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Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Tracking time with Toggl

Self-tracking is all the rage these days. The idea is that if we can track data about ourselves in such areas as sleep, eating, time usage, mood, etc, that we will be able to observe patterns that we might otherwise miss. Accordingly, those patterns born out of long-term tracking can then be used as the basis for behavior change. Or that's the idea at least.

I think overall, that makes sense. And with so many applications out there to track ourselves, and with mobile devices so ubiquitous, it's easier than ever to start having a data-collector operate in the background. That has been the success of budgeting programs such as Mint. The barrier to usage is now almost entirely gone since it collects data at the point-of-purchase and all but does the work for you by categorizing the transaction and integrating it into the larger budget. I've really come to appreciate Mint and how it helps me keep tabs on my finances, so I'm ready and willing to start tracking in other areas.

One area that I've been wanting to track for a while is time. How am I using my time? It's not the big areas of time usage I'm uncertain about, such as school, work, etc. It's all the little time-slots that add up to big time blocks, and that's what I want to see.

The problem is that, until now, there really hasn't been an easy way to do this. I started out simply with a Google Doc spreadsheet. But I found that I wasn't being regular with it because it was cumbersome. I had to manually record everything, in particular the duration (which is the most important part). The barrier was too high for me with this method, and so I dropped it.

I looked at some of the other tracker apps out there, and they all were either too feature-rich or they were made in a proprietary form that I felt wouldn't allow me to collect all this personal data into one place. What I really wanted was an app with a start and stop button, that would work seamlessly with my life, and require nothing more than for me to hit go when I was going to do something. And I wanted an app that would collect the data in a clean, simple format that I could actually use and interpret.

Yesterday, I found the closest thing to that. It's called Toggl. It's free (basic service), available on the web, desktop and mobile device. It's almost exactly what I wanted. It collects fairly rich data, allowing me to start and stop, make actions as part of larger projects, tag actions.

Here is what I've got so far

Web App

You can see, I'm using this pretty much for everything. It's intended use is for freelancers to bill for by-the-hour projects, but that hasn't stopped me from co-opting it for my purposes.

So far, I really like it. The biggest thing is that it's so easy to use that the barrier to my using it has gone down significantly. That it is available for the iPad is really key. I don't want to be at the computer every time I want to make an entry. All nearly always have my ipad or iphone on me, and I can just press "start" and forget about it. Then Toggl syncs with the web and desktop clients, and all is well.

At the end of this week, I'll look at the report of my time usage and see if this app really does what I want it to. And, more importantly, if I get anything valuable out of it.

I really can't see too many deficiencies in this app. The only thing I would have liked would be

One last cool thing... for those who use Omnifocus for their time management, some nice person wrote a script that takes an Omnifocus task and imports it into Toggl. Super cool! So now, when you're going down your list of stuff in Omnifocus, you can track that time seamlessly on Toggl.

Check it out if time-tracking is something you're interested in.


  1. Thanks for posting this! I'm also using Omnifocus and Toggl - I was really hoping to find the script you reference, but the link is broken. I know this post was from a few years ago, but is there any chance you still have the script that you could share?

  2. DrWillbe!

    You mentioned about pressing the button start and stop. Isn't it a little bit inconvinient to you? I'm talking about it because I find it annoying as I sometimes simply forget about pressing start and stop and than software charges innacurate time. Actually there are now time trackers that measure time of tasks automatically, basing on given keywords, for example www.timecamp.com. Have you tried this?