On Using TagTime

I got into such a strong posting habit for awhile there that if practically feels like it’s been forever since the last time I wrote anything. I don’t have anything prepared on the papers I’ve been reading, but on the subject of organization I’ve been trying something a bit new lately and I thought I’d talk about it.

First, I’ve started to really try out TagTime properly (relevant links: github page, Android store, blog post explaining it) and I’m finding it an interesting experience. I try to track a lot of what I do using org-mode clocks, and for something like billing a client that’d still be my preferred method, but for just a general quantified-self experience TagTime is treating me well so far. Because I do a decent amount of work away from the computer, I decided, against dreeves’s personal recommendations, to just stick with the android version for my tracking so that’s the workflow I’ll be describing. Now, the basic concept of TagTime is really simple: once you start the program it randomly, although with a mean of every 45 minutes, asks you what you’re doing in that moment. You then respond with a list of one-word “tags” that label what you were doing with your time in that moment. You’re not supposed to describe what you’ve been doing over the period since you were last sampled, but rather just what you are currently doing when you are “pinged”. The idea is that by sampling randomly that you’ll be able to get a rough picture of how you’re spending your time by the assumption that what you are doing the moment of the ping is what you have been doing since the last ping.

Some of the obvious selling points are that you don’t have to sit there and remember to start a clock nor do you necessarily need to consciously do anything when you change tasks. The obvious downside is that for precise time tracking the burden of exactly starting and stopping clocks is probably your best bet, but TagTime definitely gives a Good Enough kind of picture. I’ve been trying for awhile now to get a sense of where my time is going, since given some of the problems I have with my memory that’s honestly not an easy question to answer, and after just a few days I think TagTime is giving me that.

The other thing it’s doing, strangely enough, is that it’s keeping me on task for longer at a time. Since I’m trying very hard to be honest about what I’m doing in that moment, then I’m finding myself resisting the urge to dick around online when I’m getting frustrated with how to phrase something or how to solve a problem. As a matter of pride, I really really want to have that ping go off when I have something respectable to feed it. I wince during the times I have to say “Twitter” as my answer to what I’ve been doing. Now that doesn’t mean I don’t still sometimes check twitter and tumblr when I’m thinking, but it’s less frequent since I’m weighing it against the possibility of a ping catching me on social media.There are some exceptions to my absolute honesty, though, in that using the restroom, grabbing some water, etc. still “count” as the thing I was actually doing around those minor interruptions. The exception makes sense both in terms of gathering data, and because I am totally the kind of person who would not take care of myself if there was the slightest pressure against it. I guess the other way it’s interesting is that it helps me to keep going when I’m feeling like something is hard and frustrating enough that I just want to be done with it. For example, on Thursday night I ended up doing a lot of delinquent cleaning in our kitchen because by chance it’d been two hours since the last ping and dammit but I wanted to make sure that I had the opportunity to put down that I’d been cleaning and not just “watching tv” or something like that. So I finished the backlog of dishes in 15 minutes, the ping still hadn’t happened, so I scrubbed the kitchen floor for another 20 minutes, the ping still hadn’t happened, etc. until it was a total of two hours later and I’d done some cleaning tasks that had been on my queue for probably about a year.

That might seem like a silly example, but to me it’s basically a reminder that I could be doing something during these recent days when almost everything has felt too hard and scary. In some ways, this gets at a point I’ve wanted to make for awhile now because I’m not saying that quantified self tools or commitment contracts or organizational techniques can change your life and allow you to be awesomely productive 100% of the time and able to do things you never dreamed of before. It’s a lot more complicated than that and, ultimately, the reason why I have success with the tools I’ve been using is that they’re helping me do things I wanted to do anyway. I want to write and do research and get published and teach and read and keep a tidy house. These are all things I want to be doing but often feel like I can’t because it’s too overwhelming, I’m terrified of starting, or even that I can’t pick just one thing that I should be doing so I end up choice-paralyzed because I don’t know how to make the perfect choice. Just by the nature of my mental illness, I spend a lot of time dissociated and on some days I have a very hard time staying connected to the present. This makes is really easy for me to zone out and stare into space or doing something automatic such as refreshing twitter without actually being aware of my surroundings. Having a reminder that time is passing, strange as it may sound, is actually very helpful. On the worst days, I don’t think any tools or tricks or lifehacks will really help. In contrast, on the days when I’m at my healthiest I have no problem picking tasks to work on and seamlessly and calmly moving between them, and I don’t really need any external force to help me stay on task and remember everything. All the the tools and tricks I write about are assistive technologies for the 80% of my life that lies between being non-functional and displaying no symptoms at all.

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One thought on “On Using TagTime

  1. Pingback: Weekly review: Week ending September 19, 2014 - sacha chua :: living an awesome life

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