How do you like the title of this post? What’s your reaction to the “carrot and stick” remark? I’m sure you don’t like the stick. But do you really like the carrot? Isn’t your reaction like “Carrot and stick? Hey! I’m not a donkey! Take your carrot and stick it…”. OK, OK, please calm down ;).
Is advertising time tracking as a carrot and a stick a mistake by me (I develop and sell time tracking software after all ;) )? Well, whether we like it or not, most of the time we are driven by our fears and desires (and we sleep for the rest of it :) ). And tracking how you spend your time can help you face some of the former and chase the latter.
I’ve been tracking my time 24/7 for about 7 months now. I started when the prototype of my app, Eternity, was usable enough to become my “dog food”. Here are a few time-tracking related findings by me as the user of this app.
Is ignorance a bliss?
Keeping a time log gives you a simple knowledge. How you spend your days, weeks, months, years… doing this, this and that. Is that information useful (more than the last year’s snow)? I think it is. Past time is an investment in your game of life. Do you see any profits today? Does watching TV for three hours a day benefits you in any way? How much time do you spend in your day job? How it compares to your “dream job” projects? Does your income reflects that? Does satisfaction from what you do reflects that? How other people benefit from your time investments? Are you OK with that?
Time log helps you answer such questions. But you should be aware, that this knowledge will push you out of your comfort zone. This is the stick, the truth that your days here are numbered and you robably spend some of them in some ways you’re not really comfortable with. You won’t get them back by running a log of course. Sorry, I can’t help you here ;)
Thanks for the stick, can I have my carrot now?
Are you sure you deserve it? For many goals you assign some time to reach them. One hour a day, ten hours a week and so on. When you don’t have a log you’re always unsure if you’ve spent enough time “working”. This leads to the constant feeling of guilt, discomfort.
On the contrary, having a record of your activities gives you a proof. It makes a big difference, even if you’re the only person demanding such validation of your efforts. “I’ve earned it. It’s in my record. See? Can I have my carrot now? Thank you.”. And it’s yummy :-P When you’re not sure if you deserve it, it leaves a bitter aftertaste. You tend to work more and more. You don’t know when to stop. The result is burnout and your outcome is poisoned by it.
And the best part is…
That you don’t even need to wait for weeks and months to gain benefits from logging your time. The plain fact of having a log forces you to make more conscious choices right from the start. Is watching this movie worth my time? Is reading this book, playing this game, meeting these people, a time well spent? Will I consider it as such tomorrow? “Holy crap! I’m reading this blog by some bird-brain again! I should start a timer for it. Wait! Maybe I should really choose something better to do?”;). It’s a constant reminder to re-focus your activities. Say: “Life is short and I can’t afford to waste another minute” :-P
Where is my mind?
You can ask: “Do I really need to play games with my mind? Is that normal?” It feels strange sometimes, maybe even a bit schizophrenic, but the consolation is in knowing that you would bang yourself with a stick anyway, consciously or not. So I just think the conscious option is better. At least you will know where the bruises come from ;). Does it sound convincing? That’s not the point. I don’t want you to convince you, but to make you wonder if or how it works. Make your conscious choice and follow it.