May 2019 · 800 words · 4 minute read

A few days ago I was thinking about time tracking, I wanted to get a better handle on what I was doing with my time and make sure that I wasn’t squandering it. This is part of my overall goal of “doing the things that matter”. I don’t want to be sitting around complaining that I’ve never achieved anything if I never actually put in the work. Putting in the work does not guarantee success, but not putting in any certainly guarantees failure.

As I was going through this investigation it struck me, I quickly went down the rabbit hole. There were paid options that enabled me to create invoices or I could configure emacs org mode to track this directly from my editor, forgetting of course that I don’t know how to use emacs. Or perhaps I could embrace pomodoros and assign a subject to each one. I even toyed with rolling my own, setting up a bunch of python scripts that are completely customised to my personal workflow. I mean, I’m trying to track the time I spent doing the things that matter, clearly investing time in time tracking is something that matters right?

The options that I discovered were endless, it seems like there is a computer science class where students have to create a time tracking app as an assignment given the sheer degree of choice available. I ended up spiraling down the rabbit hole of perfectionism, none of them were quite “good enough”.

After a short time I started asking myself what the fuck I was doing. My problem with time tracking is not about having the perfect system but instead about remembering to do it in the first place. My problem is having something that I actually use. I got caught up in the bullshit of trying to find the best system that I forgot about what I was trying to achieve in the first place.

So I set up a text file. I named it and put it in my home directory. I made it automatically open in my text editors where I do a substantial portion of my work. Each entry is a new row, there is a minimal format but nothing specific. It’s text. Nothing else. I’m going to do my best to update it but I know that I won’t be fully successful at this.

Going down this particular rabbit hole made me start to think. How overengineered are our current solutions? Is there something simpler that would work instead? Can we do more with less?

This line of thinking led me down another line of thinking. It seems to me that many tools today are trying to lock us into their ecosystems. They’re trying to capture our behavioural surplus as Shoshana Zuboff so eloquently put it. They stake their claim to our data, making it hard for us to leave them and in so doing trap us.

The industry term is that the “cost to churn” is too high. Once embedded into a “users” life (only drug dealers and software companies call their customers users) the cost of switching to an alternative solution is often too much for people to contemplate. You get locked in.

I’ve found that the best solution to this lock in is to start as small as humanly possible and to avoid apps entirely.

A simple text file or hand held notebook where you jot things down is freeform and can often get you a lot further than a complicated app which doesn’t give you access to your own data.

When you start with the smallest possible solution to your problem which gives you control over your data you are effectively exerting your control over your data and beginning to reclaim your digital life. It isn’t necessary to surrender control to a collective of Silicon Valley companies in order to make their owners rich just to try something out.

Moving slower means going for the simplest solutions to the problem at hand. The smallest thing that will get the job done. You do not need to outsource your memory and your thinking to a cloud service with an arbitrary data retention policy to get something done. Try a notebook.