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Time Tracker Is Unfair Punitive and Poorly Designed

Whether intentionally or not, the rules, method and behavior that Upwork has built into the Time Tracker system favors the client and penalizes the contractor.  But more than that it divorces real time from logged time which in my mind is poor design. 


If you are an hourly worker on an Upwork project then you know that Upwork captures screenshots of your progress, captures your activity between screenshots and delivers this data onto the Work Diary page for your client to review.  In principle I think this a fair and valuable tool for both the client and the contractor.  But the devil as always is in the details. 


I tried to find some sort of documentation on the Upwork website that would shed light on the formal system for the Time Tracker but could find nothing.  I also submitted an inquiry but received no reply.   I decided I should document my experience and lay it out here.  Hopefully we can start a dialogue about how the system (perhaps unintentionally) favors the client’s interests and hurts the contractor.  I would like to help improve the screen capture and work logging system to be a more balanced and accurate tool for the client and the contractor.

This is going to get complex, but I will break it down into observations and then complications.  In observing how the system works I have found the following behavior exhibited by the Upwork screenshot/time keeping system.

  1. The system captures your time and logs your billable hours in 10 min. increments.
  2. The system randomizes the capture interval. The intervals vary wildly.  I have seen as much as 18 min. between captures and as little as 2 min. 
  3. Whenever the capture occurs 10 min. of billable hours is added to the work diary.
  4. The capture is entered into a standardized table of 10 min. time slots that divide each day. Curiously, it doesn’t matter if 2 min. has passed or 18 min. has passed, 10 min. is added with every screen capture. 
  5. The system tracks the number of actions you have had during that interval.
  6. The system will frequently automatically capture when you switch between apps. However, I have noticed that it only does this if you are switching to a web browser or an entertainment app like Spotify.  I have yet to have it automatically capture when clicking between Maya, Slack, Visual Studio Code and Unity, where I spend most of my time.  I suppose there is something in the Upwork capture system that recognizes “work apps” and “play apps” and tries to capture “gotcha” moments of unproductive time. 
  7. The Upwork system recognizes when you are idle but have left the Time Tracker on. The system will continue to take mock screenshots but will not record them or your activity to the Work Diary.
  8. If you happen to get a capture that you don’t want to be recorded, you have a few seconds to delete the capture before it is committed to your work diary. I don’t know how this impacts the ongoing capture schedule.
  9. If the capture made it into the work diary you can delete it there too. You will also forfeit that 10 min. of billable hours whether it was actually 10 min, 2 min. or 18 min.

Concerning the random capture interval:
Presumably this is done intentionally so the captures fall on unpredictable schedules, discouraging the contractor from wasting time.  On the surface this seems like it might be a good idea to keep contractors honest but in practice it is insulting, punitive and inherently inaccurate.   The randomization displaces real time from recorded time.  Not only is it confusing for the contractor, but it also creates an inaccurate representation of your progress in the Work Diary.  As I said above, a time interval between captures could be from 2 min. to 18 min.  But no matter how much real time has passed the Time Tracker still posts the screen cap at a 10 min. interval.  There is a disconnect between the actual time that the contractor spends on a task and the recorded progress in the Work Diary.  Further, the keystrokes and mouse movements are registerd and recorded as "Activity Level", but the activity level is not factored over the actual captured time, but rather the activity calculated over a 10 min. interval.  So if you get a capture that is 2 min. it looks like you have done virtually nothing during that 10 min. The system This is poor design.


The Time Tracker is temporally disorienting and creates an inaccuracy in the log of the Work Diary but it also necessitates an investment of trust in the Time Tracker system that is unnecessary and troubling.  As someone who has written a fair amount of algorithms, I can tell you that they can have unintended consequences especially when applied to actual human behavior throwing variables into the mix that can skew results beyond tolerable values.  Which brings me to my second concern.


Concerning deletion of screenshots and or the starting and stopping of the Time Tracker:
What happens when you delete a screencap?  I have had occasion where I was already at a 17 min. interval, a screen cap was captured, I didn’t want it, so I deleted it.  The next screen capture didn’t occur until 28 min. of total elapsed time.  How fair was Upwork to me after that capture?  In order to make it up to me it would have to capture 3 extra screen shots over however many successive intervals.  Did the system square up with me?  Does it even consider deleted screen shots to be punctuations of viable time?  Does it just reset the clock and I lose that time?  I have no idea.  But I do know that if you go into the Work Diary and delete a screen cap it deletes the billable time associated with that screenshot.  Which brings me to my third concern.


Concerning deletion of screenshots in the Work Diary:
I have had occasion to go in and delete quite a few screenshots in the Work Diary.  As I have said before, deleting a screenshot in the work diary deletes that billable time.  That’s not fair.  Just because that screenshot contained info I didn’t want recorded doesn’t mean that I wasn’t working on the client’s behalf.  To make it up to myself I suppose I could have submitted untracked time, but that is untidy and wasteful.  Plus not all clients allow untracked time to be logged.


Concerning automatic capture of “fun” apps:
This one frustrates me the most.  The Time Tracker frequently captures a screenshot when you switch to a web browser or entertainment app like Spotify.  I have deleted hundreds of such captures.  Often it was because I was just skipping a track, pausing or starting music.  Whatever the case, the time I was taking to go to a browser or music app was totally innocuous, perhaps a second of time spent away from my task.  But, since the Time Tracker captures such activity at a disproportionate rate it looks very bad in the Work Diary.  If I allowed such captures to stay in the diary it would look like I spent huge portions of my day futzing with my music, watching youtube or whatever happened to be on my browser last.


To sum it up I would just like to comment that the tone and indeed the monetary reward of the design of this part of the Upwork platform is very anti-contractor and pro-client.  I would suggest that as a general philosophy Upwork’s policies and algorithms should support the contractor and client evenly.  Upwork needs both entities to make their money after all.  I would argue that the quality of the contractor that Upwork maintains in their system is one of its most valuable assets.  Upwork would do well to insure that it keeps its contractors happy. 

Community Member

Hi Seth,


Thank you for your feedback about Upwork Desktop App and time tracking. I'm not aware of any plans to change how the time is tracked in 10-minutes increments. If anything is to change, we'll definitely announce.

I encourage you to check out this thread where similar questions have been discussed and a lot of information was shared about how the time tracking works and why. 

Additionally, check out this help article

and specifically the part "The app does not record the following:"

  • What you click
  • What you type
  • Non-visible information like ***ed-out passwords
  • Files you access
  • Lists of applications you use
  • Images or video footage through your webcam
  • Information about the inactive applications you may have open
~ Valeria

Hey Valeria.  Thanks for your reply!

I see from that other thread that the Time Tracker issue is a pretty hot one.

Just for clarification, I am not so concerned that the Time Tracker captures in 10 min. increments.  Although I think it would be better to simply capture time segments stop watch style rather than divisions of time blocks.  My concern is more that the randomization of the increments and the capture of the "fun apps" is petty and it confuses the Work Diary.  Further I don't like that when I delete a screenshot it deletes my time.  Its not fair that I get a capture when quickly using a browser or music player, delete it and forfeit my time.  


You just completely disregarded everything he said. This is exactly the issue people have with your platform and you're customer service. We aren't stupid we're working professionals and we desire a the platform that holds a Stranglehold on the freelance platform ecosystem to do better by its gig workers.

Nothing you just said here addresses any of his concerns and you're tiptoeing around the issue.

He never said the app recorded any of those things he said that it has a trigger to take a screenshot when you switch between unproductive apps. You're really trying to mince words to create a deflection.

It's funny I always see all the same people **Edited for Community Guidelines**

How long do you think you can keep this up before other platforms pop up that are more decentralized and have no platform fees?

Community Member

James wrote:

It's funny I always see all the same people **Edited for Community Guidelines**?

You may want to look up the definition of a **Edited for Community Guidelines** before applying the term to an Upwork employee.

Hint: **Edited for Community Guidelines** does not mean "a person who doesn't agree with my point of view"


James wrote:
 he said that it has a trigger to take a screenshot when you switch between unproductive apps.

The tracker doesn't have such a trigger, which you wouldn't know, never having done an hourly job.


The way to avoid such screenshots is to simply control music etc from a different device, not the one you're working on.



Hey Petra R.  Thanks for replying.  Are you certain that there is no such trigger for navigating to what might be considered "distracting" apps?  In my experience a capture has occurred when switching to such an app with far too much frequency for it to be random.

Seth M wrote:

Hey Petra R.  Thanks for replying.  Are you certain that there is no such trigger for navigating to what might be considered "distracting" apps?  In my experience a capture has occurred when switching to such an app with far too much frequency for it to be random.

I've looked into it over the years a lot, and yes, I am sure. After over 14 000 hours I have logged myself  and having looked at thousands of hours of other freelancers as a manager I am certain.


I know the thing pretty well. If it catches you when changing music etc it's called "Sod's law"

If it bothers you, change music etc after the screenshot has been taken for the current segment (there are never more than 1 screenshot in any one 10 minute (XX.X0 to XX.X0) or do what I do and control your music etc from a different device. I usually work on my windows laptop and music comes from the iMac which has way better sound.


It would also not make sense, because many jobs directly require use of stuff such as Facebook etc (Social Media Management etc) and what would be considered "work" for one client wouldn't for another.



Thanks Petra.  Yeah, I decided to just start listening to music on headphones from my phone...  I have to admit that I resent being penalized for using my own equipment the way I like to use it -- but whatever, my headphones do sound better. 

What really upsets me is that I have deleted hundreds of screenshots before they were uploaded to the work diary for exactly that reason.   I didn't know it but that apparently discarded my work from the last screenshot so I have unwittingly screwed myself out of hundreds of dollars.  If you delete a screenshot the Time Tracker asks if you are sure you want to delete it.  It would be prudent for Upwork to put a specific warning in that confirmation that alerts you that you are forfeiting your time since the last screenshot.  I know if such a message had been provided I would have adopted other methods for listening to music long ago. 

You are correct James, the substance of my concerns were not addressed.  I was directed to ongoing conversations and policies that do not completely address all of my concerns.  Thanks for pointing that out.

From what I have read it would seem that the Time Tracker is well known to be inaccurate at least along the lines that I have described. 

It would appear that the solution that Upwork would have us adopt is to accept these issues as the lay of the land and adjust our behavior accordingly.  I am dumbfounded with that philosophy but its far from unique.

I have found this sort of thing is common among gig economy companies.  I suspect that there is some underlying motive that promotes such poor program design.  I just may be paranoid, but Its as though gig economy companies intentionally confuse the bottom line with little quirks like this.  We can all conceive of a simpler, straight forward system that would be 100% accurate but curiously that never seems to manifest itself. There is always some degree of slop in the system.  Why is it like that?  Well you never do get a straight answer do you.  Its always some bureaucratic sidestep that never addresses your question directly.  Eventually we all just get on with our lives because we realize the futility punching the tar baby that is corporate accountability.  But it certainly doesn't make it any less frustrating and doesn't make the company any better to deal with either.


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