Time tracking tool

I prefer to theorise with at least a little data, so here’s a tool I’ve created to track my time and work out how to add structure to my work-from-home life.

In contrast to some of those around me (*cough*coffeeaddicts*cough*) I’m a ‘morning’ person, in that if left to my own devices and with enough sleep, I will go PING! approximately 9 hours after I go to bed, with a desire to do ALL THE THINGS. However my days then vary between getting derailed by breaks, getting so into something I forget to stop and burn out, or grinding along indefinitely, never hitting ‘flow’, but never truly relaxing either.

I’ve also noticed that some tasks are harder than others at different times of day – I’m great at assembly first thing, but struggle to plan or perform language tasks. I can write fairly well during the day, but planning’s best done last thing.

I’d like to work out when to schedule tasks, breaks, exercise, food, recreation and so on, to get the most out of myself, outside an externally imposed 9-5 and the rhythms of an office. When you work from home it makes sense to go to the shops when they’re quiet, or do the washing while the machine’s free, but that can throw everything else off if you don’t compensate.

Inspired by this post on Productive Flourishing about heat-mapping your day, I decided to eschew vague anecdata and collect some actual information. Am I useful or useless, do I need fuel or to relax, will I get derailed for the day or is it OK to mix it up with chores?

The guy who devised the circular heatmap has lots to say about defining what qualifies as a ‘productive’ state, which I found a bit confusing, so I’m not sure how I’ll define what I’m tracking, but I hope to figure it out as I go along. I might include additional info such as drawing stars to mark good ideas appearing, for example.

I was also inspired by the mood tracker provided by medhelp.org to create an extra track where things such as mood, tummyaches or other anything else could be recorded.

I love the idea of a circular map, so I think I’m more likely to use it than a histogram or other format, but I didn’t want to waste a whole sheet of paper for each day as laid out in the original pdf (it felt a bit like something from primary school!) so I’ve combined my design with a cute little booklet-making technique my friend shared the other day.

The result is a nifty little booklet which lets you note the day in the centre of the circle, record two streams of informtion around the 24 hour clock face, and keep a key on the front cover to help interpret your records. One you’ve got enough information, you can use the space on the back page to create a generalised picture of the way your state fluctuates, to use when planning out your day. That’s the plan, anyway!

Without further ado, download this:
Heatmapping your day, A4 pdf booklet

To make this:

Adding a staple in the middle of the central pages will help it hold together nicely.

Happy mapping!

Planning the new year – printable calendar

I like to know what’s coming, so for the last couple of years I’ve been printing A3 year planners from this website and sticking them up in the office, bedroom, bathroom… They’re nicely formatted, easy to edit and print, and I can squeeze in notes if I write very, very small. When the new year struck, however, I realised I didn’t have access to an A3 printer, and that all wasn’t quite right with that calendar after all.

The main issue I have with those calendars is that as the month’s beginning is aligned according to its day of the week, the position of a day across the width of the paper doesn’t correspond well to its position through the month. They can be nearly a week different, enough to throw of my sense of the time between dates.

I wanted a week-by-week calendar, but one that was continuous, rather than the transition between months breaking up the weeks onto different pages or sections. My life doesn’t jump like that, so why should my calendar?

I couldn’t find what I wanted online, so with a bit of help from my glamorous assistant, here are the printable calendars I’m using to plan 2014:

It charts 2014 week-by-week, continuously, and 12 months fit over 6 sheets of A4 paper. I’ve got two versions – one with an extra space for notes each week, which I’ve got in my bedroom for planning and scheduling, and a thin days-only version which I’ll use in the bathroom for tracking weight, exercise, health etc. The thin version can be printed on three sheets by printing the first three pages, putting the paper back in the printer, and printing the last three on the empty spaces.

Calendar thick and thin – Excel file

Calendar thin – A4 pdf

Calendar wide with notes – A4 pdf

‘100 hour’ project commitment (and a wall chart)

Here’s a wallchart to keep you encouraged and on track while learning to do something new…

This idea might be a demonstration of finding inspiration in unexpected places. When I’m ill or feeling rubbish I love to hoover up the archives of the utterly fantastic Captain Awkward’s advice column, where there is much to be gained: wisdom, insight, humour and figuring out how to deal with what life throws at you (srsly, stop not reading it).  Anyway, a link-rabbit-hole led me to a post about “The 100 Hour Rule” on a site about how to acquire women (uh, yeah, really, sigh). However, setting aside the context, proposed application, and that it’s illustrated with a lady not wearing much, Chase Amante has written well about the hurdles and hacks of getting established with a new skill or pursuit (pun not intended).

The proposition is, instead of approaching a new discipline daunted by the 10,000 hours of application characteristic of masters in a field, focus on an achievable goal: commit 100 hours to a project. That’s half an hour a weekday for about 9 months… 2 hours a week for a year… By that time, you should have got over the initial hump of being useless at something, have given it a fair go, and hopefully have achieved some level of competence. And yet, it’s a number that will fit in your brain.

It is a particularly applicable approach when searching for what field you may /wish/ to apply 10,000 years to – the pursuit that you’re going to lavish your attention on for the next ten years. After your pledged 100 hours, you re-evaluate: are you loving it? If so, great, carry on! If not, you can move on knowing that you’ve given it a decent go, and don’t need to look back and wonder ‘what if I’d stuck it out’.

It parallels nicely my personal rule for coping with changes of heart induced by derailment or upset: if I committed to something in a clear frame of mind, I will not change that commitment when upset. For example, even if I’m now two hours late and ‘not fit company’, I won’t bail on going to a party purely because I’m too busy beating myself up about it – I’ll go along with the original plan until my head’s cleared, which is usually by the time I’m halfway there, and find myself happy to still be going. Similarly, unless it’s it’s truly not working out and I decide to stop, it’d be great to have a set point at which I will re-evaluate, so I don’t question my actions and commitment at every turn.  I also think it will be heartening to have a marker of progress towards a goal when your efforts don’t seem about to sparkle any time soon. It also avoids, Indiana Jones-style, the anxiety-and-avoidance inducing Self-Imposed Deadline – that giant rolling ball trap which flattens many a personal project.  With this approach, if you don’t work on it for a day or a week, so what?  You’re not failing to keep up with a looming deadline, you’re not leaping closer to failure, you’re standing still!  To make progress towards your goal, all you have to do is take another step!

Anyway, I’m a visual person, and I love charts and diagrams to record and track what’s going on. (In my bathroom I have a calendar for tracking weight and exercise, my to-do lists incorporate different sizes of check boxes depending on the magnitude of the task, I draw recipes as diagrams… You get the picture.)  So, I have created a 100-hour chart to track progress:


100-hour chart – A4 pdf


4 x 100-hour chart – A3 PDF

Please note – the four-project chart is for me, it may not be generally advisable! I’ve selected four tasks I wish to commit 100 hours to, and have already started/am working on. These are fairly non-overlapping and exercise different skills, so I think the chart will be helpful in letting me maintain balance between disciplines. It might also help me spot when I’m diving too hard or neglecting something.  These are:

  • Programming using Python, Raspberry Pi/Arduino with an aim toward acquiring competence in basic electronic interaction with the real world.
  • Drawing and painting from life (informed by drawing from references and tutorials where required to advance). I’m particularly interested in graphite, brushpen and watercolour, as these are my favourite media so far.
  • Playing the Ukulele and singing, preferably in tune, and eventually with others.
  • Writing for this blog, tutorials, teaching and perhaps fiction (gasp!) if I can figure out how.

That should be plenty to keep me going! I know what a massive commitment each one of these is, so hopefully having this visual reminder (and the ‘for my next trick’ area) will help prevent new ‘I could do X!’ moments from derailing an existing project.  Just for starters, I’ll be putting at the bottom:

  • Writing and illustrating for children
  • Video editing
  • Animation
  • Writing the modern/historic fantasy novel which is squatting in my brain

Summing up his post, Amante says:

“Make a calm, clear-headed commitment to putting in 100 hours of practice and practical training into something (NOT book learning, or “talking about it” -doing ONLY; it’s the only thing that counts for this – if you aren’t doing, it doesn’t count), and then go do it.”

So I’m going print out a a chart, add my projects, and colour in the three *$@&! hours it took me to write this post!

What’d you commit 100 hours to?

PS. If the grey portions are coming out too light, please let me know – I haven’t access to a printer to test it right now.