An Integrated Approach to Productivity


Recently, I read this article on how someone tracked everything in one text file and got away with it. I am indeed envious of such an integrated solution but unfortunately I'm already devoted to several different apps.

I decided to write this post to share my methodology to tracking, since this has been an integral part of my productivity for some time now. But I would definitely not recommend my current solution to anyone, rather I would recommend a similar system with everything integrated.

As of now, I use a small notepad to jot down my daily schedule. The daily schedule is planned using things I do everyday and things from my to-do lists. I store all such information in a plethora of different apps (Android), listed below.

  1. Habits - for my day streaks such as exercise or language.
  2. TickTick - for my todo list such as buying something.
  3. aTimeLogger - for tracking time spent on various activities.
  4. Screen Time - for tracking my app usage.
  5. Google Fit - for tracking my steps, weight, etc.
  6. Keep notes - for lists such as books to read or project ideas.
  7. Water Drink Reminder - for reminding me to drink water.

Issue 1: should the integration be digital or analog?

Sometimes I wonder whether a non-technical approach might be better to avoid distractions. If you use your mobile for entertainment, it is probably not a good idea to compartmentalize, by not cramming productivity in it as well.

A huge advantage of a digital system is backup and portability. But how do you not get distracted while gaining the benefits that technology provides? Ultimately I feel, I will probably not use the "benefits" of technology, rather just keep them for amusement.

For example, I have been using a time tracker for almost seven months, but I have rarely gained any insight from the aggregate data. As for backing up, I feel that even if the data is lost I wouldn't be much affected. As for portability, a small notepad that I can carry in my bag or my hand will be more than enough.

Verdict - the integrated system will be analog.

Issue 2: what level of granularity is required?

Do I need so much time tracking data? If not, a huge burden would be lifted off of me. It might seem useful at times, but the reward-to-effort ratio is low. A few statistics appear to be enough for most purposes. Tracking ALL your time seems unnecessary baggage.

As far as health tracker or app usage is concerned, those things will keep on running in the background automatically and wouldn't be considered a part of my process. For example if I exceed the amount of time spent on YouTube, the app will block it. Therefore, it is not a part of my methodology. It is important to offload anything that can be done by a computer, to a computer.

Verdict - I believe a to-do list, scheduler and day streaks to be sufficient.

Issue 3: how is the scheduling done?

The scheduling will be of two views - daily and monthly. This is what I have felt, through experience to be the most important views. The daily schedule, as mentioned at the beginning, will take ideas from streaks and to-do lists. The monthly schedule will also contribute to the daily schedule, for example if exams are coming up on the monthly, we'll add more study sessions to the daily.

Issue 4: what things to track in your day streaks?

Day streaks are a difficult thing to track, since it is very easy to start tracking the wrong thing and realize it months later. There are also other sources of tracking - for example, GitHub shows an overview of commits you have done over the year and Duolingo shows the streaks itself. Ideally it is better to track more number of things even if there are false positives and slowly weed out the unnecessary.

For example, it helps to track Duolingo outside the app since I often swipe away the notifications that I get and later forget about it. But on the other hand I used to track my GitHub streaks but that later came to be a measure closely linked with how much project work I did (which in itself had streaks) so I decided to remove GitHub tracking.

An important part of such systems is to not get overwhelmed by the amount of data points, by using only those that provide value over the long term.

Shifting to such a system might take some getting used to, but it certainly seems like a step in the right direction. The true pitfalls will only appear after using it for an extended period of time.