How to build an automated report in Excel with Power Query: The time tracking dashboard

Automated reports in Excel with Power Query: a time tracking dashboard

Table of Contents

When it comes to maximizing productivity and saving time, automated reports in Excel with Power Query are key. That’s why we created this tutorial on YouTube, where you can see how to build a time tracking dashboard with Power Query. Reporting automation allows managers and controllers to have business metrics dashboards up to date in a predefined format. Report automation means that the whole process of the report creation and update must be enabled through some sort of software, app or API, so it becomes faster and more efficient. The main goal of these automatic reports is to save you time and money. And yet, up to 62% of employees surveyed here can identify at least three major inefficiencies at work that could be automated.

With that data in mind, we’re excited to publish this tutorial, inspired by one of our very own customers (Marek Laanbek, Beebole customer and financial controller at CES Estonia) who took the employee and project data in Beebole and turned it into a beautiful monthly automated timesheets report. While he used Beebole’s API to create his dashboard, we decided to go the route of report automation with Excel Power Query, also known as Get & Transform. You can watch the tutorial on YouTube here.

What is Excel Power Query?

As the Microsoft support site indicates, “Power Query is a data discovery and query tool, good for shaping and mashing up data.”

It is a powerful feature that allows you to import, manipulate, and transform data from a variety of sources, such as databases, text files, web pages, and other data formats, and then load that data into Excel for analysis and reporting. Power Query is part of Microsoft’s business intelligence (BI) suite and is often used for data preparation and cleansing tasks. It’s a valuable tool for anyone who needs to work with and manipulate data from various sources within Excel as it helps streamline the data preparation process, reduces the risk of errors, and enhances productivity when working with large datasets or complex data sources.

Time tracking tools that integrate with Excel

Beebole’s dashboards are powerful and make it easy to create multiple views for your timesheet data. However, we know many users are more comfortable working in Excel, which is why Beebole makes it easy to export your raw data from the app so that you can review and analyze it in any tool.

A sample dashboard you can easily create in Excel with your BeeBole timesheet data
An example of an Excel dashboard with data from a timesheet app like Beebole.

Don’t forget that Beebole’s add-in for Excel allows you to connect spreadsheets directly to your Beebole account, making it even simpler to build your reports and analyze your data in Excel. Here’s a great example of how to use Beebole for overtime cost analysis.

The Beebole add-in for Excel makes modifying the fields pulled from Beebole quite easy.
Data analysis made even easier with the Beebole Timesheet add-in for Excel.

Beebole’s easy-to-use export feature and free Excel integration make them perfect complementary tools to work with your timesheet data. In this tutorial, we’re going to use Beebole timesheet data with Excel to create an automated employee time report dashboard. Of course, in order for this dashboard to be fully functioning, employees must actually fill out their timesheets! That’s exactly why we’ve put together this quick overview of examples of timesheet reminders and templates.

Video tutorial: Learn to build a time tracking dashboard

In the video below, we show you exactly how to build a time tracking dashboard in Microsoft Excel, a game-changer when it comes to understanding your time tracking data.

How to Create an Employee Time Report That Updates Automatically using Excel Power QueryDo you like the tutorial?Subscribe to Beebole's YouTube channel!Subscribe

Step-by step guide: Building an automated time tracking dashboard

1. Download your Beebole timesheet data

First, we need to download the employees’ timesheet data from Beebole. After you log into your Beebole dashboard, find the Reports section on the right side. We need to create a report that gets data from Beebole to export.

Then, let’s give our report a name. I set mine to “Export to Excel” to make it easy to remember. Then, let’s start playing with the fields that we want to include. 

What works well for Excel is to grab every possible field you might need. If you don’t want to see that field in your Excel dashboard, simply exclude it from the report we’ll build later on. It’s better to include everything you might want to work with.

Excel works well with each row of data as its own “record.” That means each line should represent a single time entry. See the screenshot below for a suggested data view that works well for a dashboard. One optional setting: There’s a dropdown box labeled “What information do you want to show?” Switch between options like Working Time only and Working Time and Absences based on the purpose of your report.

A crucial step in creating your time tracking dashboard in Excel is exporting the data from BeeBole Timesheet to get ready for Excel
Identify the timesheet data you want to export to Microsoft Excel.

Finally, make sure to set the time period for your data. It’s best to download an entire year’s worth of data. That way, you can simply replace the file that Excel uses for the dashboard. You won’t risk duplicating records by downloading a week at a time, for example.

When preparing the employee timesheet export, be sure to select an entire year's worth of time data.
Selecting the dates to prepare the timesheet export for Excel.

Now, it’s time to download our finished report. Click on the CSV button. 

You'll create a folder (like the one seen here, called Timesheet Data), where you'll tell Excel to watch for all timekeeping data.
Download the CSV to a designated timekeeping folder.

After that, create a new folder, then place your downloaded CSV file in it. We’ll tell Excel to watch this folder for timekeeping data.

2. Use Power Query in Excel to import data from a folder and automate the process

To work with the data in Excel, we need to point it to our Beebole data. We’re going to use a feature called Power Query to point Excel to a watched folder and keep the time report dashboard up to date.

Sure, you could simply copy and paste your timesheet data into the workbook. But this takes extra time to update and can be cumbersome. Remember, we want to automate this reporting process as much as possible.

To use Power Query to get your timesheet data, open Excel and choose Data > New Query > From File > From Folder. Then, browse to a folder on your computer.

This is how you use Excel Power Query to import data from a folder
Use Power Query to import data from the selected folder.

Now, point Excel to the folder that you created for your timesheet data. You’ll see a preview of the files that Excel uses in the future. Click the Combine and Load to dropdown so that Excel will automatically roll together all timesheet data you keep in the folder.

This step ensures Excel will automatically roll together all timesheet data that you keep in the folder for your time tracking dashboard.
Automatically roll together all timesheet data that you keep in the folder for your time tracking dashboard.

Excel will then show you a preview of the data rows that will be included in your report. Press OK to confirm.

Excel will show you a preview of the data rows included in your time tracking dashboard.
Revise the preview before clicking OK.

Finally, we need to use the Load To option to make Excel “aware” of data so that we can work with it.

An important step in using Excel and Power Query to create a time tracking dashboard is to use the Load To option so Excel is aware of the data it needs to work with.
Use the Load To option so Excel is aware of the data it needs to work with.

With this approach, we have Excel watching a monitored folder for new timesheet data. All that you have to do is replace the CSV with a new download from Beebole and click Data > Refresh All, and Excel is always up to date. 

3. Use Power Pivot to manage large amounts of data

With the previous steps, we’ve laid the groundwork to work with our timesheet data. Excel is now watching a folder for the latest file and is ready for your data.

Now, we’re going to use a PivotTable to work with this data and put it into an interactive report. Specifically, we’re going to use Power Pivot, which magically works with the data that lives in the watched folder.

Power Pivot is an Excel add-in which can handle large volumes of data (millions of rows) from various sources and all of this within a single Excel file. According to Microsoft: “Power Query and Power Pivot complement each other. Power Query is the recommended experience for discovering, connecting to, and importing data. Power Pivot allows for powerful data analysis and data modeling in Excel and is great for modeling the data you’ve imported. Use both to mold your data in Excel so you can explore and visualize it.”

To add a pivot, go to the tab labeled Power Pivot > Manage. Next, click on PivotTable to place it in your Excel workbook. This is the gateway to working with our timesheet data.

This is how you add a pivot to your time tracking dashboard, and it's essential to continue working with your timesheet data.
Once the Power Pivot add-in is installed, you can create a collection of tables with relationships.

So far, we’ve taken steps that add a table that hooks to our timesheet data. Now, we can start building out our report.

4. Build the timesheet report with a PivotTable

We’re going to build a PivotTable based on our timesheet data. This is one of Excel’s most powerful features to work with data. In short, a Pivot helps you aggregate and summarize data in an easy-to-understand format.

Click inside the PivotTable box on the left side to show the PivotTable Fields menu. Think of this menu as a report builder. It points to your timesheet data, and you can drag-and-drop it into a report that stays up-to-date.

You’ll see rows for each of the data in the list, like Date, Person, Company, and Project. You’ll recognize these as the columns in our original dataset.

Below the field list, you’ll see four important boxes: Filters, Columns, Rows, and Values. Drag-and-drop fields into these boxes to show data in the report. The box that you drag a field to influences how it shows in the report.

Basically, if you drag a field like “Project” into Rows, it shows each project on its own row. Or, if you dragged it into Columns, each project shows in its own column. You can build a report in the format you need by dragging fields to the corresponding boxes.

Here’s a suggestion for a sample dashboard.

Drag:

  • Hours into the Values field
  • Project into Rows
  • Date into Filters
  • Employee into Columns
A sample dashboard in Excel while creating a time tracking dashboard with Power Query
Sample dashboard in Excel with timesheet data.

With this report, I can quickly see each project and how much time my employees are spending on them. It’s this type of dashboard that your boss and peers are sure to appreciate as they assess the workload.

If you want to filter the included dates for the data, click on the dropdown box at the top of our report. You can uncheck the dates that you want to exclude from your report.

PivotTables require experimentation. When you start to build them, start by asking: “what do I want to learn about my data?” We’ve built the framework to show timekeeping data, and now it’s your turn to decide how to create a report that’s most useful to you.

What works best for you? We want to hear about it.

Above all, we’d absolutely love to hear your thoughts. In addition to hearing whether this post was useful for you and your organization, we’d love to help answer any questions you have. Leave your questions or comments at the bottom of this post, and we’ll do our best to help. Our hope is that many of you will not only find this tutorial helpful, but you’ll also find it inspirational. We’d love to see what you come up with, so we can eventually put together a collection of everyone’s automated dashboards and reports to share with this community.

5. Slice and dice your report in Excel with slicers

A report like this is a great way to analyze what your team is working on in Excel. One last feature to check out is slicers. 

A slicer is a way to filter the data that shows in your Pivot. It’s a point-and-click option to filter the data that shows in the pivot. 

To add a slicer, click inside your Pivot, then go to Analyze > Insert Slicer. Tick the boxes for any fields you want to add a slicer for. As a general rule, it’s a good idea to add any fields that aren’t visible in the report as a slicer.

For example, I’ll add Company and Date. You’ll see new boxes that control the data that shows in the pivot.

Use slicers in your time tracking excel dashboard to filter the data showing in your Pivot.
Using slicers in Microsoft Excel.

Slicers stack. So for example, this means that after you pick Company A, the dates will automatically adjust to only show dates relevant to Company A timekeeping.

Success in building your first automated report in Excel with Power Query

With the help of this tutorial, you now have an easy-to-refresh timesheet dashboard and instructions for creating useful reports to share with your team and management. Once you’ve taken the simple steps above to set everything up, just use the Data > Refresh All option each time you download data, and you’re ready to present. In conclusion, here’s a quick look at today’s main takeaways.

  • When it comes to saving time and money, automation is key. Excel Power Query and the Beebole Timesheet add-in for Excel make automating reports possible. Once set up correctly, there is no need to tinker or toy with anything—your data will automatically display as you’ve designed it to.
  • Excel Power Query is a data discovery and query tool that’s great for “shaping and mashing up data.”
  • For an automated time tracking dashboard in Excel, make sure to find a tool that integrates with it seamlessly.
  • First and foremost, decide which data is pertinent to you and your organization before creating your automated report, and remember to ask any questions you have below so that we can help.
  • Use PivotTable and slicers in order to filter your data further.
  • Share your automated dashboard and reports with us; we can’t wait to see what you come up with and to share the examples with this incredible community.

Create Powerful Time Tracking Reports

Try Beebole for free. No commitment. Or book a demo with us, and we'll show you the best reports for your business needs.

Beebole works great for us and the customer service is exceptional. It is easy for everyone to use. I don’t get complaints, and some new staff express how easy it is compared to what was used at their previous company. I generate several reports to look at timesheet data and easily export them to Excel. What I appreciate most is how thorough their support team has been. They have been awesome, which is a compliment I won’t offer most companies.
Robert P. , Bookkeeper at Apex Analytics
Beebole has been simply fantastic! Our small business has been using the tool for over 5 years for more than a dozen employees. Beebole has been a critical tool that enables DCAA compliant time tracking, with the ease of use of a simple web app. A key focus for our company is ease of use and simplicity in design. Beebole achieves both. It is a well-optimized, focused tool that loads quickly and allows for audit-compliant timekeeping at a very fair price. The support team is very responsive!
Hasib H. , Vice President at Lumiose
The best part of Beebole is the customer service. With previous, more costly systems, it would take days or sometimes over a week to get a response, which often wasn’t helpful at all. With Beebole, we get replies within the hour. The Beebole team is incredibly patient and fast and we are continuously uncovering new ways the system can work harder for us. It is very user-friendly and easy to set up and understand. Pulling reports is so incredibly simple that our team was able to figure them out without any training.
Kayla B. , Senior Manager at Faulhaber Communications
Our go-to timesheet system. We’ve been using Beebole for many years and we have never thought about switching to another platform. The system’s ease of use and our employees’ satisfaction with Beebole make it our best choice. The speed and helpfulness of their support team also deserve praise. Beebole is a user-friendly, intuitive, and easy-to-use timesheet system. The initial training for a new employee takes less than 30 minutes.
Mátyás P. , Country Operations Manager at HungaroTrial
The experts who have written or contributed to this article are independent from Beebole, and their contribution doesn't serve as endorsement for our company/tool or their past/present organizations, employers, or associates.
Andrew Childress is a former FPA & CFO with a passion for simplifying, understanding, and analyzing financial data. He founded the FP&A consulting firm Beyond a Number to show others that great financial planning really starts once you go beyond the spreadsheets and numbers, and truly understand the data in front of you.

Comments

Related posts

How to use Google Sheets’ pivot tables, column stats, explore, & QUERY function

Published: 2021/9/15 | David Benaim

As a manager, perhaps you’ve wondered how to take your financial reporting to the next level or how to amp up your data analysis skills. Maybe you’ve got an important meeting coming up, or you’d simply like to wow the executives on your next run-through. Whatever the reason, this tutorial is sure to help. We’re […]

Read more

Excel Power Query: The 5 hacks for business intelligence you should have in your arsenal

Published: 2020/4/7 | Richard Shepherd

What is Excel Power Query? Using Power Query in Microsoft Excel opens up the possibility of unlocking invaluable Business Intelligence for managers, which is exactly what we’re going to cover today. But first thing’s first: What is Power Query and where can you access it? You can access Power Query on the Data tab of […]

Read more

Mastering budget vs. actuals analysis: Excel Power Query tutorial + FREE template

Published: 2021/11/10 | Tony De Jonker

In this tutorial, learn how to create a budget vs. actuals report in Excel using Power Query. Gain insights and track financial performance effortlessly. As a financial controller, accountant, or CFO, you’re likely familiar with the concept of budget vs. actuals. You know that reporting budget vs. actuals can be both cumbersome and time-consuming, given […]

Read more