I began with a simple spreadsheet, tracking Pomodoros using my phone timer. However, it immediately became irritating to switch around from whatever I was working on, into my spreadsheet app, and then to fill in the data. Even though it was just three columns (date/time, #, note) I had a sense of disorganization already that I can little afford, given the distraction that already bothers me as I try to focus.
–- Gary Isaac Wolf
I’ve encountered this problem as well. It’s far too much friction to endure atop one’s real work.
My solution was to make the logging part of the work, rather than an interruption to it. The GTD “capture” principle gets things out of one’s head. By recording stray thoughts, one’s mind is enabled to move forward and focus productively.
There’s another element of friction besides the logging interruption: temporal subdivision and categorization. Since consciousness is continuous, the boundaries of one’s time blocks are always arbitrary and false. Categorizing and summarizing them over a lifetime compounds this problem with further falsehoods. Multiple thoughts and activities overlap and enwrap each other, fading in and out of the day’s dance. Worse, they transform over time.
The truest temporal division in the day’s record is therefore the timestamp immediately after one has dumped one’s thoughts to the log, updating it from the last timestamp. It distinguishes present thoughts from prior.
The duration between two updates may defy categorization, but a narrative can be constructed from a series of such updates over a day. The lack of any formal encumbrances such as spreadsheet cells and category tags permits each update to be as complex as the corresponding reality requires. Updates may be intra-minute minutiae or inter-day retrospectives, with no harm to any automated processing system such as the formulas typically embedded in a time-tracking spreadsheet.
This method maximizes the ease of updating and the expressiveness of each update, while leaving each update accessible and legible in a text file, rather than a squinty spreadsheet cell. The result is low-friction work.
Due to the fact that the day’s transformations can’t be predicted, the daily log is append-only. This preserves the integrity of the log against unanticipated need.