Calculate Time Difference in Excel

The most simple way to calculate time differences in Excel is to simply subtract one time from the other. This works because Excel stores dates as integers and times as decimal values (see the page on Excel dates for more details). It is only the formatting of an Excel spreadsheet that causes these values to be displayed as dates and times, rather than as simple numbers.

Therefore, when you want to calculate the time difference between two dates and times in Excel, you can simply subtract the date and time values in the same way as you would subtract any other numerical values.

When calculating Excel date and time difference, some users have problems that arise from having the incorrect cell formatting. Therefore, in the examples below, we also discuss the cell formatting that you may require, to correctly display the result of your time difference calculation.


Date and Time Difference Examples

Example 1

Cell B3 of the following spreadsheet shows a simple example of how to calculate a time difference in Excel. The calculation simply subtracts the time in cell B1 from the time in cell B2.

 Formulas:
  A B
1 Start Time: 03:45:30
2 End Time: 10:17:45
3 Time Difference: =B2-B1
 Results:
  A B
1 Start Time: 03:45:30
2 End Time: 10:17:45
3 Time Difference: 06:32:15

To Format a Cell as a Time:

  • Right click on the cell to be formatted
  • Select the option Format Cells...
  • Ensure the Number tab is selected in the window that pops up
  • Select the option Time from the list of Categories and click OK

In the example above, the time in cell B1 is internally represented by the number, 0.156597222 and the time in cell B2 is internally represented by the number 0.428993056. Subtracting these two numbers gives the result 0.272395833, which, when formatted with the time format, is the time 06:32:15 (i.e. 6 hours 32 minutes and 15 seconds).


Example 2

The following spreadsheet shows a simple subtraction of two dates and times.

 Formulas:
  A B
1 Start Date & Time: 19-Jan-2011   21:00
2 End Date & Time: 21-Jan-2011   15:00
3 Time Difference: =B2-B1
 Results:
  A B
1 Start Date & Time: 19-Jan-2011   21:00
2 End Date & Time: 21-Jan-2011   15:00
3 Time Difference: 42:00

Setting Cells to Have the [h]:mm Format:

  • Right click on the cell to be formatted
  • Select the option Format Cells...
  • Ensure the Number tab is selected in the window that pops up
  • Select the option Custom from the list of Categories and type [h]:mm into the box on the right
  • Click OK

In the example above, the date and time in cell B1 is internally represented by the number, 40562.875 and the date and time in cell B2 is internally represented by the number 40564.625. Subtracting these two numbers gives the result 1.75 which is Excel's internal representation for 42 hours 0 minutes.

Note that cell B3 of the above results spreadsheet has the cell formatting [h]:mm.

The square brackets in the [h]:mm format definition tell Excel to display the total number of hours, even if this is greater than 24. If the square brackets were not included, Excel would break down the result into a date plus the remaining number of hours.


Common Time Difference Error

Excel does not display negative times. Therefore if the result of your subtraction formula is a negative value, and the cell containing the formula has date or time formatting, the result will be displayed as a row of hashes (see below).

Excel Cell Displaying #####
cell containing a negative value with date or time formatting

You can display the underlying numerical value by formatting the cell with the 'General' formatting type.