Can AI Time Trackers Actually Make You More Productive?
Artificial intelligence (AI) is seemingly taking over every aspect of life. There are AI helpers to organize your email, plus AI tools that assist with job recruitment. You can – allegedly – also use AI to track your time every day. Can they help you get more done, too?
I set out to answer that question but ran into some difficulties.
Keep reading to learn about my series of unfortunate time-tracking events.
Not All Trials Are as Free as They Seem
I planned to experiment with a time-tracker called Allocate. The website has a Try for Free link which redirected me to a page requesting my information to register for the free trial. I entered details into the provided fields and submitted them. I thought I’d see the time-tracking interface next, or a screen thanking me for starting the trial.
However, instead, I received a sales email. It acknowledged the interest in Allocate and included a calendar link for scheduling a phone call. During it, someone would help me set up an account and walk me through the program’s features.
I wasn’t interested in taking that route and didn’t progress further. Nothing on the Allocate website indicates needing to speak with a product representative before using the product. Clarifying that fact would eliminate the frustration I felt after discovering I couldn’t try Allocate independently.
There’s another time-tracking assistant called Case.one. I wanted to test it as a replacement for Allocate. The company’s website has a Request a Demo link. It at least doesn’t necessarily suggest the ability to try something for free. Still, I clicked the link to see what happened.
Just like Allocate, Case.one requires basic details and asks the person to choose a time for a product demo.
The Unexpected Obstacle of a Closed Beta Test
I then turned my attention to Timely. Thankfully, it offered a straightforward 14-day trial signup process. I had access to the app within a couple of minutes of providing an email.
At the top of the Timely homepage, there is a small banner. It says, “Introducing Memory AI — Fully Automatic Time Tracking Powered by Deep Learning.”
However, the free trial of Timely doesn’t include access to Memory AI and fails to make that clear. I immediately liked Timely’s straightforward interface but didn’t see an AI component. After exploring the app for a while, I went back to the Memory AI banner.
After clicking on it, I learned Memory AI product is a closed beta. After requesting access, I got a message saying I was on the waiting list and number 7,745 in line.
The message also mentioned the company gave access in batches. It said I could move closer to the front by referring friends, too. To experiment, I entered an alternative email to share the Memory AI referral link with myself.
Doing that moved me to position 839. That’s significantly better than where I started, but still not enough to try the product anytime soon.
My Experience Using Smarter Time
Unlike the others mentioned, Smarter Time is an AI time tracker I could test. This app relies on you training it correctly by providing information about activities and time spent. It also needs information about rooms you regularly visit.
The app then learns your habits and movements and adds to your timeline autonomously with AI algorithms.
If adding a time entry, the first step is inputting your location, such as home or work. Then, you can choose a category such as Professional Life. It includes activity options like Meeting, Network or Training Seminar. You can also tap New to get more specific, such as by adding the type of meeting attended.
The checkmark and trashcan icons associated with time entries are easy to understand. Also, the color-coded/icon-based format lets you view time spent at a glance.
Unfortunately, there is no option use the Smarter Time desktop client without the mobile client. They work together. Furthermore, I had trouble linking the mobile and desktop clients.
The desktop app requires a code found in the Devices section of the mobile app. However, my mobile app didn’t include such an area and reading the help documentation was not useful. I contacted the company to ask for assistance, but only got a form letter in response.
After installing the mobile app, several dialogue boxes appeared and covered the app’s basics. However, they are too brief and only describe possible functionality, not how to use the app. As a result, I went through trial and error, plus looked through help documents.
In addition, I experienced several specific frustrations. For starters, the mobile app automatically took event invitations from my Google Calendar. It assumed I spent time at events which would be beneficial had I blocked out time in my Google Calendar, but I didn’t say I was going to these events.
I eventually figured out how to disconnect my Google Calendars from Smarter Time via Notifications.
Also, the app automatically named my phone 5044Y. You can change that in the Notifications within the Settings menu. Before I knew that, the 5044Y entries on my schedule confused me.
They did say Phone next to them, but the other part wasn’t intuitive. Using the phone brand or model instead of the random code would clarify.
When my phone alarm rang to wake me up, the app said I used the device. That wasn’t entirely accurate.
The phone-use tracking feature could be useful to cut down on using your phone for certain purposes. However, it’s still necessary to go into the app and edit the phone entry. You have to indicate to say whether you’re used the device for work or pleasure.
The Smarter Time app also added a Sleep entry on the schedule. However, I’m not sure how it figured that because I didn’t do anything to indicate being asleep. That schedule entry was only partially accurate and not motivated by anything I did.
The mobile notifications activated by default are confusing, too. For example, almost immediately after installing the app, I received one that said, Work, work and another said Work, health and hygiene.
I didn’t indicate I was either working or involved in something related to health and hygiene. When I clicked to get more details about the latter entry, it did not provide any. So, I deleted that entry from the timeline.
In short, Smarter Time tries to track every activity a person does, and that’s too much for my purposes. Other time-tracking apps aren’t so detailed. Based on my experience with Smarter Time, I’d prefer one of those.
I only used Smarter Time for a day, but am unsure how the app got its data. Maybe that would become clear after long-term usage. Still, I don’t think Smarter Time would have a substantial effect on productivity though it claims to be a time management tool.
It’s a bit too detailed, and many non-AI time trackers show time spent. That’s enough for me, but your needs may vary.
Download: Smarter Time for Android (Free)
Note: Smarter Time only works for Android as of now. However, you can sign up to go on an email notification list for a beta test.
Do the Benefits Outweigh the Costs?
Representatives from both Smarter Time and Timely persistently sent emails during the trial period at least once daily. One from Smarter Time asked why I uninstalled the app on my phone. Notably, I never got a response after asking for help activating the app’s desktop client.
Some people may appreciate a company reaching out to see if they need help. Timely did that in my case. However, I’m not sure if there’s a person on the other end or just a robot. A true live chat feature would make it easier to get assistance.
Also, Timely sent an email explaining how referring friends provides access to the closed beta sooner. Apparently, their records didn’t show I already referred someone — myself, with another email address. So, I don’t need an explanation of how the referral process works.
Based on my findings, it’ll be a while before I attempt using AI time trackers again. Maybe, in time, they’ll show obvious improvements such as providing their iPhone tracking app counterparts or simpler interfaces. For now, though, they’re too frustrating, not as widely available as it seems and not valuable enough.
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