It's all about the distractions
On and off I take to heart the old adage about not being able to manage what you don't measure, and I think I'm about to swing into the on ramp again. This all started with an interesting post by Lukas Rosenstock at his. In a way it is just another of those monthly reviews that many people do, and which I read with a mixture of awe, guilt and imposterdom. How do people achieve that much? Why don't I do as much? Who am I kidding? This one was a bit different because Lukas mentioned three pieces of software that seemed intriguing and new to me: RescueTime, Focus Booster and Exist.
- RescueTime seems to track where you spend your time on your computer, much like Toki of blessed memory. It does other things too, but in the end I'm not convinced I am willing to pay for the extra things that I want.
- Focus Booster is a Pomodoro-based app. I've messed with the Pomodoro technique before, and found it pretty worthwhile. While Focus Booster costs only a couple of coffees a month, if I subscribe, at this rate I won't be able to afford coffee.
- Exist got a throw-away mention from Lukas, but turns out to be, for me, the most interesting. In essence, it takes a bunch of data that you're probably already gathering if you're into self-quantification and looks for patterns. I spent a couple of days dithering about the data it can import with no effort on my part and then decided to give it a whirl.
I like(d) the Pomodoro technique because it helped me avoid distractions. There were two main downsides, for me. Although I would plan the day's work and assign sessions, I didn't really prioritise properly and as a result some activities just kept shuffling along from day to day, unfinished forever. (It's the old devil important-but-not-urgent quadrant of other systems.) I also seldom went back to refine my assessments of sessions required, so it was much more time tracking than time management. The alternative, which I found more useful, was to allocate specific times of day, rather than amounts of time, to tasks. When I did this time blocking, in priority order, it worked much better than Pomodoro alone. But then I lapse and don't do Pomodoro within the time blocks, and distract myself all to often, especially when the job at hand isn't that wonderful. I'm tracking time now with Toggl, but only for "work" and even then not absolutely consistently.
This is not a software problem. It is a human problem, and I need to reapply myself.
It is just so easy to tab over and see what's happening on IRC or 10Centuries or micro.blog or even Twitter, and so I do. In the past I tried some internet access blockers, and they were handy, with one problem. Often, in my work, I actually need to access information that isn't here on my machine or in my head. So I really need an access blocker that offers two or three modes: block absolutely all access; block access to these specified sites, no matter how I try to access them; block nothing. It's possible RescueTime will do that. Or Freedom.
I just like the idea of Exist. It has a lovely interface, lets me track custom tags (though they're only on or off each day) and offers correlations between different kinds of activities. Am I happier when I sleep more? We shall see. Of course, there's the question of spurious and meaningless correlations, but I can live with that. And I am genuinely interested in seeing whether patterns emerge that I am not aware of.
The big downside, so far, is that the there is no manual data entry and the kinds of data that Exist can work with automatically are constrained by the other apps it speaks to. For example, I weigh myself once a week and enter the data in Garmin Connect. Garmin Connect speaks to Apple Health. Apple Health speaks to Exist, but only about steps and other activities, not about weight. So, unless I'm missing something, Exist currently cannot tell me anything about my weight. Nor can it tell me anything about the time I put in Toggl. It does talk to RescueTime, so I could put Pomodori into that, by hand which, if it also blocks internet access in the way I want, may justify those cups of coffee.
The upside is that the Exist team is very transparent about what they're developing next so it can only get better.
This is something I actually do, as part of my Bullet Journal and GTD, although I have never thought of making it public. Maybe I should ...