Category Archives: Self Assessment

Monthly reviews

3 Reasons to Try Timetracking Next Month

Time tracking is a lot of work, but it can have a lot of benefits. In 2013, I tracked every hour of my November, and this year I'm planning on tracking every single hour in February.

Here are the three reasons why I try to track 1 full month every two years:

Accountability

We are given 24 hours per day to spend, invest, and enjoy. Good stewardship involves being able to account for the assets that you are entrusted with, but too often I find myself asking the question “where did the time go?” That question is the opposite of giving an accurate quote.

Discipline

Good stewardship requires mindfulness and intentionality. When you start tagging tagging your activities, you become more mindful of what you're doing and less inclined to waste time.

I group all my time-wasters (fiddling with apps, youtube, gaming, surfing the web) in a category called selfishness. Discipline tells me that when I finish a task, I have to start tagging another. My laziness wants to open YouTube, but I don't want to log hours in selfishness categories.

This technique only works if you log ALL your time though, which requires a lot of willpower to form the habit.

Data

I am an hourly worker at my jobs. If I don't report hours, I don't get paid. Forgetting to clock in and trying to remember when you work is hard unless you have some sort of data. Diligent time logging can tell you all that and a bag of chips.

When you accompany your punches with a comment on what you did, you can begin to track how much time it takes to do things. Last time I did this, I learned how long it takes me to cook dinner, clean the house, walk to school, and a slew of other things that I thought I knew how long they took, but consistently underestimated. The data doesn't lie.

Lastly, over the course of a month, you can generate some really cool reports of your data to measure sleep patterns, homework patterns, time spent socializing, eating, gaming, you name it.

Setting up a time logger

I use an app called aTimeLogger. The first time I did time tracking I had WAY TO MANY activites in thee (20). It took a lot of willpower to figure out what category some things fell into.

Now, I use four categories (that could be stand alone activities): work, social, health/growth, selfishness. I've found that 99% of activities fall into these categories and I am most interested in tracking how others oriented/work oriented/health oriented/selfish I am as far as my use of time goes.

Once the system is set up, whenever I change activities, I open the app (on my main screen) and tap the action and enter a comment. That's it.

Time tracking can be a daunting but rewarding endeavor. It's not something to do 365 days a year because of the mental effort it requires to keep it up, but doing it for one month at a time can form habits that carry over to months without time tracking. If you like the benefits but have some questions on how to implement, leave a comment below.

The 1-2-3 Rule

School started on Monday for me. That means prioritization, reading assignments, and grades.

However, I do find grades and deadlines somewhat motivating. This is why I typically get more done per week during a semester than over a break when I tell myself that I will get work done, but don’t get it done.

Here is a quick hack that I am trying out to apply the motivation that the education environment gives me to my todo list. I call it the 1-2-3 rule.

Each day before you go to bed, select 1 big task, 2 medium tasks, and 3 small tasks. Set the due date to tomorrow night. Award yourself 30% for completing your big task, 20% for each medium task, and 10% for each small task. An A is 100%, A- is 90%, B is 80%, C is 70%, D is 60% and anything below is failing.

At the end of the week, you can check to see what your GPA is, and track how your GPA changes over time. For those of you strive for good grades, applying this hack to non-school related items may carry enough connotation to push you to do things you otherwise would push off.

Making Gears Turn v2.0

When I originally started this blog, I knew that my lust for perfection would keep me from actually getting a blog rolling. Over and over again, I considered writing articles, and made some graphics, tweaked with WordPress layouts and plugins, set up social media, the list continued.

Eventually I realized that I needed to just start making content.

That was a year and a half ago. Now, I’ve put up some content and begun to figure out the look and feel for this blog. Along the way, I’ve occasionally enlisted the aid of my beloved sister, Jennifer Wheeler (who has also started her own blog!) who has been helping with some of the illustrations.

Together, we’ve come up with some cool new illustrations to decorate the site and enhance the presentation of the content. As such, we are forming a partnership and rebranding the blog.

An exciting new feature that we have added is subscription via email courtesy of MailChimp. If you want to subscribe, there is a sign-up form on the front page. This will bring great content and tips on productivity and networking right into your inbox, and can be a great way to refer friends to this blog.

As always, We are eager to hear your feedback. Tell us what is working, what isn’t working, and we will get back to you and address the issues you raise.

Until then, I wish you a successful and productive week until the next post, as you continue to optimize your human system.

3 Criteria I Apply (In Order) When I Buy Clothing

It is often said of college students that when it comes to spending your time in college, you have options: sleep, socialize, or study — pick two. When it comes to computer software, you also have choices: good, fast, cheap — pick two. I would say when it comes to buying clothing, you have options: good looking, comfortable, and cheap — pick two.

I used to feel that clothing was one of those things that really didn’t matter too much. I thought that brand name clothes, or expensive suits were just a thing rich people did to show off to other rich people how much richer they were than other rich people. I wasn’t about that life. So when it came to clothing, I didn’t see the point in buying fancy clothes (or anything else) at the mall. Shopping at the mall was a complete waste of time. Consequently I bought most of my clothes from thrift stores and Walmart.

For whatever reason, I never really saw a problem with what I wore in high school. Many of my peers suffered from severe senioritits as sophomores, and came to school consistently in sweats and a hoodie. So I thought I was doing pretty well with my jeans, tennis shoes, and t-shirt.

Aside: There was one semester my junior year where I realized I had so many t-shirts from clubs in high school that I wanted to see if I could go the whole semester only wearing t-shirts I got from my high school. I did.

Anyway, after high school came college, and I noticed that there were essentially two groups of people at college: those who took college seriously, and those who did not. There wasn’t a perfect correlation, but I noticed that based on the way I dressed, I resembled the group of students who did not take college seriously. It wasn’t blatant, but I didn’t dress the way my friends who were eagerly pursuing their professional and academic dreams were dressing.

It all came to a head when I became an RA my sophomore year of college and got to know an amazing individual by the name of Ashok. Throughout the year of working with him, I learned just how important the choices we make about dress alter our lives. It’s more than just a fashion statement–it’s a courtesy, a sign of respect towards those that we work with. You find yourself treating others with more respect, others treat you with more respect, and probably most importantly, you treat yourself with more respect.

I’m not saying suits and ties every day, but I am saying that if I never graduated from my t-shirt and tennis shoes stage, I probably wouldn’t be writing this blog right now. I would never take myself seriously enough to feel that what I had to say really mattered.

Anyway, enough biography, and the checklist.

I used to feel that the most important thing when it came to clothes is that I wasn’t spending a lot of money. Then, if I found something that looked like a bargain, I would check to see if it looked nice. And then I would buy it.

This is an awful way of doing it.

Here’s why: I quickly accumulated tons of cheap clothing, that kind of looked good on me, but not really. But half of it really wasn’t that comfortable so I never wore it. I found myself mostly wearing clothes that I received here and there on holidays from friends and relatives that was actually comfortable. I quickly realized that if something is not comfortable, humans do not like to wear it.

Therefore, spending $100 on ten cheap, uncomfortable shirts that you never wear is infinitely worse than spending $100 on one expensive, super comfy shirt that you will want to wear all the time.

Additionally, comfortability is more important than good-looking or even good-fitting. Why? Because if a sweater looks good but is uncomfortable, you just won’t enjoy wearing it and it will be a waste of your time and closet space.

Armed with this mindset, I have in the last year or so flipped the checklist upside down:

  1. Is it comfortable
  2. Is it good-looking
  3. Is it affordable

Now my closet is gradually becoming a collection of comfortable apparel that I am excited to wear, and most of it even looks good on me.

You can probably see how this spills over to other parts of my life as well.

A bank with no maintenance fee, decent bonuses, but awful customer service will definitely put you in a fowl mood when it comes time to plan a vacation, get a loan, do taxes, etc… It would be better on your happiness (and on the happiness of those around you) to find a bank with a maintenance fee but also features awesome customer service.

If you have a cheap phone that looks nice, but has an awful user interface, you’ll be cursing overtime you get it, and will likely want to replace it every time you use your phone (I’ve known people who actually abuse phones they hate, usually causing them to have to replace them). If you instead select a phone with a user interface you love, you’ll take excellent care of the phone, and will be likely not even to realize you’ve had the phone for 2 years (or however long you’ve had it) when it’s time to replace it. (Phones have been on my mind for the last two weeks,  you can read more in my article on the 12 days of Cell-Free-mas)

As a final perk, this method, when it comes to stuff, helps promote minimalism, which I am more and more interested in as time goes by. It’s a lot easier to live with fewer, but nicer things, than it is to live with lots of junky cheap things, but I’ll write more on that later.

In closing, I hope that this article helps you avoid decision paralysis next time you go shopping, and helps you cull out your wardrobe if you’re currently in the business of culling your wardrobe.

I’d love to hear your thoughts below.

A Month of Time Logging with aTimeLogger

This month, I’ve been experimenting with several different techniques, many of which I am still learning a lot about and will write about in the future. However, one habit that I have formed this month that I have found profoundly useful has been time logging.

The Search for the Perfect App

I first got the idea after reading Asian Efficiency’s post on time tracking. I tried out their suggestion of using Toggl, and found that it was not quite suited for my needs. I had used Gleeo Time Tracker, but again was not fully satisfied with it.

The problem with most time logging apps which I tried out were that they were designed for tracking billable hours. I was instead interested in measuring the amount of time I was spending on activities such as exercise, sleep, cooking, cleaning, and time wasted surfing the Internet. With a months worth of data, I could generate reports, and find what activities needed more time and what activities I needed to let go of.

Then I discovered aTimeLogger.

Main logging screen of aTimeLogger

This is a handy little app (for Android and iOS). The more time I tracked with it, the more features I discovered (like Tasker integration!) and the more I found that this was what the next step in boosting my productivity needed.

The Two Best Features

Here are two few features that I especially loved about this app:

On-Device Reporting

Reports are super easy to do in aTimeLogger

This is likely the biggest thing I like about aTimeLogger. You can see daily, weekly, and montly logs of all your activity, or compile data into bar charts, and see progress towards goals all right within your phone.

I am currently doing quite a few coding projects for different organizations, and I need to keep tabs on how much time I’m spending on each one. In aTimeLogger, I can create a category called “Work” and put an entry for each project in it. Whenever I am working on these projects, I simply tap the icon for that project, and when I finish, write a short comment on what I got done. When I am ready to submit my hours, I can go to the reports page and generate a list of all the time I was working on the project. I can export this data as CSV or HTML and send it directly from the app in an email.

This feature makes me happier than a kid at sea world who gets to pet Shamu. :)

Goals

See the amount of time you have spent thus far, and the amount of time you have left to go for each activity

Within the app you can set goals for yourself. You can choose have your goal be to do a set of certain activities for a certain amount of time over a given period (or indefinitely), which can also recur. Or, you can try to put limits on certain activities.

Currently, I have two goals: to spend 56 hours per week sleeping, and to spend 8 hours per week completing items on my Impossible List (I will write about this in a future post). Checking everyday on my progress in these regards is a wonderful way for me to keep myself motivated


 

There are many other reasons why I would recommend the app, but I’ll leave that to review sites like AppUnderdog. I’ll just close with a few remarks about what I’ve learned from a month of time logging:

Increased Accountability

It’s a temptation for me to come back from work and sit down at my computer and waste time reading blogs. But I know that I shouldn’t because my “Internet” activity is housed under a skull-and-cross-bones “Excess” category. The more time I spend on the Internet, the more this category increases in my pie chart.

When I first installed the app, I knew that I needed to be more intentional with how I spend my time on the internet. According to my records, I spent 43 hours on the internet this last month, which is still horrendous but I know for sure it is an improvement over the last month.

The greatest benefit I get actually doesn’t come from the big chunks of time as it does from the small chunks of time. For example, when I arrive early to work, and have a few minutes to kill, I try to avoid tapping the “wasted time” or “unmanaged” or “internet” activities. Instead, I do my best to plan my day so I am doing something productive during those small times. Forcing myself to be accountable to time tracking software encourages me to plan better.

Better estimates for the future

How long do I sleep on the weekend? How long does it take to walk to work? How much time do I spend answering emails every week?

I know the answers to these questions because I can just search through my log and compare my recent entries. So when I have to sit down and plan my day, I am less likely to underestimate the amount of time it takes to do a project.

The wow factor

One of my students asked me a few weeks ago a couple questions like “How long did it take you to grade our tests yesterday?” She was quite surprised when I was able to give her an exact answer down to the minutes, and back it up with data on my phone.

I think for anybody who enjoys being perceived as an organized person, doing time tracking is a wonderful tool simply for personal satisfaction :p.


 

Further fine tuning

This next month, I want to

  • become more faithful in inserting comments into all of my work, especially for the entries which will be reported to others
  • create a few more goals, and reward myself for achieving the most difficult ones (like 150 minutes of exercise/week)
  • experiment with Tasker integration

Thanks for reading, and please let me know what you think of this post (especially if you have had experience with time tracking in the past).

Back to Beirut: Balancing Time and Maintaining Motivation

With approximately eight weeks remaining in my year as a student missionary, I am returning back to Beirut after a week and a half with my friends and family for Easter Break.  With it comes a realization of the need to narrow my focus on the things that are most important, and a deeper interest in optimizing my habits and lifestyles in order to finish out strong.

During the break, I discovered the following:

  1. Finding a balance between tasks and relationships requires intentionality and careful attention
  2. Maintaining structure and motivation without due-dates requires self-discipline and often help from others

Balancing Tasks and Relationships

 

Seeking a balance between our relationships and our responsibilities is an ever-present balancing act.
Seeking a balance between our relationships and our responsibilities is an ever-present balancing act.

Most personality tests indicate that I am an introvert. It doesn’t mean that I don’t like people, I just don’t like them all at once. Still, my tendency is to retreat to solitude in a quiet dorm room and code, or work home homework and such, neglecting personal relationships. At least, that is the case during the school year.

Now put me in a summer camp or a retreat, and you’ll find me really hamming it up and winning social acclamation. I get such a big thrill that I neglect the things that are on my todo list which need attention.

I tend to swing between these two extremes like a high school physics pendulum experiment. Each side is important, but balance is the key to effective living. To center my focus, I am using time tracking software (Toggl for now) to measure the balance between task and relationships, in addition to focusing on this with my daily reviews.

Maintaining Structure in the Absence of Deadlines

 

Let's be honest, it's near impossible to be motivated to get stuff done when you've got no deadlines.
Let’s be honest, it’s near impossible to be motivated to get stuff done when you’ve got no deadlines.

I have no problems when it comes to meeting deadlines, but when there are no deadlines, my drive to complete tasks evaporates like an ice-cube in Houston. It’s difficult to sculpt out time to be productive when you are home on holiday for only a few days, for obvious reasons that you have limited time with your loved ones.

This compounds with the fact that there are few reminders that we need to be getting things done. Days pass (just as quickly as they do in busy work weeks), and next thing you know, you’re back in the rush of things, but this time without the advantage of that circadian rhythm you had built up prior to your vacation.

Because I am no longer in this situation, finding a way to improve my performance here is a bit challenging. I won’t have much ability to practice until I am again without deadlines, which may be for a while.  However,  a tool that I have seen work before is to find other people who understand the need to stay on top of things, and associate and work with these folks for a few hours each day.

Goals for this Coming Week

This upcoming week, I want to finish setting up this blog and integrating it with social media. I also need to close a few loops associated with the end of Spring Semester at Andrews University. All this comes along with a growing realization that my time to learn and practice Arabic while still in the country is rapidly running out.

Both of the topics addressed in this post will be important this coming week.

Fine Tuning the Gears

  1. Begin time tracking and focus on balancing time spent on tasks  with time spent on building relationships.
  2. Find opportunities to work with other motivated people in periods of no due-date pressure.

Be sure to respond with your comments below!