A new breed of apps takes a holistic approach to an age-old conundrum.
Like most people, I struggle with time management. Among other bad habits, I stay up too late at night and take too many coffee breaks during the day. I've tried time-management apps in the past, but most of them focus on how many hours you spend on websites or work-related projects. Now, there's a new breed of apps that takes a more holistic view of how you spend your days and nights, both online and off. I tested two of them, Lift and Chronos, to see if they could help me use my time more wisely.
Lift, a free iPhone app with Web and Android versions due out this year, lets you set daily goals and track your progress. After downloading the app on my iPhone 4S, I browsed a list of "habits" and checked off the ones I wanted to work on, including "Scan my business receipts daily" and "Sleep eight hours a night." I also typed in a few custom goals, including "Drink only three cups of coffee a day" and "Spend only one hour a day reading blogs."
Each time I completed a goal, I had to remember to open the app and press a corresponding check mark. To nudge me in the right direction, Lift sent daily email reminders. I also received "props" from other users when I completed goals--a fun feature that helped me stay motivated. The app charted my progress by displaying stats in bar graphs. After three weeks, I was drinking less coffee and getting more sleep.I was even scanning my business receipts regularly.
Lift was a big help. But I worried that manually checking off my activities would grow tiresome. That's where Chronos comes in. The free iPhone app uses your phone's accelerometer, GPS, and other location services to track your activities for you. After installing it, I adjusted sliders to indicate how much time I wanted to spend on various activities, including sleep (eight hours a night) and hanging out at a local coffee shop (two hours a week).
Chronos went to work right away. When I visited the coffee shop, it noted my location and how long I was there. The app figured out how much I was sleeping by noting when I set my phone down for a long period at night. Much like Lift, Chronos features progress reports in graph form. You can also view a map to see how much time you're spending at various places. Unlike Lift, Chronos does not send daily email reminders or encouragement from other users, which I missed. Still, after two weeks, I had cut my time at the coffee shop to half an hour per week and was sleeping eight hours a night. Not bad.
My verdict? Lift is the ticket for people who need external motivation. Don't want the hassle of tracking your activities? Try Chronos. If you're like me, the last thing you need is a time-management tool that takes up time.