For those of you that read this blog… And saw my previous post about peak… I entered a timesheet application that I had written for human computer interface design class and ended up with 3rd place! Even so I was quite surprised at the level of interest in the application by some of the faculty and several students who have part time jobs here at Neumont.
The project started off as solution to a problem: How to get people who are paid on a per hour basis and who have their own development machine, to keep accurate timesheets.
I know that people have trouble remembering to consistently fill out a timesheet every day and for every break, it’s not a problem with the person themselves, but just that people are not perfect and do forget things from time to time. Currently, there are two methods of keeping track of time: One is simply to fill out a form every day (or excel document, or some form of tabular information) listing off the time you came in and the time you left, and then totaling the time on the form to get a total time. The second is a ‘clock in’ and ‘clock out’ program where you will either log in or have some form of clicking ‘start timer’ and ‘stop timer’. Some way’s are combinations of all of the above.
I wanted an application that was so simple to use, so unobtrusive that you would hardly even notice you were using it, and something that would keep a detailed record of my activity. I started out with the basic assumption that when a person was active on their computer that they were ‘working’ and that if they left for more than say, 10 minutes that they were ‘not working’. That being said, I quickly realized that there would always be exceptions to this, an hour long meeting, an extended time discussing or planning out a project on a white board… etc. So at the very beginning of the project I knew I need to have a simple, unobtrusive, way to handle exceptions to the normal workflow during the day.
[ This next section gets technical ]
The base of the application relied on hooking into the global mouse and keyboard events via Win32 DLL’s so that I was able to determine when a user is active on their computer. The application disappears into the system tray and keeps a running variable of the last time an action was performed. When a new action is performed it compares the time the new action was performed the previous action. If the difference is greater than a specified period of time (Which is stored in the application settings) the application pops up a message box to the user and asks them if they were working or not and provided an space to enter an optional comment. It then creates two time period segments, the first is for the time they were active up until the start of the activity gap, the second is from the start of the activity gap to the end of the activity gap. It then saves the timesheet and disappears again.
[ End technical section ]
The essence of this program is that it only asks ‘were you working?’ when you’ve been inactive from your computer during your specified working hours. Otherwise you would never even notice that the application existed. For me it’s perfect because it’s something that’s unobtrusive enough that I could run it on startup and just forget about it. It’s detailed because it asks you about exceptions, and it’s robust and stable.
Something that I was really intrigued by was the verity of ideas and features that people wanted for different things. If I decide to continue working on this (which I may) there are several core features that I still need to add. After that, I am thinking that I’ll add ‘aspects’ to the program; an aspect being not a ‘re-skinning’ but a re-skin plus additional functionality. For instance, one of the big ideas was being able to track application usage and to be able to record which applications were being used for how long and at what time. Another was the ability to categorize their time use. A third was the ability to have multiple users working on the same computer. I’m still going to have to work a lot of these issues out and figure out whatâ€™s going to be in the core project and whatâ€™s going to be included in the various ‘aspects’ of the program.
It’s an interesting project, and I’ll probably keep playing with it and adding additional functionality and ideas. If youâ€™re interested in it, let me know, get in touch, suggest ideas. Who knows… maybe I’ll let you beta test ;)