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Why and how I track every minute of my life

It’s 2015, and my workplace was exploring different tools for resource management. It started when the team lead wanted a way to “sell” our services as an in-house team (and I’ll be honest, I’m not sure that quantifying time spent was the way to do it but that’s a story for another day), so we went through a few, finding the pros and cons of each before settling on Harvest. I think it’s because it was the cheapest per seat, maybe?

But that whole exercise of finding a tool and figuring out what worked and what didn’t also led me to think about my own hours, outside of work. I hadn’t come across Laura Vanderkam‘s content at that point, so it was trial and error on my part to figuring out what I was tracking.

I remember polling my friends and colleagues about my information architecture — or really just categories or buckets of time, occupational hazard aside — and trying to see if I was being too pedantic about some things, and too general for others.

So… I guess the question begs: Why do I track my time?

It started out as a way for me to find out where I was spending (wasting) my time — back in 2015, the time I took to commute was definitely an issue on my mind, and I feel like being able to clock that time made me aware of 1) how much it was, and 2) where it ranked amongst my other ‘smaller’ activities, like going to the gym.

More than that, I figured that if I knew what I was doing, and for how long, I could in theory optimize my time and productivity. I also remember thinking a lot about what that tipping point would be, for me to use money to buy time, instead of spending my time to get money instead.

Things I should know with common sense, but instead knew for sure:

  • I spend way too much time beyond my 40 hours a week for work
  • (That isn’t counting the work-adjacent activity, which includes things like training, development courses/classes that are specifically applied at work, and as of 2021, mentoring sessions)
  • Meal prep is a really effective time saver, even though the upfront cost of it seems high (I spend about 45 minutes every Sunday doing it, compared to ~25 minutes a day)
  • Being lazy in bed is an actual bad habit of mine
  • Sometimes I chunk a lot of activity under “Internet”, even though I have specific buckets for media consumption, reading, fandom stuff etc. Pretty sure that’s indicative of a bigger problem, which is that I (falsely) think I can multitask

That said, Toggl — the app I’ve been using since 2015 — had a functional error over the weekend, and it’s thrown me off the loop as I keep trying to open the app on my phone. Hopefully that gets resolved soon.

Let me know if you try out tracking your time, even if just for a week, and if you see any surprises in there!

Reminder to self:

Needs more conditionals for taking breaks and being easy on yourself.

Other than that, this is quite possibly the most reductive form of a productivity system in a flowchart.

(Sorry for mobile users, it’s a bit rubbish for usability. Click through image for full size?!)

How to stop being distracted when reading on iOS

Over the course of the last three months, I realized I’ve seriously slipped in my ability to focus deeply.

I’m constantly distracted by everything – messages on Telegram from friends, pings and calls on Teams, social media notifications, emails, refreshing Reddit… the list goes on. I’d even break my own momentum by sliding the notification screen on my phone down, and noting that I don’t have any.

So, this is a problem.

One quick fix I’ve been using to focus is to force myself to stay on one app. 1I found this solution a few years ago, while doing usability testing with my phone and needing a way to mute notifications and prevent users from accessing other parts of my phone.

Handy dandy instructions

  1. Go to Settings > Accessibility > General (you’ll have to scroll to the bottom of the screen)
  2. Click into Guided Access
  3. Turn the toggle on
  4. Go to Passcode Settings on this screen, and use Set Guide Access Passcode – I don’t use the Face ID option so that it gives me an additional barrier
  5. ???
  6. Profit!

Kidding aside – when you go to your reading app of choice, just click on your side button three times to lock usage to that app. It’ll mute notifications, prevent swipe ups/downs, and removes your ability to navigate to other apps as well.

Have fun!

What’s On My Phone, ft. the iOS 14 App Library

I’ve always been glued to my phone.

Obviously, it’s not the best habit. Countless people have written countless pieces of content about how it distracts you from your goals, makes you depressed, more compulsive… the list goes on.

When I got the battery replaced those weeks ago, I wandered around the shopping mall for two hours without my phone. Now, I know it was only two hours, but the phone also serves as my watch, odometer, book reader, music player, on top of the actual phone functions.

I wish I could say that those two hours were revolutionary, and that it gave me better focus and clarity in my quest for productivity. Instead, I found myself just glad to be reunited with it at the end (and with a way better battery life!).

I’ve recently finished Make Time by Jake Knapp and John Zeratsky, which I thoroughly enjoyed. There are lots of experiments to try, and since a fair bit of it revolves around making your phone work for you instead of the other way around, I thought it was a good time for me to update my mental model.

This is my previous set-up:

As you can see, the second page consists of apps already classified into categories – something that the App Library actually does automatically.

Here is the new set-up:

I’ve removed a row of apps from the home screen — apps that were creating noise, like Mail, and apps that I really don’t use that often, like the actual phone app.

I’m also using the Almost All White wallpaper by Hideaki Nakatani, just to hide the background color of the dock. The apps on the dock are ones that I use on a daily basis, and is part of my nightly recap, so it made sense in my head to make a distinction from the other apps.

There are a few things that pain me about the App Library, thought:

  • The lack of customizing what gets shown as a ‘big’ icon in each folder: If something is already on the home screen, maybe it shouldn’t be featured in the folder so that the user can have better access to other apps in their phone eco-system
  • Lumping Productivity and Finance as a category: That folder is by far my largest, with 13 apps. I would very much like to de-couple these into their own folders
  • This might just be a me just-not-being-able-to-find-things thing, but when I add new apps, it doesn’t show up — either in the Recently Added folder or its corresponding category — I would have to search for the app, and launch it for it to appear

Other than that, I’m hoping that this will at least curb some of the distractions that my phone causes me. I’ll deep dive into Make Time since it deserves its own post at some point!

(Also — I’ve been replaying 80 Days by Inkle Studios and it’s still as captivating as my first (dozen) plays in 2014. Still solid!)