LifeTracker: A Budget for your Time
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A time tracking, note taking, task prioritizing, checkbook balancing, Personal Digital Manager
Submitted By admin on 08/05/06
 

On a quest to easily and intuitively generate accurate time based invoices for some of my ATI Design clients, I have been researching various invoicing systems.  I have been looking for a way to keep track of how much time I spend on different tasks as effortlessley as possible, and then bill people for the tasks.

So far, the best system I have found to do this is a Mac application called Billings, by Marketcircle.
It allows you to organize "slips" (which can be fixed amounts, or time durations multiplied by an hourly rate), by customer and project, and then turn slip collections into impressively professional itimized invoices emailed to your clients at the click of a button.

However, the program has many shortcomings, not the least of which (at least for me) was it's seemingly high price tag for what it does, and it's inability to handle repeated scheuled "slips" - which would make contracts and other scheduled billing cycles much easier to keep track of.

It seemed to me that it would be easy to build a far more powerful - and just as intuitive "Billings" like system for the web (and the desktop using Adobe Air or a similar technology), and as I was thinking of this many other uses of such a system begain materialising in my mind...

Along with handling invoices, I have also been looking for a painless way to balance a checkbook and do budgets, and to organize all my tasks and ideas.

As I thought about it, it seemed like many of the areas overlapped, and should be handled by the same system. For example, picture how useful it would be if a budgeting system could detect when expenses were reimbursable based on the category they were placed in, and then automatically generate invoices for them - or if your invoicing system could automatically handle paid invoices as income in your budgeting system.

Then an even more interesting idea occured to me: Picture how useful it could be if your all-in-one invoicing and budgeting system handled your time just like your money!

We are all familiar with the old adage that "time is money", and in a continuity equation type sense, it is. Millions of people spend much of their life exchanging their time for money, and yet (from my experience, at least), they often budget their money much more carefully than their time. This seems erronious - as money can be replaced, and time can not. It is much easier to subconciously quantify money as a commodity than time because time is always being spent whereas money requires a consious decision to do so. Picture how much time could be utilized instead of wasted if everyone had a budgeting system for it!

The obvious question arises of what people will do with all the time they won't waste with this system, and that is where the note / task manager comes in. Whenever you have an idea for something interesting to research, read, implement, or do, you write it down, and whenever you have extra time, you do it!

Once an integrated system was designed to handle all your billing, invoicing, and budgeting needs - including budgeting your time, there are many uses for it that become apparent:

  • A "Brain Dump" system that could help you organize every idea that you have into a cohesive serious of tasks to do, topics to research, etc.
  • A travel planner that could find the optimal driving route to take you through all your geolocated tasks - accounting for appointements and the like - and then block out the time it would take to do so in your calendar. It could even determine the cheapest place to buy items on your shopping list - accounting for gas prices, your valuable time, and the convience of stopping at as few stores as possible.
  • A meal planner that would allow you to plan all your meals weeks in advance, and then have the ingredients shipped to your door via a food co op - or added to your smart shopping list to be purchased the next time you would be driving by an optimum store.
  • A "Friend Finder", that would alert you when open blocks of your time or your planned travel routes intersected those of participating friends.
  • A "Life Optimizer", which could analyze trends, patterns, and decisions in your life and determine how they could be made more effecient. For example: is owning a horse or boat really worth it when it costs X $ and X time per month, I only use it X amount, and I could rent one for the amount I use it for far cheaper than that?
  • A super effecient way to share resources with participating friends: any resources you designate as shared (such as a roto-tiller, video camera, or favorite book, would have their own calendar, and anyone who was allowed to share them could add tasks requiring them to their calendars and "block them out" for that time.
  • And many more! With all the data the described system would have, a nearly infinite amount of potential uses arises.

Of course, there are many objections to an all in one "Personal Digital Manager":

First of all, nearly everything it would do can already be done on paper, given enough patience and orgizational dilligence.
The answer to this objection is that the chief purpose of computers is to do things that can already be done on paper faster and better, and that this would be a perfect example of that! By making it far easier to attain a far higher level of orginization in their lives, I am sure many people would benefit from this system.

And secondly, it would be a privacy threat.
This is a serious issue, but one which is easily addressed. For people who don't want to share their lives online, the system could be distributed as a deskop applcation which stores all of it's data locally. Sharing data with other users would be completley optional, and using a database encryption system, it would be possible for users to share their central database between their computer and other handheld devices without revealing the information contained in it over the internet.

 

In summary, although I don't have time to develop a system like this now, I sure hope some tech startup decides to - because if done right, this system has the potential to increase the total productivity of the world significantly.

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