Inspired by the Automators podcast’s most recent episode on automated time tracking (which you should definitely listen to if you’re reading a tech-automation blog), I’ve decided to delve into the world of automated time tracking via the Toggl app in conjunction with Shortcuts for iOS. While Toggl does have a few native Siri Shortcuts, they’re all fairly lacking in true automation functionality. Instead, I use a series of custom shortcuts that pull from Toggl’s API. It should be said that time tracking automation would be classified as a “manual automation,” as it requires user input to activate and deactivate timers.
There are several collections of time tracking shortcuts out there to be downloaded, such as the one found in the MacStories Shortcuts Archive. Personally, I follow the guide posted to the Shortcuts subreddit by u/RKIV. After following the instructions laid out in this Reddit post, what you’re left with is a series of individual shortcuts that each activate a particular timer within Toggl. Rather than have each timer displayed individually in the Today Screen widget, I bundle each timer shortcut into a singular shortcut called “Start Timer” that displays a list of activities. The activity I then select is the timer that becomes active.
But the true power of automated time tracking isn’t from having a list of timers on your iPhone’s Today Screen. The power of automated time tracking comes from tying those timer shortcuts to other shortcuts already in use. For instance, I have a shortcut called “Good Night” that turns off the living room lights, turns down my screen’s brightness and volume, and sets a morning alarm based on what time I go to sleep. But with the inclusion of time tracking, this shortcut now also activates my timer shortcut for “Sleep”, allowing me to track how much time I spend sleeping. In the morning, my “Good Morning” shortcut deactivates the “Sleep” timer, among other things.
Additionally, I’ve also begun to use shortcuts with Toggl to track my time on social media. Rather than opening Twitter or Instagram via an app on the Home Screen, I now slide over to the Shortcuts widget on the Today Screen and activate my “Social Media” shortcut. Activating this shortcut displays a list of social media apps to choose from. Upon selecting which app I’d like to visit, the shortcut then stops the current Toggl timer if one is active, starts the “Social Media” timer, and opens the selected app. Not only does this track my time on social media, but by both not having social media on my Home Screen and adding additional barriers to entry, I’m systemically discouraged from using social media as often without completely deleting it from my phone.
Unfortunately, not every timer can be tied to other shortcuts. Some timers require manual activation. This means that mistakes will be made. Timers will run for longer than intended and some things simply won’t be timed at all. That being said, time tracking can be made easier to use with Shortcuts. Time tracking in conjunction with automation is ultimately a skill that requires discipline. The more it’s done, the easier it becomes.