Quantified Self – The Three-year Long Time Tracking Experiment

Between June 2011 and June 2013 I diligently tracked the way that I used my 24-hour cycles. I initiated this painstaking task after going through a long spell of productivity draught; I was obsessed with how exactly I spent my ‘Work -> Eat -> Sleep’ cycles. To achieve this, I used Hamster Time Tracker [1]. I recently decided to dig into this wealth of information and have spent the last couple of days analyzing it. While the data I collected is not 100% accurate, visible patterns emerge.

Summary – The Result at a Glance

Quantified Self - Time Tracking

Quantified Self – Time Tracking

Methodology

During the period in question, my entire life predominantly revolved around Home and Work (Laboratory and SCAP workplace). I installed Hamster Time Tracker on the three computers I used at Home and Work. I ran a week-long pilot exercise and arrived at the five categories below. In addition, during the pilot phase, I got a sense of the types of activities I would eventually have to work with, suffice to say, these were open ended.

CategoryDescription
Day-to-dayDaily mundane tasks--constant variables
WorkWork-related activities
HobbiesPersonal FUN activities
Future PlansActivities associated with future plans
Scheduled TasksKnown recurring tasks

When I finally started running the live experiment, I would export/import SQLite 3.x database to/from my dropbox folder whenever I switched machines. Analyzing the results was a fairly straight forward process; I exported the data to CSV and the rest is obvious.

Some Useful Patterns

  • I discovered that I slept an average of 5.1 hours per day (see table below)
  • Day-to-day tasks account for an average of 36.14%, implying that I had 63.86% of productivity time at my disposal
  • I work more and often in the morning (segmenting results into day slots– dawn, wee hours, morning, mid-morning, afternoon, evening–yielded even more interesting results…)
Activity/TaskDuration (Min)Weighting (%)
Breakfast30.012.08
Coffee29.092.02
Lunch34.092.37
Relaxing52.163.62
Shower34.412.39
Sleep/Resting310.8921.59
Supper29.782.07

Explaining Bizarre Patterns

  • The 5.1 average can perhaps be best explained by this article [2]
  • YouTube is on my Top-5 list because I am subscribed to tonnes of YouTube channels–I find that I learn best by watching. I am currently subscribed to 178 channels
  • SCAP represents 20 hours/week I had to put in when I was working part-time [3]
  • In 2011, I became obsessed with African American culture, I spent A LOT of time on sites like worldstarthiphop.com [4]. YES! I know it’s a semi-SHOCK site :p

Leveraging the Results

  • I was able to figure out when I am most productive and was thus able to plan my waking life accordingly
  • I knew where most productivity leaks were coming from (social networking sites for instance) and was able to cut down on those activities when I needed to reclaim time
  • I was able to identify tasks that I could easily perform when I was in ‘Zombie’ mode (e.g. current affairs)
  • Perhaps the most prized outcome was figuring out when I was most productive–I wrote more in the morning, I read more in the morning and did most of my coding late at night

 

References

[1] https://github.com/projecthamster/hamster
[2] http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-16964783
[3] http://www.scaprogramme.org.za/participating-institutions/university-of-cape-town
[4] http://worldstarhiphop.com

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    class="comment even thread-even depth-1" id="dsq-comment-265">
    http://www.gwern.net/ gwern

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    > I discovered that I slept an average of 5.1 hours per day (see table below)

    That seems very low; even allowing for different sleep patterns. I assume that you’re manually clocking in and out? Then it takes time to arrange everything and go to sleep (sleep latency can be fairly high, 10-20 minutes – you forget because going to sleep disrupts memories), and to wake up and clock back in. If the interval between clock-out and clock-in is an average of 5.1 hours, that suggests you’re getting more like 4.5 hours of sleep, which is… pretty extreme.

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      class="comment odd alt depth-2" id="dsq-comment-267">
      http://lightonphiri.org/ Lighton Phiri

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      @gwern0:disqus Yes, I was manually clocking in and out… and I know 5.1 is extreme. But I tend to have trouble sleeping. That said, I have been averaging around 6.3 hours these past couple of months.
      I see you have been experiment with sleep yourself [1]–this was a very interesting read :)

      [1] http://www.gwern.net/Zeo

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        class="comment even depth-3" id="dsq-comment-268">
        http://www.gwern.net/ gwern

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        I see, so it’s not that you normally sleep little, it’s that you have bad sleep.

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    class="comment odd alt thread-odd thread-alt depth-1" id="dsq-comment-266">
    ahel

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    Sweet! Thank you for sharing!

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    class="comment even thread-even depth-1" id="dsq-comment-289">
    http://www.compulsivecreative.com/ Jason Love

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    I love this idea. I just started tracking my time today. I am using different software but I wonder how much time should I dedicate to going over the results. Also, I wonder how much time it will take to just track my time.