Liveblogging The Productivity Doldrums Part V: Graphing the Data

Liveblogging The Productivity Doldrums Part V: Graphing the Data

SUMMARY: Last week’s journaling of my day culminates in a color-coded graph that might help me see certain patterns in my day which either contribute to productivity or sap it away.

where we last left off…

Friday started with another late morning. I made it out to Starbucks past noon, after spending the late morning looking up random things on the Internet. I was able to spend a couple hours working on my website design. The typical design startup jitters presented themselves: first, I started in Photoshop but switched out into Illustrator because I realized my design head was dealing with an information hierarchy based on text, not images. Photoshop’s text handling, while much improved over the years, still is not as fast or convenient as Illustrator. If it was a VERY text-heavy design, I would probably have gone one step further to InDesign. I should see if there is a color picker plug-in that addresses that issue. I said hi briefly to a few people I knew.

At 4:15PM I packed up and headed to the movie theater to meet up with my friends to see District 9, the new sci-fi movie produced by Peter Jackson’s company. It was a fairly long movie, clocking in at about 2 hours, so it was around 7PM by the time I got home. I spend the rest of the evening chilling out, accomplishing nothing in particular except watching a lot of TV and a few animations. I felt bad about this. There was no creative juice in my head at all. Perhaps the movie had put me into a reflective mood. I also got a few packages in the mail, which was nice.

The rest of the weekend was unproductive, filled with thunderstorms and a couple of social gatherings. Interestingly, I found that the acute awareness of how I had fallen behind from my idealized production schedule, which at the time didn’t even seem that idealized, merely led to a feeling of greater and greater unease as the week progressed. Even activities that were planned weeks in advance, which I was looking forward to, were drained of joy.

finding the patterns

For those of you who have put up with the tedious details of my life last week, here’s the payoff: a grid of tasks that shows what I did. The idea behind all that liveblogging was to gather enough task data with context so I could make some more informed guesses about my productivity.

My So-Called Life The tasks break down as follows:

  • orange/yellow are creative tasks, or tasks that support creative work.
  • blue indicates a shift in location.
  • light blue are management-type tasks.
  • pink are social interactions/meetings.
  • green indicate naps.
  • pink stripes indicate wasted time.
  • gray indicates chores/maintenance
  • purple indicates winding down

Anywhere if you see vertical stripes running through anything, that means the task was not planned. Additionally, blog posts are marked with a combination of yellow and orange, because they’re indirectly productive.

So what do I see?

  • Originally, I was thinking I wasn’t being that productive every day, but if I include blog posts then about half my day is spent being creative on Monday and Tuesday. Wednesday is a wash because I stayed up too late on Tuesday.
  • Location changes (blue) are almost always followed by wasted time.
  • There is a lot of wasted time after maintenance tasks and social time.
  • There is quite a bit of unplanned productivity. Only a few creative blocks happened on purpose, and even then it was usually later than I had expected.
  • It looks like I can muster between 1 and 3 creative tasks a day, spread between 3 and 5 individual sessions. Two tasks look about average. Three tasks tend to wipe me out.
  • Social time is disruptive. It is almost always followed by a productivity crash as I surf the net.
  • While naps are important for resetting my brain, there’s a certain amount of waste associated with the post-nap restart.
  • Going to sleep late tends to destroy productivity for the following day.
  • Rarely do creative tasks follow each other. It seems that I seek a change of location before I start on the next task.
  • A lot of the naps occur if I am working at the computer for more than two hours soon after eating.

Not shown is the feeling that I had on Thursday and Friday that I was falling very much behind. This is manifested on Friday evening as a huge block of listlessness.

This week I’ll take my time reporting to the Emergent Task Timer and modify it to indicate the type of task somehow. I also feel the need to radically simplify by reducing the number of social interaction blocks and location changes.

what am I missing?

I’m perhaps too close to my day to really see what’s going on, so let me know of your grand schemes, theories, or relatable experiences. I logged a lot of the context behind these tasks in the Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday blog entries, which may be helpful in seeing the larger patterns.

It’s lunchtime now, and I’m getting sleepy AND hungry. I better get up and go for a walk.


  1. GreggT 15 years ago

    Hey David,

    Looking at your graphic, you might find Klok an interesting tool for tracking and evaluating your time.

    – Gregg

  2. Lynn O'Connor 15 years ago

    I just commented to this, on yesterday’s entry. This is awesome. I’m reading and re-reading these posts, and as I learn by imitation, that’s what I’m doing. Please continue to pass on this level of detail, with all the graphics. The more detailed instructions I get, the better. What has been bothering me is suddenly getting to be fun.

  3. katrina 15 years ago

    Hey!  Sorry for being MIA. Although I’ve been keeping up with your blog, I have been somewhat sidelined with medical issues.

    So…. I see a few things. 

    First, your stated intention way back when to be more socially orientated is a success.  ;-)

    And the second thing I see is that although your creative portion of your week was mostly earlier and the social was mostly later—overall they seemed to balance each other across the week.  So maybe it is not as bad as you imagine.  Just a thought …

    Thirdly, your late nights seems to wreaks havoc with your plans, no matter how much you rationalize them as productive.  And how it was not just a late night on Tuesday, it was actually a really long day!  Afterwards, your brain clocks out earlier and earlier each day as the week progresses. 

    Also notice how your napping all occurred early in the week and how that long day had two naps!

    You and I also share the issue of how the only plans that are inviolate are those that involve other people. 

    And what I found the most odd is how your planning does not seem to energize you for creative work.  I am going to watch that in my case.  I always assumed that planning helped me get my juices rolling … hmmm.

    Glad to be back


  4. Regan 15 years ago

    I’ve been following this closely, since as I said last week, I’m going through some of the same process right now.

    First, I’d encourage you to look at things from the positive angle, not the negative. Instead of thinking about the time wasted and the production unachieved, focus on the things you *did* accomplish and think “Good! More of that.”

    Not because I think you should turn into Pollyanna, but because I think its better to have the things we want to emulate on replay in our heads instead of the looping “Not that. Not that.” Subliminal messaging maybe. Or keeping the good moves handy for when your brain says “Now what?” Focus on the goal.

    Second, all the “wasted” time happens after some other type of activity—not first thing in the day for example. So, it might be that you have trouble shifting gears. I’m trying to find solutions for this myself.

    Alternatively (or perhaps *also*), you’re “wasting” time because your brain is worn out from the activity you just did: Lots of detail, lots of people, lots of places. However, rather than needing to *rest* your brain, you need to *recharge* it. Try doing something physical – go to the gym, vacuum the living room.

    Your week could easily be my week in a lot of ways. Thanks for doing all this! It’s made me think of some shifts I might make to be more productive.

  5. Lynn O'Connor 15 years ago

    Imitation is working! And finally hearing (really hearing) about using the 15 minute timer, and the ETT was a wonder today. I found out that on a day I do not “write’ formally (on an article etc), I wrote about 4 hours, a two hour session in the afternoon, and the rest in smaller time chunks.

    My writing goes out to a large listserv (about 400 people, my own “student,” post-doc, long ago student, colleague etc, listserv), its not private by any means, though not as large as your audience, very much smaller than that. I cover things that appear in the scientific press related to my interests, sending things on to my students and colleagues, and often writing extensive commentaries. I did not realize until today, how many hours I write in a vaguely focused, non-writing day, and I suspect this is typical. I will continue ETT-ing with the 15 minute timer. Please keep us up on your progress/process.