Tool Taste: Time Tracking

With school, and a new schedule, starting next week, I have been exploring ways to document activities and time spent.

I have looked into time trackers before, but in the past week I started gathering more information on the various options:

Some more general ways of visualizing the day:


This morning, I used Toggl to track my activities. This is a screenshot of a summary report from about 7:30 a.m. to 10:00 a.m. this morning:

Sunday Morning

Comments and Reflection

  1. The app is more designed for work, team projects, and commercial purposes than when I looked at it last spring.
  2. It is not great at tracking multitasking (as far as I can tell, I could only use one “tag” to label the activities of any period of time). For example, while I took my dog Henry to the farmers’ market, I also saw a colleague and her family, ate a muffin, listened to a Great Courses lecture on “Apollo and Artemis,” and got an iced coffee while talking to the co-owner of Boxwood Coffee about whether they would participate in the winter market.
  3. Toggl has both a browser and iPhone option (and their features page lists a number of other versions).
  4. As will probably be the case with any public display of my personal activities, the experiment raised questions about: privacy, the “quantified self,” mindfulness, and a bunch of other more abstract ideas about time and categorization. And of course, the observation and tracking of the activities inevitably changed my behavior. I found myself cleaning my bathroom floor, cleaning out closets, and washing dishes while I did a load of laundry (rather than aimlessly surfing the internet or streaming TV).


It seems like the main way to use this app is on my iPhone, which is not as useful as a tool that can be used through any device. At least in the “lite” version, it also seems to be able to track only one activity at a time. Here is what it looked like over about an hour of creating this post and doing another load of laundry:


Further Investigation

There are many other ways to track time and generate visuals from the data, such as Excel or Google Sheets.

As I explored more apps and methods, I thought of investigating how groups like Pew Research get their data on time use. One major source is the American Time Use Survey, a project of the Bureau of Labor Statistics. From my brief examination of the questionnaire, it appears the data comes from self-reported estimates, e.g.ATUSQ

Drawing and By Hand

My next idea was to figure out the simplest, most reliable way to track my time and activities by hand. I am more likely to have a pen and notepad with me than my phone, so this method seems easiest for me.


More from Lynda Barry (creator of the above drawing)

Another possibility, although not for me right now, is a wearable tracker such as FitBit, Zeo (now shutdown, which is a liability when relying on someone else’s technology), and so on.

On Choosing Presence Over Productivity

As I expanded my field of research from just “productivity apps” and listicles on current tools for measuring time, I realized that there are far more interesting ways of investigating this topic. Brain Pickings has a particularly nice collection of the various ways of examining time in this way:

Time Perception

Data Designers Mail Postcards Tracking Daily Lives

Daily Routines of Writers

Finally, time itself can be an interesting topic on its own, such as in this project Visualizing Time.


Next steps: Explore all of the options and experiment

I’ll end this post with an incomplete list of other possible ways to collect time data or track how one spends one’s time:

  1. Use alternate metaphors for time with purposeful shift away from time = money (spend, save, waste) and track the experience.
  2. Examine the general history of the “diary.”
  3. Particular time stamps intersected with: location, photo of that moment, alone vs. not alone, work vs. leisure, awake vs. asleep.
  4. Collection of photographs or drawings, time-stamped, from a community, arranged sequentially.
  5. General invitation to willing participants to “visualize your day” and display the results.
  6. Collect historical figures time records.
  7. Collect mechanical time records from offices, factories, and other workers.
  8. Explore the intersections between this topic and data collection and visualization and information display.
  9. Choose particular chunks of time and track, e.g. one hour at work, at home, on the train, outside, in conversation [note: I think this app, Talk-o-Meter, is defunct.]
  10. Catalogue more collections of time pieces, such as The Clock, Pharrell Williams’ “Happy” video, Beethoven’s 9th symphony “stretched,” 24-Hour Psycho, Empire, and Koyaanisqatsi.




Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s