Modern timekeeping is an essential part of project management. Used for long-term planning, monitoring cash flow, and paying the wages of employees – timesheets are critical in a range of businesses both large and small.

So, what exactly is the history of timekeeping and how is it carried out in the digital age?

What is the history of timesheets?

A formal method of tracking work conducted throughout the day; timesheets are used to record the work carried out on a job by individual workers. Collectively correlated, these allow for payments to be calculated and correctly distributed.

These were first used in the industrial revolution to allow for a quick way to track the progress made by a large volume of workers. As time evolved, this process has been streamlined and now digitised, but essentially, the process remains the same. Once on-site, a worker ‘clocks in’ by using whatever on-site system the employer has in place. This is often tied to the entrance of a site, tying their access to work with their ‘start’ and ‘end’ dates.

late timesheets

These were originally on sheets of paper with days and time laid out. The first example of this appeared in 1888 when William Le Grand Bundy invented the ‘Bundy’ clock. This was used once a worker entered the site, they would slot their individualised card into a machine that would punch a physical hole into the paper. These would then be collected and internally reconciled, letting businesses quickly calculate what was owed to whom. This physical perforation led to the term ‘punching in’, meaning to show up for work and start your day.

What industries was it used in?

Timesheets and physical methods were used in industries that dealt with mass labour, automation, or used complex payment reconciliation. While these were originally deployed to manage payroll, it wasn’t long before employers started using them for management accounting – letting them be deployed for billing on client work and projecting project costs, validating estimates, and overall project management.

This meant they were particularly useful in offices, shops, building sites – often becoming a staple in life from the 1900’s onward.

Who uses it now?

The same companies that benefitted from time tracking still deploy it now, albeit in a high-tech manner. Many construction sites or industrial locations use swipe cards or keycode units to track when individuals enter and exit sites. While ‘punching in’ to get paid is more of a rarity, modern options now double up to allow for security access, metricising data, and providing oversight on patterns or trends that should be addressed or encouraged.

These have even been modified with the use of biometrics in highly-secure sites, with time tracking tied to an individual’s fingerprints, iris, or voice – with multifactor identification deployed. This helps make things more efficient for the individual and helps cut back on fraud or errors when it comes to accounting and reconciliation.

What are the advantages of digital timekeeping?

If a business requires it, digital timekeeping is an exceptional way to drive efficiency throughout a company and provides a range of benefits. However, there are a number of variables that should be considered before making a permanent switch.

Some key positives and negatives include:


Cost Reduction: Digital time tracking can massively help cut back on the internal resource required to sort, analyse, and reconcile processes compared to an entirely paper-based system. In many pieces of software, this can allow a single account to do in one click what would take days to accomplish on paper.


The process is much simpler to complete for workers and clerical staff and supervisors. Using a digital method makes the process easier for employees with the use of swipe cards or passcodes – or allowing for the uploading of physical sheets to a legacy system. Many platforms also allow you to quickly process payments through generating invoices and payslips.


Digital timekeeping allows project managers to make more realistic estimates and provide key clients and stakeholders with information about work to date. This also makes it harder for employees to fudge the time they are working and ensure that their hours are correctly reconciled without human error.


Being able to work digitally allows your team to quickly harvest data about daily work. This leads to insight about working practice and enables supervisors to validate how long projects will take, allowing teams to provide balanced estimates to clients to ensure solid returns.



One of the biggest risks with any digital system is initial deployment, which can be problematic if not specced out correctly. Choosing a reliable provider can help ensure that your implementation goes smoothly and that all the variables that you need are fully considered.

Future Proofing

If a digital system is deployed, it is essential that you discuss the plans and capacity for change that the provider has for the system further down the line. This should include dealing with technical change, software updates and more. Any reliable business will be able to put your fears at rest and confirm how changes would be addressed and the steps involved.

Find out more

If you want to learn more about how digitising your timesheets can help your business, our team at Practical Software are here to help. With many years’ professional experience, our team will work with you to provide the guidance and technical support you need to improve your processes.
You can view our full range of products and services from here. Or if you need additional help and guidance, please do not hesitate to get in touch directly and let us know exactly what you need.