Identify your time sinks with beautiful graphics
There's always this mixture of curiosity and scepticism when I discover an app through design sites that hasn't been featured by the usual suspects in Mac software reporting. I like to test new apps to see if they fit in my workflow, not just for the sake of testing. So when it comes to tracking your hours worked — something you've seen me writing about before — the sensation of being about to discover something great, not really knowing why nobody else has picked on it, hit me again.
iTrackMyTime by Many Many Pixels is an app of unfortunate name that allows you to record and understand the amount of time you spend on projects and tasks. I say understand because the focus of the app is in data visualisation. Let's start from the beginning though.
Keeping track of the time you have spent working on something is a basic need for any freelance, temp or contract worker. Those hours need to be justified accurately to bill a client, for instance. If what you do for a living involves invoices of this type, recording the amount of hours you dedicate doing something is key to support yourself.
The secret is in the timer
The first obstacle has always been setting a timer. iTrackMyTime includes this basic feature as well as the ability to add entries in case you have forgotten. It's clear the creators have been doing some freelancing as well. Simply tap the bottom button to begin timing a new activity. The next step is to select a category. These are identified with coloured circles a la Yo Sushi! that unfortunately cannot be modified — you can edit the name, not the colour.
Once you accept, the timer starts running. This is where the interface design gets punished for looking pretty but not that efficient. The layout and the huge numbers used makes it easier to see the timer from the a good distance if you leave it far from your desk. This timer view, however, shows some of the main drawbacks. There's no way to pause, say if you get a telephone call in the middle of your studying. There's no way to return once you have stopped the timer unless you go and modify it afterwards in the session review window. You may argue the app tries to keep time recording simple, banning all the distractions they could have thrown in.
I can see this friendly approach in the way the app logs your activities. Where other apps are clearly suited to business environments, iTrackMyTime present you with some suggestions such as chilling, partying and wasting time. These work to remind you of different settings you might want to use the app for, but I'm unsure this will helps conveying an image of serious tool. In a practical sense, it could be nice to group these somehow, maybe with folders or tags.
Display and analyse
If you didn't tell by seeing the screenshots, iTrackMyTime is all about displaying the data recorder with the timers. Right from the main screen you can see a circle chart with the percentage of time dedicates to each activity. Unfortunately, the graphic doesn't give you the actual percentages when you tap on its sections — something I've grown accustomed with Analytics Tiles. The same visual representation is used for tracking weekly and monthly activities after the first week of usage (as it would be the same as the one on the main menu).
The second representation type is the activity log, a list or table view with the activities measured. The default view is chronological, starting with the most recent. I'd like to see time sorting too. This screen doubles as an editor where you can tweak some of the measurements in case you forgot to stop the timer or want to deduct a coffee break. Editing a session is extremely restrictive, allowing you to change the time up to a minute for the last 10 minutes only and for a maximum of 50 minutes.
The final view is a line chart with the hours dedicated to a task on a week view. This activity chart is a very nice addition you wouldn't come to expect in a time tracking app on a mobile device. At this point you begin to understand why the colour palettes cannot be changed, as they are used consistently on the three visualisation types provided. Again, some caveats with the presentation, which can be totally my very own interpretation for spending eight hours a day on Microsoft Excel: the line chart should adapt to the information the app has. During my testing I saw a lot of white space. On the horizontal axis I get seven days before my activities actually started. Then on the vertical axis, the maximum value is set to nine hours, which I think is very optimistic for one single task for a day. Maybe for sleeping during the weekends?
Overall, iTrackMyTime is a beautiful piece of graphic design let down by some overlooked real-life usage scenarios. With a couple of tweaks the app could definitely portray itself as a more reliable, more usable tool for professionals.
In future updates I'd like to see the option to export data, email content and implement a method to backup everything in case something breaks. I'm also very interested in some type of nesting, hierarchical structure to group my activities as they're scattered without much logic at the moment. I'm keeping the app installed willing to see what the developer makes of it but I wouldn't like to track my time spent in projects for work. With a design like this there's always hope for good things to come.