How to Hack Time Management with Free iPhone and Mac Apps

Do you know where and how you’re spending precious time?

Photo by Aron Visuals on Unsplash

We have apps to track every dollar we spend on and how much we deviate from our budget. Why don’t we follow the same principle with time?

Money is a renewable resource. Time? Not so much.

Why aren’t we using technology to optimize our lives towards this undeniable truth?

Forget about Toggle and other lawyer-like applications that require you to log what you’re doing every minute for the app to really work.

What’s follows is a more efficient (or lazy) approach to creating Time Audits you can actually use.

The three apps I use for Time Audits

1. LifeCycle

Tracks how long you spend on your commute, sleeping and on every place you visit. To set it up, I spent about 3–7 minutes per week at the beginning inputting what I was doing in a specific location, but then as the weeks passed, 2–3 minutes per week was more than enough. Without a doubt, this s the best app I discovered in 2018 (have been using its older brother, SleepCycle, for several years now).

2. Screen Time

Many people haven’t realized this function was automatically installed on their iPhones last year by Apple. It’s a really cool feature you can turn on in Settings, so you can track not just how much time of your day and week you spent on your iPhone but how much per category (for example: “Social Networking” and “Reading and Reference” are my two biggest categories).

You can also use it to schedule downtime from your iPhone (only apps you choose will be available), as well as setting time limits for certain apps or even categories (for instance I have a 15 minute limit for all Social Media — after that time the apps become “locked” — though I can choose to click to unlock for 15 more minutes, or I can choose to ignore my limit for the whole day).

3. Rescue Time

I’ve had this one in my PCs since 2008, and struggled due to the fact that they didn’t have a Mac version for several years. (They released their IOS app last year — but apparently it had some issues, and it doesn’t track screen time anymore on IOS. Right now the IOS app still exists, but what it does is report everything related to my computer.)

The free version is great: it not only tracks the time spent on my Mac, but I love how easy it is to determine which types of websites or apps are distraction time and which not. I receive a “Productivity Score” per day, week or month, and the reporting is pretty decent. If you want to trial this app and take your Time Auditing to the next level, the free version will allow to set up three goals.

Photo by rawpixel.com from Pexels

The simple steps I follow

As with any product or process, if there’s too much friction I won’t stick around — which is why the systems I create and follow are very simple and straightforward. It’s the only way my lazy mind and body will implement impactful.

1. Check in daily: < one minute

  • Every night, I check ScreenTime to see how much time I spent on my iPhone and asses if I was within my goal time.
  • This helps me make a commitment to be more self-aware, so I can do better the day after.

2. Reflect weekly: 2–7 minutes

ScreenTime: I ask myself the following questions, all of which are answered on one single screen (tab “Last 7 Days” has everything). This takes one or maybe two minutes at the most.

  • a) Was my daily average for this week lower than the previous week? Followup if the answer is no: Think what happened and why.
  • b) Check total hours spent on “Social Networking” and “Entertainment” and feel bad about it (works wonders).
  • c) What are my top three most used apps? Should they be?
  • d) What are the top three apps used the most first after pickup? This tells me a lot about my impulses. As James Clear says, the habit could take only two seconds, like unlocking my iPhone but then I can be loosing ten or twenty minutes with Instagram afterward for instance. A very simple habit determines several minutes of what comes after, so I need to keep an eye on this issue and it starts being aware on which apps are opened after a pickup.

LifeCycle: I can spend between one and five minutes per week on this app (depends on how many new places I visited this week, which is point -a- below).

  • a) I scroll down to the “What did you do here?” part so I can tell the app where and what was I doing in the uncategorized place (since it already knows the minutes or hour spent on that place I just need to link to an activity). It is very simple because a sort of Google Maps appears that asks you two questions:
    - i.Where were you? It automatically tells you the places nearby (powered by Foursquare) that you can choose from or you can easily type “In-Laws” for instance for that specific geolocation.
    - ii.What did you do? Pre-established activities appear by color with a special icon or you can add new ones extremely easy.
  • b) I check the following four graphs that appear on the main screen (takes less than one minute):
    - i. Every day balance has three graphs: How many hours of the week did I spend at home? How much did I sleep (compared to my accumulated average per day)? How much time did I spend on work or work-related activities?
    - ii.The Exercise graph tells me how much I walked, ran or cycled (if you swim with your iPhone it works too) and compares it to the previous week, as well as to my accumulated average per week.

3. Monthly Time Audit: 10–15 minutes

Both my daily minute and my weekly activity (2–7 minutes every Sunday) each serve a purpose. With my daily minute I become mindful of how I am using or wasting my time to be better next day. If I don’t do it daily I can reach the end of the month and be surprised with time spent on certain activities, this way I don’t have the excuse of not seeing it coming. With the minutes spend per week every Sunday I lessen the amount of time I spend telling LifeCycle where I’ve been and what I did (and I remember exactly).

On my Monthly Audit I go over the following questions and take note and action:

LifeCycle: I spend around 8 minutes on this app for my Monthly Audit, but you can do it faster if you decide some of the things that are important for me are not priorities for you.

  • I first click “Work” on the Pie Graph that appears at the top and scroll down to see: 1) Where I spent my hours, 2) my average per day and, 3) my monthly average compared to my accumulated average.
  • If I have the time and am curious I can do the same as above for every other activity in the pie chart but usually I just check “Work”, “Family”, “Transport”, “Commute to work” and “Commute to home”.
  • Unique locations. Just for fun. I like knowing the size of my universe/bubble.
  • Top 5 most popular visits this month and hours on each. Were they on purpose? Are they aligned with my priorities?
  • Monthly balance. It is three graphs embedded into a simple one. I can see starting August (when the app was launched) how I am doing per month in time at home, sleeping and working out to see my trend. Helps me make conscious decisions.
  • Commuting time. It is divided into three different sections “Commute to work”, “Transport” (which is everything during my day which didn´t start or end at home) and “Commute to home”. This is where I understand the reason I have heard to so many podcasts last month and decide if I can make adjustments.
  • Ups and downs. Love this. For instance on December I know I spent 175% more time with my Family than on an average month and decreased by half my commute to home time, which was a result of my November audit, in which I decided to work close to my home on the afternoons to avoid traffic, so that I could be with my family earlier every day.

RescueTime. I check the following:

  • Productivity Score. What’s my average for the month? Is it better than the previous month? Better than my accumulated average?
  • Check the Blue (Very Productive) vs Red (Very Distracting) Ratio and ponder on the why this month was better or worse than the last one
  • Check the “Spotlights of the Month”. I can see which sites or apps I spend the most time during work hours and off hours and how much time on them. Do I have stuff on my work hours that shouldn’t be there?
  • Goals. Did I reach the hours of “All Productive time” I intended? Is “Distracting Time” more than it should be? If so, what are the apps or websites that are causing this?
  • If I have time or am in the mood, I can spend a couple of minutes checking out the other reports, but it’s not really part of my monthly audit.

Screentime can only report on today and the previous seven days so I don´t use it in my Monthly Audit. Sucks.

Conducting a “Time Audit” is pretty simple and has a lot of benefits. You might think you have clear priorities, but a Time Audit can tell you — in reality — how you are spending your time, and where your precious minutes are going.

This empowers you to be more intention about how you live you life.

Apps that deserve a Special Mention

Moment. I used this before ScreenTime and still haven’t erased it — call me sentimental.

Timing. Does the same thing as RescueTime but with some cool extra features (and the reporting is waaaaay better). But it can require more effort in “creating your system” so to speak and they don’t have a free version, just a trial. Their paid version is expensive.

Time Audit. Have been trying this app for a bit now and like a lot of the things it can do and all of the reporting, this is a great app. The downside is it requires you having your calendar “full” of the things you are actually doing. If this app could somehow use LifeCycle to complement it would be great.

FantastiCal. Some might say it looks just like your iPhone or Mac’s Calendar, and that it’s not worth it. I started using it with minimal effort precisely because of the similar look and feel.

Please feel free to comment or ask me any questions! hope I was clear on how I conduct my Time Audits. It really is simple. The challenge, as with a lot of easy things, is doing it consistently.

Good luck!

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