The last time I looked at OS X application Slife, as part of a roundup of automatic time-tracking tools, I wasn’t too impressed. The application seemed buggy and overpriced at the time. Fortunately, version 2.0 of Slife, released earlier this week, is a huge leap forward. It fixes the problems I saw last time, adds some new functionality, and drops the price – to “free.”
The basic idea of Slife remains the same. You launch it on your Mac (OS X 10.5 is required now), and it lurks in the background, keeping track of what you do on the machine. This means that it records, to the second, exactly what time you used each application and how long you used it for, along with the window title. Armed with this information, it can slice and dice your day for you in a variety of useful graphical displays.
Slife offers 6 basic views of your computer time. The Day and Month views provide an overview of the database for those time periods, showing colored dots for each use of an application. Click on a dot and you’ll get details: time, duration, window title. If you’re sneaking off to your web browser too often, or get distracted from working with a document to play ten games of chess, it will be abundantly clear; our natural ability to see patterns works well with this presentation.
The Applications and Web & Documents views provide summary rollups. These come with bar graphs showing which application you were focused on for how long, and then details on an application-by-application (or document-by-document) basis.
Activities view allows you to define your own further rollups. For example, you could create an activity for “Client site redesign.” After that, you specify the applications and document titles that should be counted as part of that activity – perhaps working with a text editor on a particular project, firing up CSSEdit, browsing to the staging web site, and so on. Slife will then show you, any time you ask, the total time spent on that activity.
Goals work with activities; when you define an activity, you can specify how many minutes or hours you would like to spend on that activity per day. Perhaps you want to spend at least 2 hours on client site redesign – or no more than 15 minutes at Slashdot. The Goals view will keep you honest, with day-by-day tracking of your progress.
There’s still room for improvement in Slife 2.0. I’d like to see the ability to specify wild cards in document titles I’m tracking for activities, and it would be nice to be able to export the data for further analysis in other applications. But Slife is heading in a different direction first: now that the individual, free version is solid, they’re working on Slife for Teams. This will be a subscription-based web service that can roll up information from multiple Slife instances, so that you can use it to track time across your entire organization. I’m looking forward to seeing it launch.