Hacker News new | past | comments | ask | show | jobs | submit login
10 Months at Harvard, Quantified (moalquraishi.wordpress.com)
84 points by tepal on July 25, 2013 | hide | past | favorite | 19 comments

This is very neat. I think this kind of time tracking can be very useful, especially for people in professions that are very self-directing, and provides a mix of short-term and long-term projects. I'm a PhD student and I've been playing around with setting up my own systems (http://reganmian.net/blog/2013/03/16/unobtrusive-time-tracke... and http://reganmian.net/blog/2013/03/29/time-tracker-one-week-o...).

A bunch of the things he noted resonate with me, like noting the difference between time spent in the office, and time spent actually working (even when you are not procrastinating, there's all kinds of little things taking your time). I've not been as rigorous about setting goals and then sticking to them, but I did set up a "traffic light" system, aiming to hit 4 hours work on my PhD every day ( a typical "long-term" goal which easily gets buried under short-term commitments and things you can "cross off a list").

I also have data that can let me show how long I work on things on average, at what time of the day etc, but I haven't dug into it yet... I see some great posts about quantified self people (like Sacha Chua http://sachachua.com/blog/2013/07/quantified-awesome-adding-...), but either they tend to use totally off-the-shelf programs like RescueTime, or they tend to write their own solutions... I'd love for the QS community to come up with some standards, for example a standard way of storing time-use data, and then some common libraries - I'd like to continue logging my time in whatever way works best for me, but if someone makes a really neat way of visualizing time spent vs length of chunks, I'd love to be able to run that analysis on my data too... R would be one nice place to host that.

Interesting stuff, thanks for sharing.

I've been working on tracking my time lately via this app [0] to good success. I was just thinking over something like your unobtrusive tracker there and found myself wondering whether the obtrusive ritual of tracking actually helps "stay on task" and remain aware.

I started using in reference to certain goals, but the most immediate return was realizing just how much time I spend in some form of commute.

I completely agree about standards.

0: https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.rk.timemet...

I agree. Thanks for posting information about your systems! I might give them a try. I found RescueTime to have many small UI issues that frustrated me too much. I had to uninstall it.

Stephen Wolfram has been doing this for a while - the data is really interesting over the larger timescale: http://blog.stephenwolfram.com/2012/03/the-personal-analytic...

thanks for sharing

"I must admit to feeling some hesitation before writing this post, as I fear it may come across as self-indulgent. My motivation in writing it was to communicate how useful self quantification can be. It is a lifestyle change that I believe some can benefit from, and one that can reduce the chronic stress from which far too many of us suffer."

It seems more interesting than useful. Lots of analysis, not much benefit. Maybe

"The only hard targets I currently have is to spend >10% of time writing, and >15% of time reading, which I have hit. This was something I struggled with tremendously before, and I only succeeded when I started tracking work type specifically."

is a benefit, but it's fairly representative in that it's something of a goal within the system rather than an external benefit.

Perhaps there's guilt relieved by realising that a tedious week spent organising a mentoring group increased the amount of interaction as a mentor, but what are the benefits beyond that?

I think it has been useful to me. For one, I'm more motivated to work because if I slack off, I'll be staring at an empty indicator all week long which really upsets me. I suppose it's just a psychological trick that may or may not work for everyone, but it does for me.

The second thing this helps with is project-based tracking. That is super useful, because I had no idea before how much time I'm really dedicating to my different projects. Of course, my initial assumptions have to make sense. I.e. if I decide to spend 25% of my time on a high-risk project and 35% of my time on a more attainable project, those targets have to make sense. But assuming they do, this system helps me match my targets.

I suppose the next step would be to regress those indicators on some external output, like number of papers published, but I think coming up with a sensible metric would be very difficult.

"but it's fairly representative in that it's something of a goal within the system rather than an external benefit."

But if the system allows us to achieve some desirable goal, why would it need to have any external benefit by itself, besides helping you to attain the goal?

I started doing something similar to help me with my work as a freelancer.

My approach involves scheduled popups with questions that are really quick to answer. Right now I'm only asking myself "are you being productive?".

I just put it on github an hour ago: https://github.com/bbonf/productive It's probably too raw to be helpful to others, but I plan to improve it soon.

I put something like this on my to-do list a couple of years ago, but haven't made it to that project line item yet :-(.

Thank you for sharing what you do have, even if it's rough!

RE: "You may have to install PyQt4." - Yes. When I './run.sh', I received...

  |  Traceback (most recent call last):
  |    File "main.py", line 4, in <module>
  |      from PyQt4 import QtGui, QtCore
  |  ImportError: No module named PyQt4
Unfortunately, I don't have time right now to find PyQt4 and install it.

As a freelancer I too have found it both helpful and interesting from a data perspective to track my time in a detailed way. I've been using Excel for years, plus an independent (from Excel) calendaring system to block off target periods for specific projects.

From the usefulness perspective, tracking my time allows me to a) objectively see where I'm slacking off or rockin' it. Perception can be skewed without the objective tracking; b) view my effectiveness, but only because of how I use my tracking system. If I'm not being effective, I don't enter time for that period. But inspired by OP, I'm going to add an effectiveness metric to my tracking system, and possibly include what my distractors are; c) have a built-in reporting system to my clients, if I need to track hours vs. job for invoicing; d) gain a better sense of how much any given job will take me in advance. This sense has improved dramatically by reviewing my time tracking-data longitudinally.

Thanks for sharing, OP. And thanks to the rest of you who posted your own systems and links to other ones.

I'd like to hear more about how he used Mathematica for this. Especially since he mentions Dynamic, which is more often used for creating interactive content. Maybe he used it as a listener…

I'm the author of the original post. I use Dynamic in two ways. The more obvious way is just to create interactive visualizations that I can easily manipulate, for example changing the time granularity or the set of projects displayed. The second use is the link with my calendaring program. I use Dynamic to set up a timer that calls a DLL (through .NET/Link) every few minutes to programmatically fetch the day from Outlook. That way my dashboard is constantly up to date without me having to do anything, and so I can just glance at it whenever I want.

At first I was really excited when I saw this post. Then it almost depressed me. To quantify my life based on how "productive" I am at working. I'd prefer to have the reverse, to quantify my leisure at the minute-ly level. Imagine looking at these charts when you're on your death bed. Will you regret that you didn't work as hard as you could have? I don't think I will. Of all the "what I regret most about life" posts I've seen on the internet, I've yet to see someone say "I wish I spent more time working".

I have been using the free version of Manic Time (http://www.manictime.com/) and it works quite well, as it's quite unobtrusive and doesn't need any input from me.

Lifehacker.com has a list of other alternatives too - http://lifehacker.com/5853163/the-best-time-tracking-app-for...

See Nicholas Felton's work for a more design-oriented approach to personal-statistics. He has an extensive report for most years since 2005.


He seems to put a lot of effort into putting exactly the number of hours into the full job and exactly the number of hours into each project he wants. I don't really consider that valuable, though, and think he is kind of wasting time. At least he made some pretty graphs, though, and got some self gratification for hitting his hourly target exactly. Doesn't really have any meaning re how much actual work he got done, though.

There are so many variables in quantifying oneself that I have given up many times. It becomes a chore after a while.

That's why it's important to use automated variables as much as possible, so one isn't bearing the burden. Any number of variables can be tracked automatically, it's the ones you have to do manually which become a chore and burn you out. My Zeo sleep data will never be a chore because all I have to do is put on the headband before I go to sleep which has long since become an automatic habit, while writing down my weight on an index card would become a serious irritant if I had to do 5 or 6 of them.

Guidelines | FAQ | Lists | API | Security | Legal | Apply to YC | Contact