Helpful or Harmful?

Thanks to the increased ease of connectivity we’ve all experienced over recent years – not to mention the ever-increasing convenience and affordability of wearable tech – it seems that so-called ‘life tracker’ apps are claiming a larger share of the download market every month. However, the tracker app genre as a whole still struggles with hitting that right balance between genuinely helpful and unecessarilly time-sapping.

Some of these apps can really lend a hand when it comes to keeping tabs on the evolution of various long-term personal projects; monitoring the ebb and flow of that new low-carb diet plan, for example, or perhaps offering a regular little incentive boost in the drive to cut down on unnecessary week-to-week expenditure. Others, meanwhile, quickly start to take on an air of incessant nagging (or, worse yet, become downright invasive), and can ultimately end up costing heavy users more time and effort than they actually save.

While the majority of life-tracker apps tend to be aimed at helping us tweak and tailor how we manage our leisure time, our lifestyle choices, or our social interactions, there’s also a steadily growing branch of the market dedicated to boosting efficiency and productivity in our working lives. Whether they’re focused more on assisting with personal organization or on streamlining specific tasks for whole groups at once, here are five examples that could come in handy for businesses, employers and employees across a wide range of industries.

1. Who’s Off (Desktop, Apple, Android)

Of course, almost every office already has a system of some sort in place for monitoring absences, be they through unplanned sick days or scheduled leave. This app helps keep track of all that via a nice clean interface, but where it really shines is that it allows employees to link their own individual accounts to that of the wider business. This means that everyone in a team has access to a quick overview of who’s in and out of work at any given time. In addition to making it easier to keep track of all individuals within the company, the app also makes it far easier to scroll ahead through the calendar and plan leave around dates when it won’t put as much strain on the company as a whole. While the company will need a paid central account to benefit from these advanced features, the individual employee accounts themselves are free.

2. Expensify (Apple, Android)

Consistently up there with the best and most popular expenses-tracking apps, this one offers multiple time-saving ways to manage and administrate accounts. It includes many helpful features such as one-click verification, travel expense logging for longer trips, direct debit reimbursement and instant duplicate detection, cutting out a big chunk of the paperwork and making it a breeze to keep running totals monitored and errors to a minimum.

Individuals set up a login for free, then photograph and upload receipts at point of sale to a paid team or company account rather than having to bring them back to the office. Claims can be logged and processed automatically (pending verification by the account manager), and there’s even the option to set up discretionary reward programs that incentivize cost-cutting.

3. Waze (Apple, Android)

The real strength of this free commuter information app is that users have the ability to log delays and disruptions to commuter routes in real time. Based around a familiar ‘sat nav’-style city map layout, users can feed in live reports on incidences of heavy traffic, unexpected hazards, public transport issues and other useful details en route. The app also offers additional features such as optional carpooling groups and frequently updated information on the best fuel prices in the surrounding area.

4. Bananatag (Desktop)

In certain business situations, it’s incredibly helpful to know a little more about exactly what happened to an important email after you hit send (not least judging the appropriate time for a follow-up!). There are multiple apps out there that offer various monitoring options, but this one packs in most of the features you’d reasonably want – timestamped multi-recipient read reports, unopened attachment alerts, and so on – without straying into territory that might be considered overly invasive. A paying version is available that offers 24/7 access to these features, but for most users the free account that offers up to five tracked emails per day will probably suffice.

5. Rescue Time (Desktop, Apple, Android)

This app offers an interesting take on helping users manage their time more effectively, by identifying precisely where all those hours trickle away to when they’re actively using the computer. The focus here isn’t shaving minutes off tasks to power through deadlines; it’s more about offering an insightful overview of how specific app and website usage impacts the broader picture of a typical working week – or, as the developers themselves put it, ‘helping [users] understand daily habits so they can focus and be more productive’. There’s also an in-built alert function so you don’t feel compelled to make this another source of distraction. The lite version is free.