The Austrian-based start-up Timeular went on Die Höhle der Löwen (DHDL) with their hardware-based time tracking tool ZEIº. The ZEIº is an eight-sided polygon where each side represents a task you are working on. You switch between these tasks by switching the polygon, and the upwards-facing side is the tasks being tracked right now.
I wrote about ZEIº a while back (post in German) and concluded that the product creates „pain“ for users:
- because they have to (re-)design each side multiple times
- due to ZEIº’s limited flexibility: it has only eight sites, and you cannot add spontaneous tasks
- people can steal it
- it is only useful for stationary work
The jury from DHDL additionally mentioned that people simply won’t use ZEIº because finding the right side for the corresponding task is difficult, they will simply forget to track and that using a time tracking device is simply annoying. Furthermore, they criticized that a hardware-based solution is not future-proof and that an (AI-)software is the way to go.
ZEIº only better significantly better for a few people
The first part of the criticism shows that customer education is needed. There are a lot of people who do not know that there are people who must track all their activities. This means that the market for ZEIº is at least two-sided. People who track time and people who do not. Turning those non-trackers into customers will be difficult, especially as there are free software tools these people could use as their first time tracking solution. The other group, the trackers, either use a dedicated time tracking software or spreadsheets. ZEIº is a lot better than spreadsheets, but dedicated tools like Harvest or Toggle are, except for the disruption caused be opening an app, at least as efficient as ZEIº. In addition to the points mentioned above (people have to (re-)design the ZEIº, its limited flexibility, people can steal it and its stationary-exclusive applicability) ZEIº implies that you track your track your tasks with high granularity (minute-wise). Interesting about this minute-based tracking is that one person loses — according to a study quoted by HBR — $50.000 in revenues annually due to “due to insufficient tracking of emails”. However, as the article explains, tracking with such a granularity does not stand in relation to the actual work. The tracking of tasks that last only a few minutes can represent up to 60% of the actual work, according to the study. ZEIº (and dedicated time tracking tools) lower this to a few seconds, but achieving such time tracking granularity requires highly repetitive switching of the tasks you track. Eventually, this would drive people crazy. For most people time slots of an hour (or half hour) are enough and in these intervals opening an app (even a spreadsheet) is not that cumbersome. Thus, the market of people for whom ZEIº is the significantly better solution is very small. These arguments, by the way, apply mostly to freelancers (ZEIº’s main target customers). For employees, there is a range of other issues of which the feeling of surveillance is the biggest one.
ZEIº and the quest to increase productivity and the 30-hour work week
However, time tracking is only part of Timeular’s offering. They are also working on an automated productivity coach that provides individual feedback and tips on time management. This feature is part of Timeular’s plan to increase workers’ productivity and to make working 30 hours a week cool.
This is also one of the reasons why Speedinvest invested in Timeular.
Timeular has developed a revolutionary product to tackle one of our greatest challenges: finding time for important things in life,”
“Manuel and his team have the potential to really change the way we make use of our time.”
I have huge troubles believing that.
- Work routine as deeply rooted behavior. The way we work is a deeply rooted behavior. And these change only extremely slowly, if at all.
- Lack of data. Feeding the ZEIº enough data to provide useful recommendations is difficult (just think about its exclusively stationary use).
- Lack of automation. For ZEIº to gather enough data, it will have to track all your activities including how often your attention wanders away from your current tasks to another application (e. g. a new e-mail), device (think of notifications on your phone) or person. As mentioned above, switching the cube every few minutes will drive people crazy. Only if the ZEIº were an automated, cross-device tracking software (it might even need location tracking to know where you are working and voice analysis to know what you are talking about) it could go into the direction of gathering enough data.
- Work routine dependent on the environment. The way we work depends on our environment. Despite all intentions outside constraints (like clients’ schedules) dictate our work routine (including those of freelancers). Thus, even if ZEIº manages to understand your working day perfectly and to provide you with useful advice, execution will fall short because of the people around you.
Nevertheless, one must not forget that they way we work is in flux; just consider the contrarian position of Theory X and Theory Y (Theory X argues that people must be „forced“ to work, Theory Y, in contrast, argues that people are inherently motivated), Taylorism or how Slack, Skype, and Co. have changed corporate communication. Thus, one could argue that if everybody uses ZEIº, everybody’s working behavior will adapt and we will all share the same — efficient — work routine. However, not only do I doubt that ZEIº can create an impact of similar magnitude (for the reasons mentioned above) but I also think that people want to be inefficient at work (not judgment). The reason why spend more time than necessary at the office is that we switch between activities (checking Facebook notifications, reading news, answering e-mails, and doing the actual project work). And we switch between activities because our concentration wanders off. Now, making our work more efficient would mean eliminating all these secondary activities (this kind of „deep work“ is only way ZEIº could make us more efficient). And I think people wouldn’t want that. Furthermore, it is close to impossible to introduce such a strong habit change (let alone with a tool that you have to operate manually). Just think how often you have actually stood up when prompted by your Apple Watch (the Apple Watch has a „stand up reminder“ that prompts you to stand up when you have been sitting for too long) or how often you have you have used your Fitbit.
It is no accident that I am writing for the second time about Timeular; emotionally I think ZEIº is great (it looks like a really cool toy) but rationally I do not see any chance for it in the mainstream (there might be a niche market for it, though).