Thoughts on timekeeping.

This post's purpose is to address the Log, my experience with tracking my productivity, and my insights after 5+ years (wow!) of doing this.

So, in the beginning of 2017, I began to log my productivity.

The idea was simple: Each day, I'd log the productive things I did. Very conveniently, I was also just about finished making the first iteration of V-OS in the very beginning of January, so this seemed like the perfect time to begin. The format I settled on after a few months of experimentation looks something like this:

DATE TIME PROJECT TASK DIVISION DETAILS 2018.10.12 1.0 V-OS Design Visual Small visual updates.

The Design: Time Tracking

The first question that I had to figure out was "how exactly should I track time?". One approach I had seen involed a user logging the exact start and end time of their entries. Realistically - in my case at least - I don't actually focus exclusively on work for a long and continuous amount of time. I like getting distracted with conversations with friends, or watching something interesting, and surely I shouldn't count that as 'productive', right? If I worked for 3 hours, but 1 hour of that time was spent on distracting unproductive tasks, then logging the entirety of those 3 hours would sort of 'pollute' the logs with inaccurate data.

Instead, when I note down my productivity I reflect on how much time I spent not working during a task, and deduct it from the total time I remember spending on said task. I also subdivide my tasks into 30 minute segments for simplicity sake. If I do something for less than 30 minutes, then it probably isn't worth logging, and it's just easier than being obsessive about every minute. Otherwise it all adds up and becomes very tiring over hundreds of days.

Now, I realize that this approach means my logging is subject to bias and human error - and yeah, it is. I think that's an unavoidable downside to this, "how long I'm productive for" can be defined quite differently, and each approch has its advantages. I try to log as soon as I'm finished with a task so my memory is fresh, but I inevitably lose some accuracy by relying on my obviously imperfect perception of time and memory. With that said, I also think the ultra-precise method of time tracking loses accuracy unless you're extremely dedicated, and perfect accuracy is actually not the point of timekeeping if you ask me. Read on to see what I mean.

The Good: Awareness & Data Visualization

At the start, I created the Log, a live visualization tool of all my logged productivity. Visualizations helped me by gamifying timekeeping and encouraging me to work more. But to be honest, I rarely visit these visualizations now that the novelty has worn off.

In fact, I've actually ended up closing down that application and opted for using google sheets for tracking and visualization, just because they're a lot easier to work with than most other options. The whole manually built log app ended up being more of a hype project than anything.

But still, did I learn anything? Was visualizing all that data worth it? In a way it does help me get overviews of larger periods of time. But otherwise, it feels very secondary to the actual advantages I've experienced with timekeeping.

The real, core lesson is that the act of logging itself is the most important part. It doesn't have to be super detailed, or even perfectly accurate. When I started logging, I just felt a much more sober and active relationship between myself and my productivity, like I was now aware of these hours each day that I'd otherwise never take notice of. The simple fact of keeping track of my time helps internalize that time in a way that makes it easier to reflect upon. I can't really imagine my life without the sense of awareness that timekeeping has brought me.

I believe what determines the value of tracking something is primarily the frequency at which you add and revisit information. Too little and it makes no difference to your mind, too much and you end up obsessing about it (more on that below). The perfect balance helps you gain some more control over what you're tracking. For me, that means noting my productivity at the end of each task, or at the end of each day.

The Dangerous: Defining Productivity & Obsession

Throughout this experience, I struggled to define what should be in the Log. Physical exercise? That's not very 'creative', so maybe not. What if it was a sport? I guess some sports can have an aesthetic component. What if it was dancing? Well that's definitely artistic and creative, but I don't know where to draw the line between 'sport' and 'art' now. Or what about watching movies that inspire me? Those are pretty important for my artistic and human fulfillment, but is it 'productive' to watch them?

I hoped that tracking my time for years would help me find an answer to this dilemma. Unfortunately, as of my most recent update of this page, I still have no answer, but I'm now at peace with this question - I think I just accept this gray zone comfortably. Obviously this is much less an issue when tracking things like weight, calories, or time spent doing more explicitly defined activities. But in my case, 'timekeeping' and 'productivity' are intimately linked concepts.

As far as we know, time will continue to flow forward, and our lives along with it. It can feel like we want to be productive in order to make use of every moment. Or maybe we instead want to be productive for social reputation, or just to please our own ego, or to relieve our anxieties of not spending our time doing 'succesful' things.

I can't really speak for anyone other than myself, but I don't feel particularly happy when timekeeping becomes a tool to maximize my productivity for the sake of productivity. Sometimes this can go so far as to waste much more time with tools or plans for productivity instead of just... doing fulfilling things in the first place. I would know! I suggest maintaining the simplest possible system, because the ultimate point is to feel fulfilled through productivity, not just track things and rack up big numbers.

So I'd like to leave you with these thoughts: timekeeping is a way of being more aware of how you spend your time, and with that awareness comes control. Timekeeping, this control, can help you optimize your life to be focused on all right things, or all the wrong things. Use it wisely! :)