The Secret to Getting to Bed on Time

When is the last time that you have been in a power outage without any internet? What did you do?

The power frequently cuts out here in Lebanon, often for only a short period of time, and UPS’s (uninterrupted power supplies) do a great job of making sure that important electronics continue to do their jobs. Every once in a while, all electricity dies, and the UPS’s run out of battery. Without internet, I often find myself at a loss.

It’s probably a good thing, because I almost always end up grabbing a book and sitting underneath an emergency exit sign and start reading instead. By the time 8:00 PM rolls around, I am ready for bed.

This is an interesting contrast to my normal days when I am busy responding to emails, working on coding projects, and reading blogs, and researching things on the web. Fill in the blank here with your internet timesink (Facebook?). The bottom line is that internet is what keeps a lot of us up at super late hours of the night.

sleep is the enemyCreative Commons License hobvias sudoneighm

I did a little experiment, and it turned out to be surpassingly successful. Using Tasker (which I promise I will write about soon), I set up a profile that disables wifi (or alternatively, enables airplane mode) from 21:00 to 05:00 every single day. The effects are remarkable, even a month into the habit.

At first, I would find myself writing an email, only for little error messages about not saving drafts to pop up. I might be browsing a website, when all of a sudden none of the links are loading, or for some reason, no more facebook posts are loading. In every situation, I remembered: “Oh! that’s right, I should be going to bed, so I can wake up at 5:00.”

More recently, it has turned into this frantic rush at 20:30 to try to finish up all of my emails, Dropbox syncs, and other Internet activity before 21:00 rolls around.

The automatic return of WiFi at 05:00 is more persuasive than any alarm clock in getting me out of bed. When I sleep, I leave my phone on the other side of the room charging, so when I start getting tons of notifications at 05:00, even if I wanted to keep sleeping, the overwhelming curiosity gets to me. Additionally, I don’t have to worry about being disturbed while I am asleep by notifications and buzzing. :)

If you’re considering trying this out yourself, I would highly recommend finding a way to make this an automatic process, and having the same time frame every night, weekdays and weekends. It doesn’t mean that you absolutely have to be in bed by a predetermined time, but for sure it does at least two things:

  • Helps your mind disengage and prepare for a better night’s rest regardless of whether you like it or not.
  • Communicates to the world in a way that’s not a jerk that you need to go now. (It’s easier to explain your WiFi will automatically turn off in 5 minutes than to say that you’re going to turn it off yourself. Your friends also respect you a bit more :p).

Making a Tasker Profile to turn off all networks from 21:00 to 05:00 has been the single best thing I have done to improve my sleep habits in my entire life. What are some things that you have done to do the same?

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!