You don’t have to have the sexiest tech to build the best app

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Happy Friday! Are you feeling like a runner at the end of a marathon? I’m on the last leg of two concurrent projects and that’s how I’m feeling. A mix of exhilarated but also anxious to get the best out of the last stretch.

In my last post, I talked about how the very feature that sold me a product ultimately became the very reason it failed me.

New technology is sexy. But a well-made product doesn’t have to be sexy.

Sometimes what works best is just what pays attention to how people are fallible and is designed to fix that.

Like Dave Ramsey’s envelope system, it doesn’t have to be high tech in order for people to become evangelical about how much it works. It just needs to fix the root of the problem in human behaviour (in this case, the undeniable tangibility of either having a pile of cash or not having one), and nip the knock-on problems (overspending) in the bud before they develop.

To continue my very different experiences running two time trackers in parallel, I present..

The ‘side-girl’ timetracker who became ‘wifie’

Human beings are masters at self-deception.

At some point after I shaved off time from invoices, I started “flirting” with another paid time tracker.  Ya know, “Just looking.” No billing yet.

Almost immediately, I was sure I would let the free trial expire.

1. It didn’t show time entries as breakdowns of a nine to five day.

At first, this was clearly a sign that our relationship could go no further.

2. It required me to manually start and stop tasks.

HA! I don’t have to do that with the other one. What a drag.

3. It gave subtle, unobtrusive feedback at regular time intervals to bring awareness to the passage of time 

And just like that, I noticed how it changed the quality of my focus.

I started questioning if what was I doing right at this point was the most important thing for this task, or if it was “a nice to explore if there’s time” task?

  1. The design encouraged free note taking of the task process while the timer was running, without obstructing or influencing the dashboard layout of timesheets.

In my previous tool, this made my time logs in the day look “fatter” and it really wasn’t designed for more than a short description. Longer sentences ran together.

When I ran invoicing in my side-app, it was immediately clear what took so long in each project, but also, because of the time-feedback at intervals, my attention was called back repeatedly to question what I was working on in that moment, making the notes I took something I could stand behind.

In addition, I noticed that the act of manually starting that timer during that free trial became how I got focused.

More so than running app blockers or moving my phone to the corridor. That initial behaviour became the start of a habit loop.

A habit that made me feel better and more satisfied with my work at the end of the day.

The act of stopping the timer became a signal to rest and walk around a bit. Or water the plants. Or answer my poor husband’s messages. You know, have a life.

Furthermore, the default time interval was set to 15 minutes and the app walkthrough explained that actually, this is more reflective of true time worked than logging by the minute.

That nagging feeling I had of “but these gaps shouldn’t be here” and “but this took longer, I know it” was vindicated.

Even the absence of an hourly timeline, whole irksome at first, removed my guilt about “gaps” and I started working in a healthier, more flexible, and more productive way.

I focused on what got done over the day, not holding myself to some imaginary, perfect version of me who should have done half my weeks tasks before lunchtime.

It used hashtags that you could write in on the fly, rather than forcing me to use dropdowns. So it was much faster to use than any other start-stop timer I’d used before.

It also allowed me to write in time in a number of formats (1h, 60m, 60 m, 1:00, 1) because as humans, we do think of time differently in different contexts and subconsciously enter them the way we think we think about them in that context.

We’re not always aware of how we are inconsistent until we get an error message. And by that time, we’ve wasted time and need to repeat ourselves.

TL;DR; You don’t have to have the sexiest technology to build the best app. 

a. Just observe how people behave

e.g resisting using a time tracker, or hating that tracking time takes time that isn’t being tracked. Both apps were designed to fix these.

b. Get to the behavioural root of the problem

  1. “oh my god, I have to scroll through so many projects in this dropdown. Wait. I have to create a project for this first, THEN scroll again? Nevermind, I’ll estimate it later.”  <– both first and second-time trackers solved this.
  2. Time tracking takes time <- both timers solve this
  3. getting absorbed in the work and forgetting the passage of time <– first time tracker didn’t solve this or knock-on effects

c. Identify the knock on problems these cause

Overworking, circling the drain of burnout, feeling like I never got enough done, not knowing why particular time entries took so long.

4. Make opinionated design decisions to prevent them

The lack of per hour day view is  (I’m pretty sure) to prevent people like chasing an idea of a perfect, mythological work day with zero gaps between time logs.

And finally, if there’s ever a choice between being better for a business (AI timesheets are never guestimated) or being best for its workers…

always design for people. 


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