8,000 Screen Hours
For the last six years Robby Macdonnell has been tracking his productivity and how he spends his time on his various computers (home and work) and even how he uses phone. Over those years he’s amassed 8,300 hours of screen time. Watch his great talk to hear what’s he learned about his work habits, productivity and how he’s come to think about time.
Fitbit | phone | RescueTime
For about the past six years I’ve been tracking the applications that I’ve been using on my computer and the websites I’ve been visiting. I’ve done this on computers at home, computers at work, and I’ve even been tracking my time on my phone so I can get a clear a picture as possible in how I’m spending my time.
This is pretty interesting for me to track, because there are a lot of days where the time I spend on the computer outweighs pretty much everything else that I do and that kind of freaks me out. Because when I go back and try to recount how I spent that time I’m terrible at it.
I used to have to do these daily status reports at work, and when I would try to remember how I spent my day I would always come up a couple of hours short because it was like my time was falling into a black hole. And I got really frustrated about it, so I started to quantify that time using RescueTime, which is an application. That runs in the background of my computer and it keeps track of the time I spend in different applications and websites. And that time gets rolled up and I can see a category of how I’m spending my time, and I also get each application a productivity rank, which is a subjective score of whether or not I think it’s a productive or distracting use of my time.
And I’ve built up a pretty big data set that I can now actually see a pretty good clear breakdown of how my days are going. And it turns our yeah, I do spend a lot of time on a computer each day.
Some weeks I will spend between 60 and 70 hours looking at the computer and that’s a kind of gross feeling, but there’s also numbers that have built up that are pretty great like I spend over 560 hours a year coding which is what I would like to be doing a lot of the time, so that’s a great number to have. I also figured out where those couple of missing hours from my day were going, and it was all small activities that just happened over and over and over again, and I was really bad at estimating how all that time added up.
The biggest one of these was email. I had no idea of how much time that took out of my day. I would get the little pop-ups down in the corner of my screen and I would stop what I was doing. I would deal with emails as fast as I could and then I would get back to what I was doing, and I just think it shouldn’t take that much time. But I was totally wrong. It took a lot of time. Infact some days it would end up being the biggest thing that I did which was a great thing for me to realize because I’m a workaholic. And a lot of time it’s not the, I’m really excited about what I’m working on, so I’m going to pull a bunch of all nighters kind of workaholic. It’s the I feel really bad because I don’t feel I’ve done enough work, so I’m going to guilt myself into working on nights and weekends. That type of workaholic and email it turns out had a lot to do with that.
This is what some of my days would look like. And this was actually when I was working in a company that really prided itself on being lead and efficient and really streamlined. And being able to look at this data for myself I think kind of made me question that. I think really, are we that efficient?
So having this data instantly made me feel a lot less crazy about how scattered my days were, and it also gave me some numbers that I could start tweaking to see how I was spending my time.
So I started trying a few things and a couple of things that worked really well were turning off all those notifications on my phone and on my computer and letting me know when new emails came in. and then I started to trying to cultivate a habit of dealing with emails once a day, usually around 10A.M. in a solid block. And the results that after a couple of weeks I found I was spending 6 hours less a week in email, which is pretty great which is almost a full day that I get to work on other things besides just back and forth communication.
So now it’s settled into a nice pattern. It’s about 15% of my time I usually check email once a day. I get out of the office, I get to a coffee shop and it feels a whole lot nicer than I did before.
I also started tracking time on my phone and I spend about just shy of three hours a day. This is also something that happens in really small chunks and it just builds up, and it’s usually less than a minute at a time. And I don’t really have a judgment in whether that’s good or bad, but it’s more time than I thought it would be. And it definitely makes me think about what that time might be intruding on. So for instance I will think twice about checking Twitter during dinner and that can probably wait until later.
My physical activity turns out actually impacts my time on the computer. I mashed up some of my data from Fitbit, with my data from RescueTime and I found that on days where I would get more steps, I will spend a greater percentage of my time on software development, which I don’t really know why but it’s great because those are two things I like to do and it’s great to see that they’re not at odds with each other. I do notice that after about 12,000 steps things start to fall off, so I guess moderation.
Sleep is the same way. When I get less sleep I’m really distracted, it’s hard for me to focus. As I get more sleep it’s easier for me to focus on the types of things that I want to actually be spending time on.
So I guess I’ve been logging for years, and one of the great things is that you can go back and look at events that happened in your life and understand them in a way that maybe you couldn’t of in the moment.
So this spike of time that I logged is very distracting was when my cat had this out of the blue health crisis, and for a couple of days was in the hospital. We had to run a bunch of tests, and it was really stressful and I didn’t know how it was going to turn out. And I got really overwhelmed, and just completely shut down and dealt with it, by playing Candy Jewels on my phone for about 25 hours over a four day period. Which is ridiculous, but it’s also weird because I don’t really ever play games on my phone, it’s just not something I do. But I was actually able to go back in my data and look at other times of my life when I was really stressed out and noticed that I would play a lot of games on my phone at those times to. So this was a really interesting thing that I just learned about myself and I have a tell for hen I’m overwhelmed and burned out. So I can use this and the data and when I see the numbers tart to creep up, then maybe it’s time for me to take a step back and you know, do something nice for myself.
Also my cat’s fine. He made it through that ordeal and he’s great.
So I guess the big thing that I learned through all this is from all this quantitative analysis is it’s more of a qualitative thing. It got me to think differently about how I’m spending my time. And it got me to ask some questions like what does it actually mean to waste time, and what is meaningful work. And how I feel about things like Twitter or Reddit versus something like email which takes up way more of my time and it’s not even a guilty pleasure; I just don’t really enjoy doing it.
So I guess I have an understanding of my time that I didn’t have before. I used to just let my days you know that I was on the computer all day and its just thing sort of thing that happened and now I’m just a whole lot more thoughtful about it and it feels way nicer.