track events such as meetings non-billable events or to charge a fixed rate by the hour. By using timesheets, or the more advanced version - software timesheets, you can send accurate billing reports for each minute an employee has spent working on a particular project. If it took 4 people an hour, it would be logical to bill the client for the four people that worked via legitimate proof.

Extra Staff Work

While an HR team will be delighted by the implementation of a timesheet system, as it’ll make their life easier, other team members might have a different take.

It usually has to do with the fact they now have to designate some extra time to fill them out, an activity not many find particularly enjoyable. While some team members might appreciate the clear processes you’re adopting to nurture transparency, others might not be as thrilled about it.

So, it’s important to have an implementation strategy with the goal of easing everybody into the new process smoothly. 

This means:

  • Providing training for everybody, and then making sure new team members always receive instructions. 
  • Showing your team that timesheets are not an inconvenience - they are an asset that helps you distribute the workload and keep everyone accountable.
  • Communicating that this policy is something that actually keeps back-and-forth with management to a minimum while still ensuring that things are getting done. 
  • And, ultimately, showing your team that they’re easy, and take 15 mins per day, tops. 

Staff Morale

As the introduction of a timesheet system can affect staff morale in a big way (for the reasons listed above), we’ll share a few more tips that can help you with implementation. 

Our biggest tip is that you don’t try to implement this system selectively

If you or someone from management adopt timesheets only for certain teams and let others off the hook, then the overall staff morale might decrease. Employees who will have to use this system might feel on the spot and wonder why only they have to fill out their timesheets while some of their colleagues don’t. 

This even applies to you as a manager or owner. Employees don’t really like to be treated differently than management so it’s important that if employees have to use timesheets, then everyone should use them to calculate their work hours with the same system. This is a great way to create a sense of “we’re all in this together” within your team or company.

How Timesheets Benefit Freelancers

So far, we’ve mostly discussed how timesheets can benefit teams or whole companies. However, if you’re a freelancer, you might find them beneficial too, for the following reasons:

  • They help you get paid appropriately. By using a timesheet, you will get paid exactly for how much time you’ve worked. They also make the process of invoicing clients easier and cleaner.
  • They can help you keep track of project costs and the hours required to complete them.
  • They can help you measure and evaluate your performance on different projects.
  • They can give you an insight into your work efficiency for multiple projects.
  • They can even help you save money by measuring an estimated budget with your project in progress.


How to calculate timesheet hours?

The easiest way to calculate timesheet hours is by subtracting the start time (when employees clock in) from the end time (when employees clock out).

For example:

An employee worked from 9 am to 5 pm. The first step is to change the time format from AM/PM to military time. In this case, 9 a.m. just becomes a 9, while 5 p.m. changes into 17. After that, all you have to do is a simple calculation:

17 - 9 = 8 

How to record work hours?

To record work hours, you can use:

  • Pen and a paper – track the work hours manually and then write them down on a piece of paper.
  • Time clocks – collect employee punch cards and use that data to calculate and record work hours.
  • Time-tracking software – the software will automatically record work hours. That data can be used to easily create timesheets. 

How do you enter 30 minutes on a timesheet?

When manually filling out timesheets, 1 hour should be always recorded as 1. 30 minutes, or half an hour should be entered as 0.5.