[Product Talk] Time trackers for personal productivity - do you use one & what are your thoughts?

While working remotely, it is easy to lose track of time. In this article, we explore the use of time trackers for personal productivity.

Hey everyone!

I have seen a lot of productivity timer apps (simple & complex) that help you better manage your day and get more done. People also use professional time tracking apps to track & get hold of personal time.

Time tracking in a team setting to decide productive output & billable hours may be debatable. It is of course a daily reality for freelancers. But I am curious to explore time tracking to measure & improve personal productivity.

In the recent years, Pomodoro timers have become very popular. There are other apps which even do more than that, including blocking notifications or certain apps entirely while you're in your deep focus period.

I am keen to hear what you all have to say about this. Some specific pointers I would love to have inputs on - 

1. What are your thoughts around time tracking, professional & personal setting? Do you think it even makes sense to use a time tracker in any case?

2. What time tracker do you use & how's your experience been?

3. If your productivity has actually improved, I am curious to know how exactly the timer helped & in what type of tasks e.g. getting mundane work done or for creative work.

Disclaimer: I haven't used any personal productivity timer myself. I use Notion for keeping track of my personal Todos and daily/ weekly targets. But nothing in terms of time tracking. Maybe I will start using one after your recommendations 😉

Maths from Hold App, said:

I've been playing around and combining different time trackers, blockers and task-lists to peak my productivity. I've been actively searching for a good solution to cope with the following problems:
1) Plan my day: I listed up waaaaaay too many tasks and struggled to figure out where to get started and never managed to complete the list. 

2) Multitasking: Throughout the day I jump between email, slack and a numerous of tools. This was hammering my 

3) Procrastinating: Several time during the day my energy level dropped or I got a notification from my phone or browser that dragged me into the never-ending-hole of scrolling

I started to plan my day the day before. I was using a task-list and followed the Ivy Lee strategy (max 6 tasks/priorities per day). I time boxed my calendar with the different priorities. I used a website blocker to stay focused throughout the day. I used a pomodora timer to get proper breaks. I followed a 50/10(Work/break) cycles. And the most important activity of the day was to review my work and plan the next day. I'm certain I improved my productivity a lot and this has been especially helpful during Covid-19. 

Alda, an experienced remote worker, said:

I have experimented with Pomodoro, but since my work is very mental and I have to concentrate, the 25-minute break would end up interrupting my focus and getting in the way a lot more than it helped.

But I have been using Toggl tracker for a while and like it. I don't know if it helps me but it's a real eye-opener in terms of knowing where my "lost" time was going (looking at you, Instagram).

Andrei, a product marketing manager, said:

I've been in the productivity software market long enough (5 years) to read most of the books (Deep Work, Eat that Frog, Atomic Habits, etc.) and try all the productivity methods (and fail with most of them) out there.

Time and again, I've come back to a few principles that some have outlined already.

1. Under-plan your day: 2 tasks done are better than 5 half-assed ones.

2. Time tracking should be intentional. A.k.a. I'm leaving the phone down, put myself on DND on Slack, and try to focus on the task at hand as much as I can. It's not about filling in the time to meet the estimated hours/task (which I'm bound to do sometimes), but actually seeing how long it takes to complete it.

3. Multitasking saps energy. It's not that I can't do those small tasks in-between larger ones, it's the context switching that kills me. Which makes me anxious and vulnerable to hop on social media.

I use Paymo's time tracking desktop widget, the company for which I work (full disclaimer here). Idle time detection helps me stay fair with my timesheet, but perhaps the biggest plus is the fact that I can see a breakdown of how I spend my day without going nuts.