So I’ve been working on a day planner, using Ruby and Sinatra. I like it a lot, and it’s taught me things about my work habits I never knew before.
It works like this.
I have a list I keep, a simple text list on my computer. I make a line for each item, and then, beneath it, use one of three marks to designate my progress: 0 for haven’t started, – for in progress, and 1 for complete.
To view my list, after editing it in a text editor, I view it in my web browser, on a publicly visible page. Somehow that presentation layer – of taking these items I’ve written down, and then adding color and timestamps to it – makes all the difference.
It’s like a signal, from me, to me, saying: this is important – that’s why it’s been highlighted, like this – so pay attention to it, and do it. The extra layer means I listen, and act accordingly.
After I sit down at my desk, I draw up my list. When I start my day, on the web page, everything is in black. When I begin a task and change its status in the text file to – , its color changes to blue.
I also start the clock ticking on it (using redis, though that’s a different story); I have a separate page I can visit that shows me how much time has elapsed since I started the task. When I complete it, I change it’s status to 1, and that programmatically stops the clock. When I reload the page, I can see the task listed now in green, with the time it took to complete printed besides it.
The presence of that one little thing, that amount of time that has passed since starting, and then time to complete, has made all the difference. It’s made what otherwise seems very abstract – the number of seconds that have passed since I started doing this vaguely defined task – into something tangible and real.
Knowing, at a glance, that I’m doing this, and it’s taken this long, has made me much more likely to see each task to completion. I still have to be emotionally invested in the outcome, still have to care enough to make it happen, but getting prodded periodically gets the wheels rolling.
Since you tend to quit at exactly those points when your wheels get stuck in hard to define and conceptualize problems, it’s a hugely useful service. The combination of simplicity, small but significant transformation, and time made visible makes it powerful and effective.