Tracking Productivity For Personal Growth
Kyrill Potapov was curious about his work and life balance and wanted to see how much time he was spending on personal growth compared to work. In order to do his experiment, he hacked RescueTime to track how he uses his computer to make it a tool for personal growth, rather than work optimization. In this video, he discusses how he hacked RescueTime to actually grow a plant based on time spent on personal growth in order to find deeper meaning in his productivity and ultimately his life.
Last year I found my granddads shaving razor and it’s strange to have something that had been such an intimate part of his world. And I almost feel I can excavate something of him from the razor. There’s the accumulated tenacity of his of his thumb on the lid of the case. The blade is tough and clean, but darkened along the sharpened edge, reveling perhaps the roots that it took down his neck. And then there’s petulant yellow handle with a touch of oil or a ghost of his hand or whatever one holds in the day patrol along the Berlin Wall.
But today, our tools don’t show the thumbprint of their mastery. I am just as good at WhatsApp as everyone else in this room. The tool doesn’t like me to what’s significant because the design has already shown me.
I don’t reflect on my Facebook usage because Facebook is easy. I came to the Quantified Self because I want to extract some sense of myself from the world. I don’t just want the design to tell me. So for example, my RescueTime dashboard can show me how long I’ve spent on certain apps and websites, which at least gives me a clue about the kinds of things that seem to matter for me in my day.
I’ve tried to hack how I interact with RescueTime to maximize reflection. And the first thing that I did is I added a physical timer and a smart button, and I use this to track 25 minute Pomodoro intervals onto RescueTime and to log all the stuff that I was doing not on my laptop.
As well as that I got a smart light. This gave me feedback on my productivity so that whilst I was doing stuff I got this real time physical feedback the more productive I was, the brighter the color of the smart light.
And this kind of worked. It was quite interesting. I still wanted to take it a little bit further. So this is Eddie, Eddie really likes light. So what I did is I put this smart light next to Eddie and I cover them up so that the smart light is Eddie’s only source of light. And if I am being productive Eddie gets light and grows. If I’m not being productive, Eddie turns yellow and wilts. And every week when I water Eddie I would read my weakened leaves.
At first it was a kind of a joke but then my activity started to feel like it was nourishing Eddie, and I started to notice discordances. There were things that were productive like checking my work emails. It didn’t seem right to call nourishing. And I though okay, well what are the things I actually find meaningful? What are the things that are actually helpful for me to grow in the same way that Eddie is growing here.
And at first you can see it’s a sort of one to one relation between my RescueTime dashboard and what was happening in terms of Eddie. But I tried to kind of listen a bit more to what the discordances were telling me, and I thought okay, maybe I need to focus in on my Ph.D. I found my Ph.D. meaningful, so I should just track stuff to do with my Ph.D. via RescueTime. But Eddie kept bunting these discordances.
One thing that’s interesting is one of Eddies leaves wilts, that’s it I can’t reset it. A record of my failures right there among all the green leaves. And I went away to Budapest for a couple of days and came back and Eddie kind of died. So unfortunately this, this is Pip. Pip is still alive. Every few days when I water Pip I reveal to myself how the leaves have turned in the light and this ritual is a routine of reflection for me.
Pip is both ambiguous and imperious in his testimony over my life. I can’t just blindly accept every discoloration as a judgement of what I’ve been doing. I have to ask myself is anything about this significant for me, and when I return to my RescueTime dashboard I have my plants in the back of my mind as this extra level. And I started to notice the different kinds of things that were valuable to me. There were things that I was doing just because I have to, to survive and pay the bills. And there were things that I was doing because they are enriching to me.
And I decided to have a look at all of my activity and to start reclassifying some of it, and according to what I was productive or unproductive, but whether it was helpful for my growth or just for my survival. And I kind of first just did it as a list, going down the list and thinking okay, what about this is significant to me, two separate goals, one for growth, one for survival. Neither one of them is good or bad. I was just interested in kind of learning a bit more on how I spend my time.
All of the technical details are right there, and basically these are two RescueTime subcategories that then some things I feel like I want the plants to say about me and there are other things that remain unsaid, like it seems wrong to stave Pip just because I spent an hour watching American Gods or something.
So all throughout my days I’ve got marker of my activities and the activities are more to do with survival, activities that are more to do with growth and every time I water Eddie I get a bit more information on how that’s working. So now when I return to my data, my RescueTime dashboard it’s not just a barren data dessert. I’ve dug up some of the walls and monuments out of that data that feels significant to me. I feel motivated to reflect because I know the data has something to tell me.
This graph might look quite good to you in terms of productivity, but to me it shows I’m spending too much time just surviving e.g. doing my ethic application. Meanwhile in May, I know not to beat myself up about all of this time spent on online backgammon because maybe it was just what I needed to have this energy for growth.
But I’m still negotiating my relationship with Pip. My system is not fixed or final. What happens is that the distinctions I make draw me into where to search next. Pip has given me oxygen and alleviated some of my alienation of the world as I’ve described. But I don’t expect my grandkids to find Pip, rather I hope whatever of me they do find will through this process be that little bit more authentic.