Getting things planned in fresh new colours
There are times when you sit at your desk and wonder about the things you will manage to get done. While most productivity tools help you to track tasks you need to complete, Time Planner focuses on organising your work session: it assigns very tight slots to activities in sequential order in an effort to kill procrastination. How many hours do you have to work on this project? What will you manage to get done until six o'clock? It's not so much about what needs to be completed but how long will it take.
The app tackles this problem with something like a hybrid between a simple checklist, calendar functionality and some of the time tracking typically used to bill clients. I found some resemblance to the way most project management tools work using dependencies and simultaneous tasks. You start a session adding the first activity and defining when it's going to start and when it will be finished. As soon as the first one is over you jump to the second one — the app will keep reminding you with notifications.
Ultimately, Time Planner isn't limited to your work or studies but wants to overhaul the way you arrange activities for the full day. If you are going to embrace the system you might as well add the time slot for the time you spend sleeping or commuting, which will make sense if you are trying to assess how is your productive time spent. The app comes with a variety of categories such as Transport, Meeting, Internet, used as tags that group activities together — you will see why in a bit. These categories can be customised with their own icons and colours to meet your needs.
It should be clear at this point that Time Planner is going to be an app that relies heavily on manual data entry. Unfortunately, this hasn't been simplified enough to require the least amount of taps possible. To add a new entry you start picking a category from a list, type the name of the activity and choose its timeframe. You can either select "Planned" which gives you a 30-minute window that has already past or choose "Actual", which identifies the current time automatically. Doing this in any different order triggers an annoying error message. To use the additional alarm, location reminder and recurrence options hidden at the bottom of the screen you need to close the keyboard you opened to type the title previously, requiring an extra tap.
Charting how time is spent
Once you have all your entries for the day correctly formatted you can start enjoying the app. The main screen shows a sequential list of tasks with their allocated time, a bit like a school timetable if you remember those. The white labels work like sliders you can move right and left to reveal more information. For example, sliding to the right gives you a peak of the allocated time for this activity. What would be cool would be to have it displaying the time remaining for the deadline if this is an activity that has already started. Other gestures allow you to complete and mark items as completed on time.
If there is something that justifies the amount of metadata required in every app it has to be the way Time Planner visualises how your time is spent. In fact, it makes it feel like an assessment of your habits rather than a task-tracking tool. The Charts option gives you a pie chart using the time spent per category on both planned and actual entries. This is precious to identify where your day is going — if you didn't notice from the category colour on the main screen anyway.
The efficiency option measures the amount of planned tasks finished on time as well as other trivial information. One funny bit is the option to tweet or post on Facebook some of your achievements. I just tweeted "According to TIME Planner app my efficiency is 0%". I knew it!
A pretty experiment
Months after the release of iOS 7, Time Planner uses some of the conventions such as blurs, a set colour palette and a very nice animation to reveal the menu via a hamburger button. The result is a colourful mix with tricks to pack as much information as possible in a single view.
I'm not a full convert to the Time Planner philosophy but there are aspects I like and situations where it could become a very powerful iPhone companion. I like how the app doesn't mess with Calendars, keeping the entries enclosed in its system. I find this is — not only respectful — a great way to encourage users to experiment without the fear of changing their calendar workflows.
Although it's meant for a wider audience, I couldn't stop thinking how good this app would be for students. This strict regime timing tasks to the session hoping to maximise free time is ideal for those weeks before the exams. The developer is trying a free model with in-app-purchase for advanced options, so you have no excuse not to try it.