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Planning a time-tracking workshop for Quantified Self Toronto

Quantified Self Toronto is organizing a conference on self-tracking in February. Whee! I’ve promised to put together a small workshop on time-tracking, since a number of people are interested in collecting and analyzing their time data.

Here are some rough plans for the time-tracking workshop:

2013-12-21 Plans for time-tracking workshop

I need to figure out what pieces people need to learn and what I can fit into the workshop time. Some of the pieces may have to be for follow-up or individually-paced study. Here are the pieces I probably need to put together. It still feels too large for a two-hour course, so I’ll need to trim it even more – maybe make iOS, Android, and RescueTime/ManicTime more cursory mentions than in-depth explorations.2013-12-21 Pieces wanted for time-tracking course

Here are some thoughts on one of the pieces, transforming your time data.

2013-12-21 Transforming your time data

 

More pieces: Easy ways to track time

2014-01-03 Easy ways to track time

Staying on the time-tracking wagon

2014-01-03 Staying on the time-tracking wagon

I was offline during most of our trip to the Philippines, so it was a good test of how I could track without a Web connection to QuantifiedAwesome.com. I tried writing timestamps and activities in a small notebook that I kept in my beltbag, and I also tried using a timestamping application on my smartphone. (KeepTrack on my Android phone, if you’re curious.) The smartphone was much more convenient and less obtrusive, oddly enough. When I wrote timestamps down on paper, people commented on that as an unusual activity, but people are used to people checking their screens. Since I could easily backdate entries, I could postpone pulling my phone out until I wasn’t worried about safety or distractedness. When I got back online, I simply used the batch entry interface to add several days of entries at once.

I don’t have any iOS devices, so I might have a bit of a challenge putting together recommendations for people with iPhones. I’ve also gotten spoiled by the time-crunching capabilities I built into QuantifiedAwesome, so I’ll work on fleshing out  spreadsheet-focused analyses instead.

I’d like to put together some resources to help people get started during the workshop, with follow-up materials. I’ll also turn the info into an online course (most likely free). Would you like to help me make it happen? I’d love to hear from people who are doing similar things and have workflow tips/observations, and I’m also happy to test the material and do Q&A with people who want to apply the ideas to their life.

Balancing writing with other things

From August 11: I’ve written myself into the next month already. Good thing the Share a Draft plugin lets me send people links to upcoming blog posts so that they don’t have to wait for answers. I leave Saturdays for weekly reviews and Sundays for other stories that come up, and all the rest have one blog post a day. I don’t know when I’m going to schedule this post. Maybe I’ll shuffle things around so that some posts are in September. Let’s see if I can fill September up.

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There’s more to write. There always is. Ideas from my outline. Answers to comments and e-mailed questions. Things I’m learning.

The main trick is to remember which posts are time-related and which ones aren’t. Or, I suppose, to write things so that they aren’t time-sensitive: to refer to recent events as “recently” instead of “last Wednesday”.

I haven’t been coding as much. You can see it. Here’s my writing activity (yay Quantified Awesome):

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Here’s my coding on Quantified Awesome:

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Other coding:

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Emacs:

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At least I’ve been drawing (a little bit, not much):

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Writing is just so much more squeezable into the spaces of my life. I can write anywhere. I just need a question, and off I go. Sometimes I write throughout the process of finding that question in the first place. And more people could possibly benefit from writing, while only a few people use my code. Although lots of people like my drawings (and I do too), so I should make more of those.

Writing is less frustrating than coding because I feel like I make immediate progress, and I don’t get error messages. Not that coding is frustrating. Coding is fun. But I’m picking writing more than I’m picking code, and that tells me that I should tweak the rewards so that I pick code more. Besides, there are a gazillion blogs out there, but not as many people working on Emacs, Org Mode, WordPress, Rails, or the other awesome tools that I use. I could make more of a difference with code.

Maybe I need to put a time limit on my writing so that I get forced to do something different. Except it doesn’t really take all that much time to write.

If I’m a month ahead, maybe I should hold off writing and focus on outlining instead. Except writing is fun and it clears my head… Maybe writing one blog post, maybe a maximum two blog posts every time I sit down to write, and checking off some other non-writing task (code, drawing, learning Latin) before I allow myself a writing session again? I’m allowed to write if I’m blogging in the process of learning something.

People think flow is awesome (as in Mihály Csíkszentmihályi’s research). It is, but it’s dangerous. Too much flow could mean neglecting other parts of life. So, time to revisit other interests…

August 13: Hmm. Writing really has a strong pull. I’ve learned that it’s easier (and often much better!) if I don’t fight my interest, so maybe I should just give myself permission to write and outline (and draw, on occasion) whenever I feel like it.

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Quantified Awesome: Analyzing my non-fiction reading, and why I don’t mind paying taxes

Update Aug 22 2013: See presentation at the end of this post.

imageI built library-book tracking into Quantified Awesome in October 2011, hard-coding the patterns used by the Toronto Public Library system. I regularly hit the 50-book checkout limit and sometimes have to check items out on my husband’s account, so it really helps to have a system that can tell me what’s due and when on all the library cards that we have.

Crunching the numbers

In the 668 days (or 95.5 weeks) between October 1, 2011 and the time I exported my data for number-crunching, we checked out 1,252 items, or an average of 13 items a week. That included 250 movies and 44 other videos (TV series, documentaries, and so on). I’m boggled to find out that I checked out only 8 science fiction books. There were 152 other fiction books, including graphic novels and manga.

… 250 movies borrowed from the library results in saving of $150+ a month assuming we snag DVDs at $15. Not that we would watch 2.6 movies a week if we had to pay for them. In November 2011, I tracked the retail prices and page count of the books I read: $1,075 and 10,671 pages in a month, boggle. I don’t read all of those pages thoroughly, mind you; I tend to skim books looking for just what I need. Still, there’s no denying that the Toronto Public Library saves me a heck of a lot of book and entertainment money.

I figured I’d probably want to take a look at my reading list at some point, so I had programmed the system to record titles and Dewey Decimal System classifications as well. Fiction books and feature movies tend to have generic codes, but nonfiction books show me interesting patterns in my reading habits.

Here are my top categories:

Dewey Decimal Classification Number of items
650 – Management & auxiliary services 328
330 – Economics 82
150 – Psychology 59
740 – Drawing & decorative arts 45
800 – Literature, rhetoric & criticism 38
000 – Computer science, knowledge & systems 33
640 – Home economics & family living 30
610 – Medical sciences; Medicine 22
300 – Social sciences, sociology & anthropology 18
340 – Law 14

Here are my top sub categories:

Dewey Decimal Classification Number of items
658 – General management 213
650 – Management & auxiliary services 92
332 – Financial economics 45
808 – Rhetoric & collections of literature 37
741 – Drawing & drawings 28
158 – Applied psychology 24
153 – Mental processes and intelligence 22
641 – Food & drink 19
005 – Computer programming, programs & data 18
613 – Personal health & safety 15

Here they are, broken down by Dewey decimal group:

Dewey Decimal Classification Number of items
650 – Management & auxiliary services 328
658 – General management 213
650 – Management & auxiliary services 92
657 – Accounting 9
659 – Advertising & public relations 5
651 – Office services 4
652 – Processes of written communication 3
653 – Shorthand 2
330 – Economics 82
332 – Financial economics 45
338 – Production 15
331 – Labor economics 10
330 – Economics 9
339 – Macroeconomics & related topics 2
333 – Land economics 1
150 – Psychology 59
158 – Applied psychology 24
153 – Mental processes and intelligence 22
155 – Differential and developmental psychology 11
152 – Perception, movement, emotions, and drives 1
150 – Psychology 1
740 – Drawing & decorative arts 45
741 – Drawing & drawings 28
743 – Drawing & drawings by subject 10
745 – Decorative arts 7
800 – Literature, rhetoric & criticism 38
808 – Rhetoric & collections of literature 37
809 – Literary history & criticism 1
000 – Computer science, knowledge & systems 33
005 – Computer programming, programs & data 18
006 – Special computer methods 12
001 – Knowledge 2
003 – Systems 1
640 – Home economics & family living 30
641 – Food & drink 19
646 – Sewing, clothing, personal living 5
640 – Home economics & family living 3
647 – Management of public households 1
644 – Household utilities 1
643 – Housing & household equipment 1
610 – Medical sciences; Medicine 22
613 – Personal health & safety 15
616 – Diseases 4
612 – Human physiology 3
300 – Social sciences, sociology & anthropology 18
306 – Culture & institutions 7
303 – Social processes 4
305 – Social groups 3
302 – Social interaction 3
304 – Factors affecting social behavior 1
340 – Law 14
346 – Private law 8
343 – Military, tax, trade, industrial law 4
349 – Law of specific jurisdictions & areas 2
490 – Other languages 13
495 – Languages of East & Southeast Asia 13
690 – Buildings 12
690 – Buildings 8
695 – Roof covering 2
696 – Utilities 1
692 – Auxiliary construction practices 1
170 – Ethics (Moral philosophy) 9
170 – Ethics (Moral philosophy) 5
174 – Occupational ethics 2
171 – Ethical systems 2
370 – Education 6
371 – School management; special education; alternative education 5
372 – Elementary education 1
720 – Architecture 5
729 – Design & decoration 2
728 – Residential & related buildings 2
720 – Architecture 1
810 – American literature in English 5
813 – Fiction 2
818 – Miscellaneous writings 1
819 – Puzzle activities 1
814 – Essays 1
680 – Manufacture for specific uses 4
684 – Furnishings & home workshops 2
688 – Other final products & packaging 1
686 – Printing & related activities 1
770 – Photography & photographs 4
775 – Digital photography 2
779 – Photographs 1
778 – Fields & kinds of photography 1
470 – Italic languages; Latin 4
478 – Classical Latin usage 4
910 – Geography & travel 4
915 – Asia 4
420 – English & Old English 3
422 – English etymology 2
428 – Standard English usage 1
510 – Mathematics 3
519 – Probabilities & applied mathematics 3
400 – Language 3
401 – Philosophy & theory 3
070 – News media, journalism & publishing 3
070 – News media, journalism & publishing 3
620 – Engineering & Applied operations 3
629 – Other branches of engineering 2
620 – Engineering & Applied operations 1
390 – Customs, etiquette, folklore 2
398 – Folklore 2
160 – Logic 2
160 – Logic 2
360 – Social services; association 2
362 – Social welfare problems & services 2
020 – Library & information sciences 2
025 – Library operations 1
021 – Library relationships 1
750 – Painting & paintings 2
759 – Geographical, historical, areas, persons treatment 1
751 – Techniques, equipment, forms 1
380 – Commerce, communications, transport 2
381 – Internal commerce (Domestic trade) 2
970 – General history of North America 2
977 – General history of North America; North central United States 1
974 – General history of North America; Northeastern United States 1
700 – Arts 2
709 – Historical, areas, persons treatment 1
700 – Arts 1
190 – Modern Western philosophy 1
191 – Modern Western philosophy of the United States and Canada 1
030 – Encyclopedias & books of facts 1
031 – Encyclopedias in American English 1
780 – Music 1
786 – Keyboard & other instruments 1
290 – Other & comparative religions 1
296 – Judaism 1
210 – Natural theology 1
210 – Natural theology 1
520 – Astronomy & allied sciences 1
523 – Specific celestial bodies & phenomena 1
950 – General history of Asia; Far East 1
952 – General history of Asia; Japan 1
710 – Civic & landscape art 1
712 – Landscape architecture 1
630 – Agriculture 1
635 – Garden crops (Horticulture) 1
500 – Sciences 1
501 – Philosophy & theory 1
Grand Total 776

I read a lot of management, personal finance, and psychology books. I enjoy reading them. I read them at breakfast, over lunch, before bed, on weekend afternoons. I’m not surprised by the proportions, although I’m a little surprised by the number – have I really checked out an average of eight nonfiction books a week? Gotten through more than 300 management-related books? Neat.

Time

The time data in my current system goes back to November 29, 2011. Excluding the nonfiction books that were returned before then (although still including the books I currently have checked out that I haven’t read yet), there are 727 nonfiction books checked out. Let’s assume I’ve read or skimmed through 80% of those (I’m probably closer to 90%) – that’s ~580 books. I’ve tracked 123.3 hours as “Discretionary – Productive – Nonfiction”. This undercounts the number of hours because I tend to read things over meals and during subway commutes, so let’s double that time to be in the right ballpark for multitasking. That’s a little less than half an hour per book… which is actually quite reasonable, considering I skim through most books in 10-15 minutes each and spend maybe two hours reading selected books in depth (the ones that I take notes on, for example).

This is what my nonfiction reading habit looks like, with the dark boxes indicating when I read more. (This doesn’t take into account reading while doing other things.)

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That’s interesting… I read a lot more frequently when I was starting up my business in January/February 2012 (although I wonder what happened in April!). I read more sporadically now. I think it’s because I’m re-figuring-out my strategies for taking notes and applying ideas to my life.

How do I pick books to read?

The library releases lists of new books on the 15th or 16th of every month. I’ve written a small script that extracts the titles, authors, and IDs of the book into a text file that I can review. I delete the lines that I’m not interested in, and my script then requests the books that remain on the list. I monitor the new releases because I don’t want to wait for the usual press

When I ‘m learning about a topic, I tend to check out six or more books related to it. A wide variety of books lets me see different viewpoints, and I can focus on books of better quality.

I occasionally look at Amazon’s recommendations for other ideas, although the books are often not yet available at the library.

Sketchnoting a new release can have high impact, which is another reason why I monitor the new releases. I sometimes reach out to publishers for review copies as well.

The library doesn’t carry everything. I usually add other interesting releases to my Amazon wishlist. I rarely buy books, though, because there’s just such an interesting backlog that I haven’t yet gotten through. I buy books if there are clever illustrations that I’d like to use for ongoing inspiration, or if I want to give the book to a friend, or if it’s an older book that someone has recommended to me and the library doesn’t stock it. Now that I have a business, I usually file those books as business expenses.

So much for quantity. If I’m reading all that, what am I doing with it?

I use books to:

  • Learn about different viewpoints and approaches, especially scenarios that I might not anticipate on my own
  • Learn how to organize and communicate complex ideas
  • Get shortcuts on explaining ideas – for example, I don’t have to explain outsourcing from scratch, because I can point people to the 4-Hour Work Week for starters

Many of the ideas I pick up from books resurface in my blog posts and experiments. Books help me recognize what’s going on in real life, because the authors have already come up with words for them. I also like applying the advice from books – much to learn.

I frequently recommend books to other people. Visual book reviews make that easier. I try to slow down and recognize books that I’ll probably recommend to others so that I can make visual book reviews of them while I have the book. Sometimes I’ll take quick text notes for myself and then use that for reference. If I find myself recommending the book frequently, then I’ll check it out again and make better notes.

I don’t review my book notes much, relying instead on situations to trigger my memories. When I come across something that’s related to a book I’ve read, or I talk to someone who could benefit from a book recommendation, I dig through my visual and text-based notes.

Next steps

“Better” isn’t about reading more books – it’s about being able to apply, organize, and share what I’m learning from those books. I want to learn more about doing good research: identifying a topic to explore, synthesizing insights from multiple sources, and adding personal experiences or ideas. The process might look like this:

  • Outline a topic for research
  • Search the library catalogue for resources; also check bibliographies, Amazon, and other recommendations
  • File properly-cited notes so that I can give credit later on
  • Compare and organize ideas from different sources
  • Test ideas in small experiments
  • Write blog posts, then articles, then e-books

Visual book reviews are another way for me to grow. In addition to making visual book reviews of interesting new releases, I’d like to revisit the books that were a big influence on me in order to make visual reviews of them too.

Yay for Quantified Self and tracking. Onward!

(Also, if you’re curious about tracking your own library use: I can probably extend Quantified Awesome to support other libraries with online interfaces, but you’re going to need to walk me through how your library works.)


Update from August 22, 2013: Here’s a presentation I’m putting together for Quantified Self Toronto.

Not about not wasting time

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A fact-checker from FLARE Magazine followed up on a recent interview I did on time-tracking and sleep, which will come out in the September issue. Among other things, he asked me to confirm the following statement: "You mentioned that after a few weeks or months analyzing sleep date and daily schedules, most can find more otherwise wasted time for sleep." It turns out I have a strong reaction against this idea of “wasting time”, so we explored the nuances in a phone call. I thought I’d dig into those ideas here so that I can understand them further.

People often ask me about tracking time. They say things like:  “I waste a lot of time commuting/waiting/doing chores/watching television.” “I want to spend more time writing, but work and family obligations get in the way.” “I should be exercising, but I find myself playing video games instead.”

I try to share not only the mechanics but also a good mindset. Like everything that you can track, you can lose yourself in self-criticism or frustration. Beating yourself up may work for some people, but I find that it’s easier to learn and grow if I accept where I’m coming from. Practise loving kindness, even with—especially with—yourself.

You choose your activities because you’re getting some kind of payoff from it. Maybe you don’t consciously decide, and maybe you haven’t questioned your assumptions, but you always get something – whether it’s the opportunity for progress or the avoidance of pain. You might take a chance that doesn’t work out, but that doesn’t mean your decision was bad. It’s okay. Embrace that, and work on understanding your decisions and trade-offs.

I gave this example: Work is valuable. But if you work long hours and deprive themselves of sleep, it can affect your ability to do things at work and outside work. If you’re okay with the trade-offs, then it’s fine – maybe a temporary sacrifice to make things better. If you aren’t okay, it might be a good opportunity to examine your assumptions. Is more really better?

So that’s one reason why you aren’t wasting your time: you’re probably getting something out of it, although you might not have thought about what that is and what you’re giving up. If you try to cut out all television-viewing for your life so that you can free up time for reading, but you don’t address the underlying needs or tensions that were why you chose TV over other activities before, you’ll be fighting yourself.  The Power of Habit has a good explanation of the habit loop and how to replace habitual actions with others.

My life is full of things that people might consider wastes of time. I sleep when I’m sleepy. I write my way through tangled thoughts. I read things that may not be immediately helpful. But it’s all part of my life. Sometimes I consciously decide how to spend my time. Sometimes I do things without looking at the trade-offs well. Sometimes I take chances that don’t work out. Still, it feels better to work with what I have than to judge myself for what I don’t.

So instead of “don’t waste time”, I think the goal of my tracking is more about “understand myself better and make better decisions”. Hope that helps clarify the difference!

Do you think you waste time? What do you get out of it?

Quantified Awesome: Adding calendar heatmaps to categories

It’s amazing how little tweaks give you a whole new sense of the data. I’ve been using Cal-HeatMap to look at my blogging history. I figured I’d build it into Quantified Awesome to make it even easier to analyze how I spend my time. 1.9 hours later, here’s what I have. All totals are reported for the past 12-month period by default (as of this writing, July 19 2012 to July 19 2013, including the day’s activities), but it adjusts depending on the filter settings.

Here’s me working on the Quantified Awesome system:

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Instead of just a table of log entries or a summary of numbers, I can see the gaps and sprints in my activity.

Here’s the one for Discretionary – Productive:

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Pretty consistent, actually.

and Discretionary – Play:

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February must’ve been when I had a new video game to tinker around with. Plenty of opportunities to relax.

Here’s my Business – Earn graph:

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and Business – Build:

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I’ve been biking pretty regularly, mostly on Tuesdays and Thursdays…

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In contrast, I take the subway only if it’s winter or really rainy, if I’m going somewhere far or steeply uphill, or if my bike is flat (as it was yesterday).

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Neato. I should definitely do this for groceries too, now that I’ve loaded my grocery receipts into Quantified Awesome! (No public link yet for that data, sorry. =) ) I also want to figure out how to speed things up enough so that I can do quartile analysis and then use that to colour the scale…

Calendar heatmaps for the win!

Quantified Time: Comparing notes

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David Achkar has a great blog post sharing his observations from 42 days of time-tracking using Google Calendar and a few scripts for export and analysis. Since it’s fun to be able to compare numbers, I thought I’d reflect on 2013 so far.

Like David, I spend about half of my life on “survival”-type activities (48%): sleep, routines, exercise, walking, and so on. I include planning in my Personal category, even though that might be more of a discretionary activity, because planning helps keep me sane. I count my bike commutes as part of this category as well, because I think of it as exercise. Without the bike commutes, exercise, and planning, the part of my week used for survival activities is down to 44%.

I don’t think that’s a bad proportion at all. After all, you’ve got to sleep sometime. =) While some people can get along fine on four hours of sleep (hello, Papa!), I know I need my 8-9 hours of sleep, because I feel fuzzy when I don’t get it. Assuming I sleep an average of 8.5 hours a day—which turns out to be the actual result from my 2013 numbers—that leaves me with 15.5 hours of awake-time for awesomeness. Of those waking hours, I use:

  • 36% for business,
  • 19% for personal routines,
  • 12% for chores and other unpaid work,
  • 11% for socializing (family and others),
  • 11% for productive discretionary activities,
  • 8% for relaxation and enjoyment,
  • and 3% for other activities.

So that’s roughly 58% of waking hours for good stuff, which is plenty of time to get things done. And the chores are pretty good for me, too – cooking and tidying are relaxing. =) I don’t mind. If anything, I should probably increase my “overhead” and spend more time exercising and wandering.

Choosing your time

David talks about being aware of and consciously choosing activities instead of simply reacting to whatever comes our way. It’s one of the nifty unexpected benefits of time-tracking: once you put a name to the time you’re spending, it becomes easier to recognize other things as not that activity. Working? Facebook doesn’t count. Relaxing? Checking e-mail doesn’t count.

Tracking your time manually adds a tiny bit of friction to switching tasks (you need to track it yourself, after all!), but this turns out to be a good thing. It encourages you to put off distractions until you legitimately track it as that, and if you’re going to do that, you might as well do that for at least five minutes. As it happens, postponing distractions makes them less tempting.

Busyness

I look at my work time mainly as a way of keeping it in check. =) I’m delighted to see that my average business-related time per week is 39:29 in 2013 so far and 39:51 in 2012, amazingly close to my target of 40. (How do I manage that? Boggle.) 

2013 has an average of 18:13 billable hours a week. This is down from 19:49 in 2012, which is good because I’ve been moving towards focusing on my own things. I’ll try to bring this down to less than 8 hours a week next year, to see what that’s like. If I can get one to three good things done each day, that’s enough.

Focus

It turns out that I can actually concentrate in long stretches, and that I can arrange my time to accommodate these spans if needed. I tend to favour 0-2 hour sprints, though. Flow feels great – but it’s also dangerously seductive, and limiting it might be worth a good idea.


Category < 1 hour 1 hour 2 hours 3 hours 4 hours 5 hours 6 hours >= 7 hours
Business – Build – Book review 4 3            
Business – Build – Coding 39 17 6 3 1   1  
Business – Build – Delegation 12 1            
Business – Build – Drawing 46 15 7 1        
Business – Build – Learn 13 2 2   1      
Business – Build – Paperwork 69 18 2     1    
Business – Build – Plan 14 4 3   1      
Business – Build – Quantified Awesome 34 18 6 2 3 1    
Business – Build – Research 10 4   1        
Discretionary – Productive – Emacs 33 19 5   2 2   1
Discretionary – Productive – Gardening 36 3            
Discretionary – Productive – Japanese 45 11 1 1        
Discretionary – Productive – Nonfiction 20 7 2       1  
Discretionary – Productive – Outlining 4 1            
Discretionary – Productive – Sewing 1 1            
Discretionary – Productive – Tracking 4              
Discretionary – Productive – Writing 153 38 6 1 1   1  

(I posted a similar analysis in 2011.)

Since practically all of my meetings are discretionary, I don’t need to make a special effort to clear large blocks of my day for concentrated work. Even when the day stretches before me without a calendar entry in sight, I usually don’t spend it all doing One Thing. I shift from one activity to another when I reach a good stopping point, following my interests or energy. Besides, food is important, so I usually interrupt my work for lunch or a snack. No marathon sessions for me!

(One year, I got so carried away programming that I forgot to make sure I drank regularly, and I fainted from dehydration. Other times, I’ve forgotten to take care of important things. So… right. I’ll pick moderation even if task-switching cuts into efficiency.)

Urgency

Very little in my life is urgent, so I’m rarely stressed. That’s partly because I have the freedom to minimize commitments and to recover from mistakes. I usually answer my e-mail within a week or two.  I could probably earn more or do more if I was more responsive or went looking for more commitments, but I don’t want to give up my creative time by shackling myself to e-mail or schedule expectations.

Other thoughts

Time data is an amazing thing to have, and it’s well worth tracking. I’m looking forward to more analyses from David. If you track and analyze your time, I’d love to hear from you too!

David Achkar: A Life Logged: Surprises and Insights