I tried time tracking multiple times over the years. Many people I follow and respect swears by time tracking; they talk about it as something revolutionary that helped them reach a new level of productivity and intentionality in how they spend time.
I feel that. Time is the most precious resource we have, and my overdriven brain is guilty of wasting most of it chasing intellectual rabbits into weird rabbit holes. Therefore, I had to try. Every year, I start this practice using any available tool. I tried manual time tracking, I used automated time tracking, I tried timers, I tried physical chronometers, and even used chess clocks.
After many years of trying this, I am writing this to admit to myself that, no, time tracking doesn’t work for me. Not only. It makes things sensibly worse.
It gets me frustrated
First of all, time tracking has a shocking value. After a week of time tracking, you look at your data, and you pale watching how much time you waste on social media or that your “hard work” day contains no more than 2 hours of actual work.
This is usually good, and the people advocating for time tracking point to this feature as one of the critical benefits of the practice.
For me, though, this doesn’t work. It makes me frustrated and kills my motivation. The reason, I think, is that I already know the ballpark of my time usage, and looking at it makes no difference. It doesn’t help me get things moving: that problem depends on other things. It is like showing a starving man data on how few calories he ingests. Shocking, I suppose. But what should he do with that? He needs food.
I don’t know what to do with the data
As I said in the previous section, I get a depressing sequence of data and no actionable thing to do with them. “You can increase the time spent on creative works!” Sure. Like I needed those damn data for that. This is the equivalent of telling a depressed man, “just be happy.” I already know I should spend more time creating stuff.
I concede there is some value in measuring the time you can save by not doing other things. For instance, I noted that I spent way too much time washing dishes (a fact that strengthened my argument for buying a dishwasher). But, let’s be honest, I already knew I was spending too much time with that. I have a clock. I didn’t have the quantitative measurement of how much, but I had the qualitative feeling that it was too much.
Moreover, years of time tracking to shave off 30 minutes of dishwashing doesn’t seem to be a good result.
Time Tracking makes me do less
This is the thing I recently realized that tipped me into writing this piece. In the end, when I do time tracking, I do less. I am like a quantum particle: I behave differently when I know I am measured. And, on the contrary of how many other people reacts, I behave differently by doing less. Much less.
Why? Consider this. One of the most effective tricks I have to make my brain move is to fake it. I tell myself that I am not actually starting a task but just dipping my toes. Just open Scrivener. Just open VSCode. Just Vim into that folder. Just load that (unholy abomination) of Unity Hub. Most of the time, this is just the momentum I need to put things in motion and actually perform my job.
With time tracking, this trick does not work. The moment I start the timer (or I know that the automated tracking is lurking in the shadows), I am committed. I am intentional. And my brain smells out the trap and runs away chasing the aforementioned rabbits.
Time tracking adds just enough friction to stop me. I can fill the time tracking after the task is completed, but it is more complicated, more frustrating, and then, what’s the point?
These are three reasons why time tracking doesn’t work for me. I wish it worked (because I like keeping track of things and making beautiful graphs), and only the Universe knows how much I tried to make it work. It just doesn’t.
I’ll probably try again next year anyway. But at this point, I am okay with this.