Sean Johnson’s “ETT-style” BubbleTimer Web App

BubbleTimer A few months ago Sean Johnson contacted me for permission to create an online version of the Emergent Task Timer (ETT), a form I had designed a few years ago to maintain focus in the face of unscheduled task chaos. Anecdotally I’ve heard that it’s popular with graduate students and people who get pulled into a lot of meetings; a filled-out ETT provides documented proof that there’s just too much crap getting in the way of getting real work done, in a compelling visual manner. While I had created a prototype of an online version of the ETT, I didn’t have the back-end database expertise to create a full-featured web application. Others have asked for permission in the past, and I’ve generally granted it (ideas are free, after all), though few have actually followed through. Geoffrey Grosenbach was the first out of the gate a few years ago with his Online CEO, an implementation of my Concrete Goals Tracker, and now Sean Johnson presents his BubbleTimer application to fill another gap.

About Sean’s BubbleTimer

I checked out the BubbleTimer for a few minutes today, and am generally impressed. Initially I wasn’t sure I’d use something like this myself, suffering a bit from envy at someone actually having made a working version of my own tool, but as I clicked through it I again became excited by the possibilities, particularly with the task sharing feature. And it’s nice to know that the data is saved and backed up on a server somewhere. Pretty cool! And unlike my prototype, Sean’s version has the long-requested task reordering feature. Sweet! What’s missing are some of the future planning features so you can block out how you THINK you’ll use your time (something that didn’t work well on paper, and was not implemented in my prototype). The basic idea is to mark future time as slightly-highlighted ovals, which are malleable right up to the time when the time-counter “fixes” them forever. This allows you to establish the intention to do something at a certain time, mark off meeting times and errands, and so forth, without being committed to them. Consider this a feature request :-)

I’m not involved in Sean’s enterprise, and I have no financial stake or partnership interest, but I think it’s awesome that he’s made something that he really wanted to use himself. I asked him for some background information via email after he told he he’d gotten the application ready for release:

I’ve always had a lot of goals and I’ve been quite frustrated that poor time management was holding me back from achieving many of them. I’ve never been lazy, quite the opposite, I was working long hours, I was using GTD, but I was not really working smart. I just wasn’t spending enough time on the things that I said were truly important to me. My time usage didn’t match my goals and I didn’t even have a good sense where all my time was being spent. I found a great tool in David’s Emergent Task Timer printed worksheets that made a huge difference in my life in just a few weeks time. With emergent task timing I was able to quickly get a sense of where my time was being spent and I was able to start adjusting that to better match my goals. I knew right then that I wanted to take the method online and make it available to everyone. I found David’s prototype flash application and knew that the technique could work as well online as it does on paper. I contacted David and then I went for it. I created BubbleTimer using Ruby on Rails it was a key technology that made it possible. I never could have done this much development in my nights and weekends time without a productive platform like Ruby on Rails. This is my fourth Rails application now, but I come from the Java world, and this application would be twice as big, twice as complicated and would have taken twice as long if it was done in Java. I’m excited about the prospect of BubbleTimer helping people achieve more. I’ve been using it myself for months now and it’s be a great tool for a goal oriented approach to time management. It’s as easy to use as the paper version but without the dead trees. It also has some important improvements in terms of instant feedback on cumulative totals and graphs showing how your time is being spent that can’t be done with only paper. More than anything, I’m excited to get people trying it out and giving me feedback so l can make it even better.

Check it out Sean’s Ruby on Rails implementation of the ETT at I think it’s pretty cool; just don’t blame me for anything and complain directly to Sean by his request ;-) Congrats Sean on launching the app, and THANK YOU!


  1. johan 7 years ago

    Printable CEO series as a series of iPhone apps with integration to iCal … now that wld be a dream application, no?

  2. Sean Johnson 7 years ago

    Thanks for the mention of BubbleTimer David. I’m glad you like it since you are the man who dreamed up the original concept.

    I noted the request for marking tentative future time. I’ll put that one in the hopper.


  3. Mark 7 years ago

    when I read about bubble timer on lifehacker,  my first reaction was: Wow, finally David Seah is starting to see some monetary reward for his knowledge work – this guy has brilliant ideas but is a bit shy on self-marketing (“after all, ideas are free”). Of course, it turned out that the implementation gets the reward, not the idea. It felt sad to see how another idea failed to feed its creator, due to lack of database knowledge, or maybe just the entrepreneurial skills. Lesson for me: ideas are free and do not pay bills. better implement fast or remain poor, or at least an underpaid knowledgeworker-bee.

  4. Dave Seah 7 years ago

    Johan: If I had an iPhone I might agree, but I have no idea what it’s like to have one on me all the time. I think I would just be worried about scratching it :-) Maybe it’s time to buy one for “development purposes”

    Sean: Awesome! Would love to see that.

    Mark: Yah, I see your point there. If it makes you any happier, my self-marketing strategy is very indirect. It surprised me that the form work I did actually struck a chord with an audience, and this emboldened me to post more. By making ideas free, I’m presuming a corollary advantage that I have: ideas are plentiful. What is more difficult to build is reputation, connections, and good will. So while I’m not being compensated monetarily for my ideas, they ARE building the foundation of future career choices that were not visible to me until this moment. I’ve got ideas to burn, I’ve got a powerful analytical mind, and a white-hot empathic core that jumps to the heart of people’s troubles. My long term goal is to figure out how to package this, and then make a living from doing that every day. I hope that is what happens by encouraging more discussion of my work, and by meeting people like Sean who are now visible on my radar: someone who asked permission when he didn’t have to, someone who had the follow-through and technical skill to bring together a team and implement a project from concept to launch, and is now is actually doing it for money. That’s awesome…though in the short term it may look like I’m getting the short end of the stick (and it’s true: implement fast and well beats having an idea every single day), I now actually know someone who I know can do what he says he can. That’s a pretty rare find these days.

    I probably do lack the entrepreneurial skills, at least the motivation. I would rather analyze and ideate than plot the machinery of an enterprise, and if I can make money doing the concept work and travel that would make me happy.

  5. Geoffrey Grosenbach 7 years ago

    Great minds think alike!

    I wrote a personal prototype of your Emergent Task Tracker a few months ago and have been running it on my local machine (Javascript/Rails). It has been a huge motivator to stay on task and has helped me keep track of what I’m working on.

    With your permission, I hope to add it to my existing Online CEO app so others can use it as well. I’ll send you an email about it.

  6. Geoffrey Grosenbach 7 years ago

    Also, someone appears to be looting your blog content, minus links:

  7. Chris Cairns 7 years ago

    I love this tracking tool.  I started a blog several months about how to get more out of life through technology, outsourcing, crowdsourcing, and other lifehacks.  In order to optimize your time-use, the best approach is to baseline how you currently spend your time, obviously.  I thought about creating a template based on the ATUS survey and offering that up as a tracking solution to my readers, but I think I’m going to recommend yours given its user friendliness.

  8. I’m curious about this BubbleTimer so I checked it out and it’s really impressive indeed. You know, I’m really lousy when it comes to time management or time tracking; I’m always doing a lot of things and at the end of the day, I haven’t finished even a single task because I can’t track my time (well, I can track it actually but I think I’m just no good when it comes to tracking). I tried the BubbleTimer and so far so good. I find it very useful for me. With only $20 a year, I think I’m going to use the BubbleTimer from now on. Thank you.

A message from Dave:

I believe we all benefit when we respectfully share our perspectives on common experiences. My house rules are "please be respectful of divergent views" and "enjoy the flow of ideas!"

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