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Exploring the pros and cons of productivity trackers and timers

Productivity tracking and timers can boost employee output but also harm morale. Discover some more pros and cons and get a list of top tools.
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Let's be honest: When it comes to productivity on the job, some days are better than others. One day you're blazing through your tasks, ticking off your to-do list like it's no biggie.

The next day? A single email takes a solid hour — and you're so unfocused and eager for distractions you’ll even sit through your boring coworker's play-by-play of their most recent vacation, photos, and all.

But then there are those in-between days where you're just coasting. At day's end, you might wonder: What did I DO today?!

Enter productivity timers. These tools track how much you get done in a set timeframe, so you can use them to track your productivity. Teams or entire businesses may also use them to assess employee productivity.

The question is, should we be SO obsessed with productivity that we want to monitor it? There are pros and cons, which we discuss below. We also highlight some productivity trackers worth checking out in case you decide they are right for you.

What is a productivity tracker?

Productivity tracking tools provide real-time data on how quickly a person gets set tasks done. Individuals may use productivity trackers to determine their workflow and improve efficiency.

Some people also use productivity and time management apps in their personal lives. For instance, students might want to use a productivity measurement tool to help prepare for a timed exam, where every second counts.

Alternatively, managers, team leaders, or companies may use these tools to analyze employee behavior. For example, a sales team lead may want to see how many sales calls each employee accomplishes in a single day. This information can help determine a bare minimum baseline and set realistic expectations for daily calls.

Productivity or time tracking software are great tools for assessing employee performance. For instance, if one sales team member takes longer than average to complete sales calls, their team lead might suggest extra training.

Does time-tracking increase productivity?

So, does time tracking improve productivity, or not? According to some research, yes! However, if you want time tracking tools to make a difference, there are certain best practices you've got to follow.

For starters, you can't just use a time tracking software without looking at the data it gives you (like, what's the point of even tracking productivity in the first place?)! By examining detailed reports for days, weeks, or even months, you can get info that will help improve your time and task management.

For example, by looking at time tracker data over a month, you might discern that you are more productive in the mornings than in the afternoons. This information might motivate you to clock in earlier, so you can get more done faster—and get off work earlier (yay for less work time and more free time!).

Then, there are certain techniques you can implement with time-tracking tools to help you work faster. The Pomodoro technique is one example. This technique involves working in short bursts (say, 15 minutes) interspersed with short breaks (say, 5 minutes). With every four Pomodoro intervals, you take a longer break ranging from 15-30 minutes.

Let’s look at the pros and cons of tracking productivity

Let's get real: Time tracking is not for everyone. It has benefits and drawbacks, and everyone has their own opinion as to whether it works for them or not. Here's a quick overview of the most significant pros and cons.

Pros of time tracking

Look, if people are using all these time tracking apps, there must be a good reason for it, right? Here are some of the benefits cited by those who believe in the power of productivity tracking.

Higher productivity 

Time tracking can help some people be more productive at work. Take the Pomodoro technique, for example. A Pomodoro timer helps you work in concentrated high-energy bursts with minimal distractions. It can also help you break down large tasks into smaller, more manageable ones. Using Promodoro makes big projects seem less daunting and inspires greater motivation.

Increased employee focus 

Time tracking boosts productivity is by improving focus. When people know the clock is watching, they're more likely to maintain concentration. As a result, they can get more done in a single work hour.

Ease of monitoring employee and company progress 

Time tracking desktop apps on employees' computers make it easy for managers to track billable hours. There's no need for employees or freelancers to note their time entries manually or fill out tedious timesheets.

Time tracking apps can also make other business processes —like invoicing, easier. Some time management tools even come with APIs that simplify the process by integrating with management features like billing tools.

Increased transparency and accountability 

Time tracking metrics boost transparency, providing easy-to-understand metrics that reveal what every person gets done in a single workday. This information can help improve employee accountability. Companies may then use that data to take steps to improve profitability.

For example, time tracking data can reveal bottlenecks that are slowing workers down, like sending emails to provide project updates. The company may then implement a project management tool like Asana, Zapier, or Trello to make life easier for employees, saving time and boosting productivity.

Cons of time tracking

Despite what the above list of "pros" may have you thinking, time tracking isn't all good. It's got a few drawbacks that can make it a big turn-off for some employees. Here are some reasons you may want to put time tracking software on your "nope" list.

Decreased employee morale 

Real talk: Automatic time tracking can make employees feel like they're working for “Big Brother.” Although time trackers are useful, this level of employee monitoring can make some people uncomfortable. Our tip? Large and small businesses should always discuss the idea of implementing such tracking features with their employees first.

Potential for micromanagement 

Another drawback of time tracking is that it raises the risk of micromanagement. To avoid this pitfall, companies should be clear about their intention to use time trackers for setting precise goals and performance indicators. For example, a business could use one-click time tracking with a billing integration for faster invoicing.

Complex systems can be expensive 

The functionality of time tracking tools becomes limited if they're too complex (plus, a complicated tool means a steep learning curve). Luckily, there are some simple time trackers available to avoid this issue (more on that below). These simpler systems also tend to have more reasonable pricing (because let's face it, everybody wants to keep overhead costs low)!

Tracking intangible benefits is hard

Time trackers are convenient for monitoring certain things — like how long a sales call takes or how long it takes to write a blog. However, they aren't great at measuring less tangible tasks that don't necessarily have concrete outcomes, like brainstorming sessions. Plus, adding time pressure to a job like brainstorming can make it harder. Say goodbye to creativity!

Best productivity trackers and timers in 2022

Okay, we're trying to be fair here: We've given you the pros of time tracking, and we've given you the cons. Now it's on you to decide whether you want to give productivity tracking a try or not. We bear zero liability for what happens from here on out (our legal team made us say that)!

The good news: There's no need for manual time tracking with today's modern time tracking solutions. Without further ado, here's a list of some tools worth considering if you want to try productivity tracking software.

  • Clockify. Clockify is a stopwatch-style timer that sends simple notifications to keep teams on track. It can also generate reports to show what projects are taking up most of your team's time.
  • Harvest. Harvest is a comprehensive app that integrates with many other tools, including project management, invoicing, and accounting technology. It automatically reminds teams to submit timesheets and works offline and online.
  • RescueTime. RescueTime is great for people who are easily distracted. The automatic timer also improves productivity by encouraging concentration through "Focus Session." During these periods, the tool blocks access to distracting websites (bye, YouTube)!
  • Toggl. Toggl lets you track time and view past time-tracking results in your preferred format, grid, or calendar. The Toggle Track button will also pop up on your screen when you're using apps or visiting websites, reminding you to stay on track.
  • AtTrack. For fully customizable time tracking, check out AtTrack. The app lets you customize time tracking for various tasks, from writing emails to cleaning your workspace. You can use visuals like color coding and icons to represent tasks.

Whichever tools you decide to try, make sure they're compatible with your office systems (like Windows versus MacOS). If you use mobile apps, check that they're compatible with iOS or Android, whichever you use. On a similar note, if you opt for a web app instead of a software product, make sure that it works with your browser, be it Firefox or Chrome.

Finally, always consider pricing when investing in new workplace tech. Some of the options above let you start with a free plan and then require an upgrade (for example, if you want to monitor unlimited projects).

Unlock hyper-efficient productivity with OSlash

Time tracking is just one of the ways you can boost productivity. There are loads of other tools to help you get your work done faster — like OSlash.

With OSlash, you can save time wasted on searching for and sharing URLs. It takes complex URLs and turns them into easy-to-remember snippets, such as o/team-standup, o/onboarding, and o/payslip. 

Find out how OSlash can help you find information instantly today.

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