Written byRichard Palmer
17th December 2021
In the days where automation is taking over our lives, for good and for bad, we questioned whether Timo’s approach of being a wholly manual tool was antiquated.
In a market becoming more saturated than ever with tools that tell you where you spend your time, rather than ask you, it may seem confusing to enter it and buck the trend.
Likewise, and especially as I am a believer in automating away the need for self discipline, why would your time tracking tool create more work for you, as opposed to reducing it?
A good automatic time tracking tool will do one thing well: remembering to track your time. They’re fantastic tools to collect the fact that you’re active on your computer, and mediocre tools at reducing your workload. The tool turns on when you log into your computer, and turns off when you log out. They’re saving you from having to remember to record your time, meaning you’re not thinking about time tracking at all.
While they may give you the time tracking for free, they still have a few pitfalls. They require you to categorise your data in a way that makes sense. Of the hours you tracked, what is billable? Which were for which client? Which were you taking a little break and doom scrolling Twitter, or browsing Dribbble to catch up on the latest trends?
While getting the tracking for free, you’re rear loading all of the work to the moment when you need to create your invoice or submit your timesheet.
Now, the more clever automatic time tracker will attempt to do the categorisation for you. The best will utilise machine learning algorithms to categorise your data and improve accuracy as you correct it and give it more data.
The problem here is that it will never be 100% accurate. You will always have to check and double check that the data is correct, or risk creating an invoice with inaccurate data (and potentially under or over charge your client). The algorithm is as good as the data it’s given, and so relies on your ability to moderate it’s own categorisation. As your projects change, and you evolve how you work and bill, the algorithm will become outdated and reduce in accuracy, starting the whole process over.
Of course, we as people are not 100% accurate, but where there is lots of nuance in our decision making, we can be faster to the level of accuracy required.
When tracking your time, you’re doing so because you have an agreement with another party that you will charge them for your time, by the hour. In the most extreme cases, you’ll be required to install software such as Time Doctor which take screenshots while you work, and will flag inactivity to the company’s leadership. If this doesn’t sound like toxic distrust to you, then please, stop reading and continue in ignorant bliss.
To ignore this worst case scenario for a moment, time tracking tools which are linked to a team or organisation are part of the same problem. If they are to expose the time spent at your machine to someone else without your consent first, then they are simply spyware.
The good samaritans in this world will ensure there is an editorial and approval process before anyone else can see the time tracked. This however is another example where automatic time tracking cannot save you time, without the expense of privacy.
For folks who track their time on computers, they’re made up of freelancers and contractors who are doing knowledge work. Knowledge work is inherently creative and creativity requires time to breathe. Creativity is not defined by the number of hours at a computer screen. But should be defined by the outcome itself. Another pitfall of automatic time tracking is that it cannot take this into account. Time spent away from your computer will be seen as “idle” and therefore tracking will stop.
If, say, you’re taking a coffee break and figure out how to solve the bug you’re trying to fix, then you should be able to attribute that time correctly. This means two things: being in control of the recording state of your time tracking tool, and being able to modify the data to reflect moments when you weren’t tracking but were still in the zone.
This means, being able to press the record button, and then go off, forget about it and day dream. It’s all time spent working.
To address these points, Timo is and will remain largely a manual tool. We trust you to hit the record button when you deem necessary. We allow you to track “idle” time, where other tools may consider you to be slacking. We must allow you to edit each entry without any friction. And we must never report the data directly to anyone else without your explicit permission.
Now, this isn’t to say we don’t make your life easier. With Timo, your time tracking tool and your todo list are one and the same. Instead of thinking about time, you’re thinking about the most important task to get done. As you manage your tasks, you’re reminded to track your time, giving you absolute control over what is categorised as work, billable hours, or play, and relaxation.
We will improve on this too. It’s on our roadmap to add idle tracking to ensure you don’t miss a moment when you are indeed working. It’s on our roadmap to allow easy sharing of your data in a way that you don’t lose control. And we’ll do these without compromising your privacy.