How to track how you spend your time with IFTTT

Monitor where your time is going with a press of a button!

Very recently, I got onboard a multi-million dollar e-commerce company based in LA, California where the team’s working hours are Pacific Standard Time (UTC−08:00). Prior to joining this team, I was working Manila time (GMT+8). Given that they’re 16 hrs behind, it took a lot of adjusting on my end — both physiologically and in terms of my routines. I literally had to take sleeping pills regularly, and at times, paracetamol for clusterf*ck headaches.

Recently, I read an article from HBR about tracking your time in 30 days. In order to get over the adjustments, I decided to try it out and do some data magic on the data I collect. The automated tracking with IFTTT, my assumptions and insights from this experiment — all helped me adjust to my new working hours and work schedule — very very quickly.

By knowing which time slots I am most productive and which time slots would be best that I rest or sleep, I was able to commit my optimal hours to the team.

After following the steps outlined in the slides above, a Google Drive folder with the Google Sheets containing timestamps will automatically be generated, and will look like this:

The assumptions I made are the following:

  1. work — includes going on Slack, Asana, Trello, etc but not Gmail
  2. Email — includes checking Gmail only, or whatever is the main communication channel with client (e.g. FB Messenger)
  3. Eat — includes washing the dishes, preparing the table, cooking
  4. Sleep — includes the time it takes to fall asleep (like reading a book, drinking some fresh milk, watching Netflix, etc)
  5. Personal Care — only includes taking a bath, toothbrush, etc routine stuff that takes > 5 minutes. doesn’t include metabolic routines (pee, poo) as I cannot possibly record those faithfully and still live my life to the fullest lol
  6. Social Media — includes the time I spend on platforms like LinkedIn & Messenger, replying to messages and engaging with people
  7. Break — includes petting the dogs, cuddling with the wifey, playing mobile games, etc
  8. personal Learning & Development — includes reading content related to Product Management, Data Science, career development, etc, practicing Python / ML, working on personal projects / personal brand (e.g. website / portfolio), etc

After tracking my hours for 30 days, I consolidated all the data into a unified dataset. I typically use Google Data Studio and Tableau for data storytelling but for this project, I played around with Flourish. The master dataset looks like this (where column “Activity” labels each duration into categories, whether its work / break / sleep / etc):

As for the insights, here are the most interesting trends revealed in the initial analysis:

Apparently, in the recent weeks, I spend a lot of time on my personal Learning and Development. Next to that, a lot of time on Work.

I’m surprised as I was expecting to see a lot of time spent eating and sleeping 😂 😂 😂

This was a fun end-to-end exercise I encourage anyone to try!

PS To find out how you could interact with the button widget using your mobile phone, read my previous blog here re. using IFTTT to track habits.

Update: I looked around for some existing time tracking apps. The major pain point I have is that these are:

  1. Meant for “employee monitoring” (ehem micromanagement, ehem surveillance software) which is NOT what I intend to use it for
  2. Since these are mostly for “work”-time tracking, it mostly tracks the time you spent on-screen / browsing tabs / using your computer, but I need to track time off-screen too (breaks, eating, sleeping, personal care). the main reason this is essential to me as a user is because I’m undergoing a transition at work in terms of my work hours — which also meant a transition in my sleeping, eating and resting patterns.

In order to make a successful transition, I needed to truly listen to my body so I don’t make drastic changes and fall sick. Understanding when I am most productive and when I’m not, the best time to eat, the best time to rest — all these ultimately helped me change my whole routine from Manila time to LA, California time.

3. Most of these are paid apps and just free for a limited number of days

Here’s a list of these time trackers:

The pros of building my own automated time tracker is (1) I own my data — it’s all mine and no one else has access to it (which should be the case as that’s personal information) and (2) since, I own my data, I can choose any data viz tool of my choice (in this case, Flourish) and customize it the way I need it for analysis. The con is that I have to consolidate, clean, aggregate then visualize all the data myself (but, I enjoy doing all these so win-win). One more minor pet peeve I have with my IFTTT solution is that whenever I forget whether I already clicked on the button widget or not, I have to go and check the google sheets file. So a nice-to-have feature would be a timestamp and event label beside / below the button widget that shows when the last button trigger was and what event it triggered (started or stopped?).

That said, I’m looking for suggestions / recommendations for time tracking apps that cover the pain points I mentioned & would allow me to own my data and use a viz of my choice. If you know one / have used one, please hit me up!

In the meantime, I built my own personal time-tracking app (mobile) — MVP.

Stay tuned for more details!

PS If you are interested in collaborating with me to build this solution, send me a DM. Let’s make this happen for other people wanting to take control of their time!

Thoughts on Time-tracking Apps for Employee Surveillance

As always, the comments on this youtube vid are #gold.

Here’s one of my favorites:

“Tech manager for 10 years. My employees work best when I set clear goals and tasks, and then leave them alone. If I stand over their shoulder, they’ll feel stressed and the work will take longer. What these ridiculous companies don’t understand is that tracking software won’t solve their poor leadership problems. If your leaders can’t inspire your employees to work, even remotely, no amount of tracking software will make them more productive.”

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