Time Tracking for Fun and Pleasure

November 16, 2015

Time tracking for fun and pleasure

I have begun the insanity of tracking my daily time expenditure. It began actually shortly after I started the Bloc program. I wanted to know if the 40-hour per week committment was being met by yours truly or if I was breezing through the material and not diving in deep enough. The trade-off to the independence of the program is that you have to be self-disciplined.

10,000 hours

This concept has become so embedded in the culture that I hear it casually dropped on late night chat shows by actresses. Malcolm Gladwell takes a lot of hits from academia but his books are truthy enough for me. They are elevating the national conversation and getting people to question views that they once held sacred, which is good enough for me.

One such idea is that virtuosos or geniuses takes 10,000 hours to get there. The number was admittedly by Mr. Gladwell a rough cut but it seemed to point to a deeper truth - number aside- that sustained, obsessive attention to a task made the boys from Manchester into the Beatles and Bill Gates into the guy who is saving the world. The 10,000 hours were just the Method in the old Sherlock Holmes MOM (Method Opportunity Motive) formulation of why someone commits a crime. Mr. Gladwell also dives into Opportunity - what we might call privilege (overwhelmingly white privilege, actually) today - and Motive, though for child prodigies, the motive is often simply a positive feedback loop of achievement, the rush of accomplishment and mom and dad's approving smiles and encouragement, from a young age.

Naturally, I want to be the best programmer I can be, and also wanted to see how far to 10,000 hours this program would put me, and also see how many hours I could productively devote per month to get an idea of how long it would take me to get to 10K. I am not even a month in so sorry, no results yet.

Hours app

So that takes me to the Hours App. It is for iOS, and has a wonderful Apple Watch integration. I am a sucker for anything clever on my Apple Watch. It is FREE as of this writing 11-11-2015.

I wanted something dead simple. Trying to track time on a spreadsheet sucked. There were always too many inputs, and it felt like work, and next thing I knew I missed a day here and a day there and it was over. Tracking on a Calendar - Apple, Google were tried - also sucked. There were simply too many steps. The overhead for all this tracking in general is its undoing. Whether it is Getting Things Done, Power Of Full Engagement, or any of the other million productivity books I like and find myself agreeing with, the task of tracking the tasks always ends up being cumbersome.

Routine Poutine

Once you have your tracking categories set up on Hours, you just tap to start and stop your clock. If you forgot an activity, you can retroactively add a block of time rounded to the 15 minute mark. I think this was fine for my purposes. I am not billing back clients and I am not trying to get this accurate to the second.

An ideal system would be one where it simply knew what I was doing or asked me every hour. Perhaps it could draw on my calendar to switch gears, and use GPS to see if I am in transit so as to stop the clock. The danger is that each automation requires some more initial setup overhead - I have to tell the app that programming is a stationary activity so if I am moving 30mph I am not programming (hopefully).

One solution is to just have a preset list of activities with a few characteristics important to automation latched on - ex. stationary, daytime/nighttime, geofence-able (if I am home, I am not working in a coffee shop, narrowing the list). Maybe a really slick UI would let you just tap a few icons to set these characteristics. Or I think better notifications integration so you get pinged as to what you are doing periodically to keep the times updated - with an ability to have the timer give it a rest (dont ask me if I am still watching the movie or having sex, thanks).

I really like the sound of the tap. It has a watery bassy feeling that is fun. It is very short and non-intrusive.

Overall, I think the key to getting time tracking integrated into your life is low overhead, and Hours nails that. The inner secret to time tracking is also wanting to know how you spend your time. It can be tempting to fudge your own numbers until you realize it is between you and Crom.

The qualitative aspect of quantifying your life is interesting, too. I am easily knocking out 8-10 hours a day on coding, and I would argue that it is mostly productive time... but certainly not all of it. There are twitter breaks I don't log, and Soylent breaks (usually under 1min), and time spent reading documentation 10 times because I am not focusing while my eyes traverse the screen. This is a much harder problem to solve. Certainly some activities - coding - are a waste of time in small batches. There is a "pick-up/put-down" cost of switching gears and shifting attention that is higher with programming than with cooking or reading. Some activities are pointless in long stretches - studying when you can barely keep your eyes open, trying to fix code you have been staring at for 12 hours, sitting on the toilet for an hour.

I really ought to delete that last bit but I can't bring myself to do it.