Time tracker one week on, new features

March 29, 2013, [MD]

Last week I wrote about how I began resurrecting a three-year old time tracker project with R graphs. I then added a timeline, and began thinking about other kinds of data that I could track.

It's now been almost two weeks since I began playing with this script, and the first thing I can say is, I'm using it. Both because the graphs generated are compelling, and because I've been able to add some useful functionality, it's become a part of my workflow, and I've been quite rigorous about logging my time, without ever feeling that it was intrusive or annoying.

Automatically log on computer sleep or wakeup

One key feature I added, was the ability to detect when my computer goes to sleep (by closing the lid) and when it wakes up, using Sleepwatcher. It ends the current activity on sleep, and automatically begins "surfing" when it wakes up - I have to tell it if I am doing something more productive, but that little popup saying "surfing" also reminds me of that. And being able to quickly close the lid when my wife says dinner is ready, without worrying about the time tracker running, and some category getting an extra bunch of hours added on it, is also a relief.<!-- more --> (I also changed the format of the data files to nice time codes, like this:

2013-03-29 09:05:35 -0400,PhD offline
2013-03-29 09:42:35 -0400,surfing
2013-03-29 09:46:14 -0400,PhD offline

This makes it easier to manually edit (something I've almost never needed).

Automatically turn off the Internet, based on activity

To provide more focus, I've also added a feature which turns off the Internet if an activity containing the word offline is entered (for example PhD offline). I just use ipfw for that,

def internet(status) # true = on, false = off
  if status # enable
    `ipfw -q flush`
    `ipfw add deny all from any to any`

Of course, it would be easy for me to override this manually, but unlike apps like Freedom, it doesn't aim to block me from the Internet for a certain period of time, but only for however long I'm using the offline activity. I can switch back to surfing at any time, but I have to do so consciously, rather than mindlessly Alt+Tabbing to a browser and pulling up Reddit whenever my brain encounters something difficult.

Auto-completing activity chooser

I found that I often had to peek at the keyboard shortcut list before switching to an activity, and sometimes needed activities that were not on the list, so I added a command on Ctrl+Alt+Cmd+Enter, which pulls up a text-entry box that autocompletes on all previously entered activities. I was curious whether I would end up preferring this, or the direct keyboard shortcuts. After a few days, I'm using both - I remember a few keyboard shortcuts very well, like 9 for surfing, 6 for hacking, 7 for tasks, and 0 for rest (although I usually just close the laptop), whereas for specific projects, it's quicker to pull up the window, hit the first few buttons, like la, *laurie *pops up, and I hit enter to select it.

Adding week view and traffic light

I've added a cumulative view over the last 7 days, and also a rudimentary "traffic light" (thanks to StackOverflow): green if I spend more than 4 hours per day on my PhD, yellow if more than 2 hours, and red if less than 2 hours. Looking at the graph below (click on it to expand), you can see that I have not been spending enough time on my PhD lately, and hopefully this "nudge" will help me improve on that!


The popup view is already getting very overcrowded, so if I want to do any further analyses (which I surely do), I will have to start writing up a knitr report, to be viewed in a browser. (My friend Bodong suggested a Shiny app, which I might also look into). I think I will need to begin storing the data in a sqlite database, instead of in flat textfiles, to enable easier integration with other data sources, both automatic ones (Chrome history, Fitocracy API, PDFs read), and self-logged variables. I also need to think about how much processing I want to keep in Ruby, and how much to do in R.

I've got two 10-hour bus trips coming up next week, on the way to and fromthe Coursera conference, so maybe I'll get some more work done it then. In the meantime, I'm going to focus on my PhD, and try to turn those traffic lights green!

Stian Håklev March 29, 2013 Toronto, Canada
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