Years ago I had this idea for an ultimate art project. It would involve me documenting all aspects of my life. We’ve seen people do this with cameras, of course – it’s become a cliche, even – but that’s only a start.
A really effective version of this project would involve documentation of a person’s inner states, too. It would have to include a kind of radical honesty, where all of one’s thoughts, were written down and revealed.
The idea behind this is to expose all of a person’s activities, the visible outer ones and the inner ones, too. Seeing the complete range of a person’s experiences, what they do, what happens to them, physically, spiritually, emotionally, in real-time, would be fascinating.
People are always showing you about half of what’s going on. The intent would be to reveal the other half, the hidden half, to lay all the cards on the table.
That, it turns out, is the part that’s most rewarding to work with, but it’s hard to access.
This has been on my mind because I’m seeing this issue come up in my Sinatra time management app.
I’m recording most of my work now, as it happens. Still, because of the list structure, some little pieces fall between the cracks. Finding a way to ‘branch off’ the main path and record those, too, is one challenge. Until that happens, the picture of my day that the tracker records will always be a little distorted.
My goal now is to create a comprehensive time tracker. More than that, it’s really about finding a way to interact with this information that will increase my engagement with it, and push farther down into orientation and motivation.
It turns out that, as shown by books like Edward Tufte’s Visual Information, the way the information is displayed has a significant effect on its impact on you.
Too much, and it’s overwhelming; worse, it may actually be counterproductive. In that the purpose of a productivity app is basically to increase it, but saturated displays of your work so far tend to give this sense that you’ve ‘filled the day’ already.
Too little, and they don’t do much in the way of motivation; too little information also makes it hard to see clearly, to learn lessons from what you’ve already done and improve on it.
My task is to find that balance, and make it work.
There’s a kind of virtuous feedback loop when all is working well. You become more aware of your goals for the day, and how you’re progressing on them. That makes you more diligent about working ‘with’ the app, and trying to build that emotional sense that you’re being productive, which its design supports. So you fill it out more, direct more attention to it, and the increasingly complete and rounded sense of the app instills the feeling you that you’re being more productive, which your work then increases.
It’s a little like being caught in a net, and being pulled up. The app does some of the work, but in the end, of course, it’s really up to you.
In the end, I want this app to bring out parts of yourself and your work habits you didn’t know where there. The displays, the graphs, the images you can click to mark your progress so far, should all work towards this concerted goal – fleshing out the parts of your work day and your habits that aren’t productive, and steering you towards ones that are.
Figuring out how to do this is my next task, and while difficult, it does inspire me. After all, ‘jumping higher’ at work, and at life, is the most I can really ask from any planner that I use.