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

Hrishikesh Pardeshi

Hrishikesh Pardeshi

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 producitivity 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 πŸ˜‰

Here's what our users had to say:

  • Hrishikesh Pardeshi said "@david-97, @thomas, @bhvh - I saw that you all use productivity timers yourselves. Keen to hear what you think about this. @aldalima & @alison-76 - Saw specifically that you use Pomodoro timers. Would love to know your experience around that. @justin: Saw that you mentioned that you're a productivity hacker 😎Curious to know what you've to say. Also, would love personal recommendations from you all on a personal productivity timer I could start using."

  • Alda Lima said "Hey! Yes, 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).  Really curious to read about the apps that block notifications and your time spent on certain websites, though, great post!"

  • Hrishikesh Pardeshi said "Oh right. But is the pomodoro interval fixated at 25 mins? Can we not configure it to something longer like 50-60 mins? My question might actually be naive because I am guessing the rationale behind a break post 25 mins is to not tire you with a longer focus period. Haha, just referencing your earlier comments regarding this for others' benefit - Alda's thoughts on Toggl. This is the productivity app (that blocks apps/ notifications) @maths-6 is building - Hold. I will let Maths talk more about this."

  • Alda Lima said "You're right, it's not a naive question at all! I think you probably can set it to longer intervals, I was thinking of the original 25-minute concept. I should try using it again sometime, but at longer intervals, as I usually start getting tired after the 2nd hour, but that also depends on what I'm working on. Thanks for linking Hold, looking forward to hearing more about it from Maths!"

  • Hrishikesh Pardeshi said "I actually meant that my point may be naive given there must be a strong rationale behind the number, 25, but good to know this isn't fixated :-)"

  • Cathy T said "Great points! There's this post that shares some interesting apps - https://www.reviewed.com/smartphones/features/10-apps-that-block-social-media-so-you-can-stay-focused-and-be-more-productive. I haven't tried them yet, but the last 2 particularly look very intriguing :)"

  • Alda Lima said "Hi Cathyt, thank you for linking this post - these seem really cool as well! I wonder if trying all of these great suggestions out count as time not being productive πŸ˜‚? I could really try most of them to see which one works best!"

  • Mark Walter said "Hey Alda, Just came across your comment. I have been using StayFocusd- a chrome extension that of course helps me stay focused πŸ˜…. I use it to limit the amount of time spent on specific websites (social media, youtube, etc) when I'm logged onto my work profile. I have heard that Toggl has a lot of integrations and it's good that you are able to track your lost time. πŸ˜€"

  • Alda Lima said "Hi Mark, I took a look at StayFocusd, it seems to be very good, and I love that it can even block specific in-page content. I might have try this, thank you!"

  • Hrishikesh Pardeshi said "@maths-6 & @alexandrebeauchet-522: Would love to know your thoughts & recommendations too - you're one of the few productivity geeks I know of πŸ˜‰"

  • Alexandre Beauchet said "I don't use any of those tools. I have a natural watch in my brain :D"

  • Hrishikesh Pardeshi said "Haha, same here. Until someone here really makes a case for these apps πŸ˜‰"

  • Cathy T said "Haha, that's true. Do you use any other tools to improve your productivity?"

  • Stella Russo said "Last month, I started using a timer app called Focus To-Do (Chrome extension)- a basic Pomodoro timer that tracks tasks and time. I wouldn't say my productivity has improved a lot, but I was able to segment my work into small chunks which would have otherwise been seemingly difficult to manage. I also felt that there was a boost in the quality of my work. Have you tried the Pomodoro technique?"

  • Hrishikesh Pardeshi said "Hmm, interesting points Stella. Your point on segmenting work to better manage things directly contrasts @aldalima's point. I believe the effectiveness of these productivity techniques has a lot to do with your nature of work & your preferences. I'll have to give it a try myself to know if constraining time for tasks actually works for me."

  • Alda Lima said "Exactly, it really depends on what you're working on. I guess best thing is to adjust as you go and feel how it works for you!"

  • Maths said "Great questions Hrishikesh.  I've been playing around and combining different time trackers, blockers and task-lists to peak my produtivity. 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. Happy to elaborate on this approach. Disclaimer: I’m currently building an ai-driven personal productivity trainer that will help people manage their time, block distractions, and prevent burn out. It's a cross platform (phone and desktop) that aims to solve the 3 listed problems. If anyone wants to give our MVP a try. Feel free to reach out here or send me an email on maths@hold.app"

  • Hrishikesh Pardeshi said "Thanks for the detailed answer Maths. You've clearly put a good amount of thought into planning your schedule/ day. This makes me even more curious and I want surely try out a similar approach myself. A few follow-up questions -  1) When you say your productivity improved, could you share more specifics around what things did you see improvement in exactly? 2) How did you arrive at the number 50 for the pomodoro? Also did you ever feel that you were interrupted by the timer when you were in your peak focus state? 3) Did you break down all work into tasks or only specific type of work? Ex. Meetings, Clearing your inbox, Documentation."

  • Andrei Tit 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."