Tracking your Productivity

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Written By cnu

Some smart guy once said “What isn’t measured doesn’t get improved.” As I grow older, I seem to understand this a lot.

If you want to fix a piece of code which is slow as hell, first start with measuring how slow it is really running. It is easy to hypothesize that it is slow because it is written in an interpretted language or it leaks memory and the garbage collector doesn’t work properly or various other reasons.

All you need to understand why it is behaving like that, is to just run it with a profiler and see where it is taking up most of the time in execution. After looking through the profiler output, you can take a data driven decision on which function to optimize. Whether the optimization is really worth the time and effort you put in.

XKCD 1205: Is it worth the time
But why am I talking about programming and code profilers in a post titled “Tracking your Productivity”? Because I find a computer program and my daily life to be very similar in some sense.

I have tried a lot of productivity tools and devices – pomodoro, todo list, etc. But these doesn’t work as effectively as I want them to be.

One reason I could think of why it doesn’t work is, it requires a conscious effort on my part to do it. If it is a pomodoro, I have to start/stop the timer and there would definitely be small disturbances. Todo Lists requires me to plan out my tasks for the day, but all it takes is some unscheduled last minute meeting or a production issue to ruin it for me.

These tools work a bit as long as I have the mental will power to sit down and use it. But we are all cognitive misers. Concentrating on the small details in tracking the todo list makes me mentally tired and I soon lose interest in it.

But isn’t what I am trying to do the exact opposite of what I should be doing? I have been trying to be more productive by improving my various processes and trying out various stuff. But unless I know when and where I am not productive, it makes no sense in all these productivity tools.

  1. Measure
  2. Improve
  3. ???
  4. Profit


There is one popular app/web service called IDoneThis which helps you keep a journal of sorts of all the tasks you did daily. It sends an email daily and all you have to do is reply to that email with a list of everything that you did.

I did try using this years back, but the problem here is it still requires a manual effort of me thinking about everything that I did and logging it. There are only a few days when I replied to that email and tracked what I did. Also I will be logging only the things that I was productive on. Unless I know the things I wasted my time on, how can I improve it?

Automated Tracking

Then I realised that I do use a service which tracks everything that I do on my computer and log in automatically – Rescuetime. Like the teacher who stands near your desk when you are writing your test.

I have been using this for ages and it sits silently in the menu bar logging each window or browser that I have been seeing. It automatically categorised them into 5 levels of productivity from Very Distracting to Very Productive.

Every sunday evening I receive an email saying how productive I was and what were the things I wasted my time on. I show how much time I have been wasting watching youtube or reddit and how much time I did write some code. I can set goals to complete every day and it calls our my bullshit when I haven’t completed my goal for a day.

By showing real hard proof of how I am wasting my time, I understand what needs to be done to improve my productivity. With the daily/weekly report in my hand, all that needs to be done is to improve in small increments.

Do I really want to waste my time watching cat videos when I have an important deadline of submitting a proposal? That is a decision that Rescuetime helps me take.

Why I am posting about Rescuetime now? I have been using the free version all these years and it works wonderfully well for me. I always wanted to upgrade to the premium version for the added features of blocking distracting sites, tracking offline activities and more detailed reports. Never really got around to doing it.

But when I saw that they were giving a flat 25% off on premium accounts, I definitely had to upgrade. I would have happily paid the original $72/year, but now it costs just $54/year. If you don’t buy this at this super low price, you are either a productivity ninja or you don’t care enough to improve your life.

Go ahead and sign up to Rescuetime before June 30 to start taking things in control.

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