Boring but Extraordinary
Today is my 1,876th straight day time logging.
It’s the cornerstone of my lifelogging practice. I intend to keep at it for another 25,000 days or so, because it:
- Preserves and organizes my memories, ideas, and notes like a second brain.
- Slows down time and keeps me from wasting it.
- Holds me accountable as a communication channel between my past, present, and future selves.
And like most habits that produce extraordinary results, keeping a time log is boring in practice. I just jot down what I do. All day. Every day.
Here’s an example of my time log for today with explanations of some of the idiosyncrasies I’ve developed over the years.
You’ll see there’s nothing special about it. But if you give it a try and patiently keep at it, maybe you won’t ever want to stop either.
Early Morning Routine
Every morning is roughly the same for me. I wake up, do a BOLT test1The Body Oxygen Level Test (BOLT), which I started after reading The Oxygen Advantage, is simply breathing out, pinching my nostrils shut, and timing how long it takes until I feel the urge to breathe., read a chapter or so of my book2As shared in Consider This issue #12, this has replaced my habit of looking at mindless crap on my phone, put away my bed3I sleep on the floor., drink a glass of water with lemon and salt, and put away the dishes from last night.
Then I go to my computer and write in my time log: when I woke up, the current time, and a brief recap of what I did in between.
Even though these 50 minutes are somewhat “wasted,” it’s much more productive and shorter than it used to be back before I started logging my time. Back then, I would often dick around only to realize 90 minutes or more have escaped me.
- I use a shortcut key to do a timestamp. For the program I use, Roam, it’s / + u. Much quicker and easier than looking at and typing the time.
- I log the time I complete each “task,” not the time I start. While less intuitive, it’s easier because I only have to write in my time log once for each task (at the end) rather than twice (at the beginning to log the time started, then at the end to log what I did).
- The blue hyperlinks. Each links to a page that collects references to it as well as any notes I write on the page itself. For instance, the “Expecting Better” and “Lifespan” links are to the notes I will take on those books and the BOLT link is to a page that tracks my day-to-day progress. My “second brain” grows through this interlinking.
Time logging has taught me to start my workday with the biggest and most creatively-demanding task.4I later learned there’s a whole book about this, The One Thing, by Gary Keller.
Usually, I decide what that will be the night before. My subconscious can then work on it while I sleep. On days I haven’t pre-determined my “big job,” I check my weekly goals5Weekly and monthly goal setting and tracking is a whole other can of worms for another post. Until I write that post, here’s an example of my weekly goals for the week. and pick the most consequential to-do I feel ready to tackle.
I work on it for 1 hour and 22 minutes then log the time, 8:57, just before I have a scheduled coaching call with my brother.
We talk for 51 minutes, during which I take down notes in my log. Since those notes are private, I’ve collapsed them in the screenshot.
After hanging up with my brother, I log the time, 9:48, then get back to completing my FAQ. I finish it at 12:14, jot down what I’ve done in my time log, and get ready to work out.
- I log the minimum detail possible—only as much as I need to jog my memory if I ever refer back to it later. I think the only way to lear what’s necessary and what’s excessive is through trial and error. In the case of working on the FAQ, the work I’m doing is online already, so I can refer to it directly for complete detail.
- See the grey ring around the black bullet point for my brother’s coaching? If I click that (or use a shortcut key), it’ll expand my detailed notes from our chat. I like this feature in Roam because it keeps my daily time logs compact on days like today when I have a lot of notes from my meeting.
Workout (and Story Time)
I spend the next 1 hour and 53 minutes of my day doing an outdoor workout at the calisthenics park by my apartment, swimming in the ocean6I’m challenging myself to keep it up until we flip hemispheres from Vancouver to Cape Town., and showering at home.
- I don’t care about micromanaging how much time I spend getting ready to work out, walking to the park, actually working out, then showering after. One block of time is enough for me. It may even be more impactful because it shows how a “45-minute” workout can really eat up almost 2 hours.
- I didn’t keep a detailed record of my workout. Sometimes I do, like when I do a “pantathlon,” but generally I work out to maintain my fitness and get outside, so I don’t feel the need to carefully track my progress (or lack thereof).
- My “Story of the Day.” I was inspired by Matthew Dicks’ book, Storyworthy, to start doing these thirteen days ago. So far, so good. It compliments my lifelogging practice really well and encourages me to keep an eye out for, and even create, the little stories in life that make life meaningful and slow down time.
Today, it’s sitting with Kim to review a post on how to host better dinner parties she’s writing8Update: Done! Host better dinner parties with these 5 steps., setting up some email capture experiments, and taking notes on the book I finished reading last week (the aforementioned Storyworthy.)
- I waste no time checking emails or social media. If I did, I would put that in my time log. But the fact that I need to log it and see the time I’m wasting has trained me not to do so. Similarly, time logging has taught me not to multitask.
- I’m not eating today because I’m on Day 1 of a 5-day fast. Ever since my first ever 3-day fast, I’ve tried to do a few multi-day fasts a year.
- Hashtag links, like #Site Change Log in the example, work the same as blue hyperlinks. So the “Site Change Log” page has a record of every instance I tag it.
Mindless Consumption Time
By 5:32, my brain’s fried. I’ve “only” done 5 hours and 26 minutes of work and 1 hour and 40 minutes of meetings, with a 2-hour workout break.
But in my nearly two thousand days of time logging I’ve learned:
- That’s actually a lot. When I started time logging, I realized most of my “working” hours weren’t spent working.
- Pushing myself much harder doesn’t help. If I do, I wear myself out, sleep poorly, and am less productive
So I give into my urges to consume rather than create.
I refer to my weekly goals to see what articles and tweets I’d saved to read through and what things I wanted to Google. Since I’m fasting, I have extra time to read through any of the newsletters I’m subscribed to that tickle my fancy.
Then, when Kim’s finished her dinner, we watch a TV show before getting ready for bed.
- Reading lists. When I come across articles I want to read or think of topics to Google, rather than give in to my urges to do so immediately, I try to add them as to-dos on my weekly goals. Time logging has taught me to do so, as it keeps me from falling into wormholes and emerging hours later wondering where the heck all my time went.
- No late-evening time logging. After watching TV, I log the time, then don’t look at devices anymore, which means I don’t note when exactly I go to bed and fall asleep. My Oura ring keeps track of that for me.
That’s It (…Seems Like a Lot?)
Now that I’ve written out this example of how I keep a time log, I realize how you might think I’m a productivity maniac. You could easily look at this and think, “Whoa, that sounds like a lot of work and stress.”
Believe me, it’s not.
If time logging was so time-consuming or stressful, I wouldn’t be on my 1,876th straight day doing it.
Also, keep in mind that I didn’t start with this whole system in place. I started simply jotting things down in Apple Notes after being inspired by a podcast. A year later, I migrated to Evernote. Now, as of June, I’ve been using Roam.9I guess you could say, my “Roam” wasn’t built in a day.
Like the human brain, my lifelog has evolved from something simple into a magnificent organism that continues to surprise. And with it my focus, organization, structure, and output have evolved, too.
Try it. It’s worth your time.
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I'm Chris. Canadian, husband, dad, writer, investor, athlete, and obsessed explorer of the secrets to living a never-boring, always improving, unfollowable life story.
2 responses to “Time Logging Day 1,876: A Boring Example of an Extraordinary Habit”
I enjoyed reading this piece about your daily logging. I’ve logged various versions of my daily life for most of the last 49 years. It began as a project for a behavioral psychology class I was taking in college. Didn’t have a computer in 1973, so it was all pen and paper – and horribly time-consuming since I was trying to keep track of absolutely every minute of my life and then analyze it for the study. I dabbled in logging for some years after that. But when I began working in a corporate environment I began logging all the details of my work time in earnest. It was a defensive mechanism, to be prepared for annual performance reviews. (Where DID all my time go? and what HAVE I gotten done in the last year?) Since then I’ve kept it up, though content and methods have changed through career changes and now retirement. Though I began it (in college) hoping that it could help me focus my time better, spend more time doing the things that I said I wanted or needed to do, etc… I’ve found over the years that it’s been more useful to me in other ways. As you said, it “preserves and organizes my memories, ideas, and notes like a second brain.” I have a terrible memory. But the interesting thing I’ve found is that it is the writing of these notes, the keeping of the log, that helps my memory. Other than the days of mining work logs to prepare for performance reviews, I’ve seldom looked back over what I’ve written. I guess it’s for this reason that I have gradually allowed myself to spend more time on the writing of them. There are stories (“of the day”) that just need to be told, and I enjoy not having to rush through the retelling. Or maybe it’s just old age creeping up on me. 🙂
Thank you for your writing. I found you today as I was looking for reviews of the Oura ring.