Staying on Track: Updates to mySelfQuantifier, Timing and Hook

In 2016, I published mySelfQuantifier — a time-tracking system that uses a spreadsheet, Timing app and TextExpander. I included videos about this system in Cognitive Productivity with macOS: 7 Principles for Getting Smarter with Knowledge. Since then, I’ve made some major improvements to it that I’d like to share here.

when you invoke Hook on a Timing project, you have full access to Hook's functions

1. Linking projects across time-tracking and task management apps

I will assume here that you’ve at least skimmed the mySelfQuantifier pages.

A major limitation of time-tracking and task-management software until recently was the separation of projects across apps. You would define projects in one realm — like OmniFocus, ToDoist or Things, and then redefine them in another realm, such as Timing app or TextExpander. This ‘separation of concerns’ is actually beneficial overall. There’s no point in every task-management app trying to implement time-tracking functions, or vice-versa. That would lead to bloated sub-optimal software. It’s better for each app to be focused on its own functionality.

What is needed is the ability to link projects in one’s task management software with projects in one’s time-tracking software.

Well, last week, Timing 2022.2 was released, and it includes automation for copying links to the selected project! Simultaneously, Hook’s software integration was updated to make use of this capability. So, when you invoke Hook on a Timing project, you have full access to Hook’s functions ( Copy Link, Copy Markdown Link, Hook to Copied Link, etc.) ! This means you can now connect projects in Timing to projects in your task management software, using Copy Link on one side and the handy Hook to Copied Link command on the other.

This is discussed in more detail on the Hook productivity blog.

2. New columns for additional links

There’s another URL-friendly change I made to my mySelfQuantifier locally: I added four “link” columns to characterize activity rows. When I complete an activity, I sometimes insert one or more links to resources that I’ve been working on. Thanks to Hook’s Copy Link command (which works in any compatible app), these links need not merely be to web pages. They could be, for example, links to one or more Finder folders, TaskPaper files, emails, PDFs, forum topics, bug entries, or anything else. By including a link, I typically don’t need to describe the activity. The PDF says it all.

Of course, I gather these links using Hook’s universal Copy Link command in the context of Finder, Mail or whatever app manages the resource. One global keyboard shortcut is all that’s needed; but you can also use two: ⌃H to invoke Hook, ⌘C to copy the link. You can think of Hook’s commands as extending the menus of all the apps with which it works.

3. “Moving the needle”, a contribution by David Sparks

In Mac Power Users #637, David Sparks (“MacSparky”) and Stephen Hackett discussed time-tracking. Software-wise they talked about Timing app, Timery and Toggle, while expressing a preference for Timing on the Mac side.

David mentioned that he uses a keyword (or tag) in Timing called “moving the needle”. I have a similar column in my spreadsheet, with a different name. However, I think “moving the needle” is better. Moving the needle is essentially efficient and effective progress towards a significant deliberate goal.

While we’re on the subject, I should mention that David Sparks recently joined the the CogSci Apps board of advisors.

In mySelfQuantifier, I have some also relevant columns that can be used as keywords in Timing:

  • Deep Work
  • Goal
  • Result

I don’t go overboard on filling out cells in my spreadsheet. They mainly serve as reminders. If I’m feeling distractible, I will explicitly record my goal before starting.

4. Project playlists to get in the right mindset

It is mentally demanding to switch between very different projects and activities. In cognitive psychology, a major emphasis is placed on working memory. However, intermediate memory is equally important. (Intermediate memory is a term coined by Merlin Donald in his book, A Mind So Rare). There’s cognitive inertia involved in unloading project information from intermediate memory and loading information about a different project into intermediate memory.

Like others, I have deep work projects and administrative projects.

To help with transition between activities and projects, for many years — even before publishing the mySelfQuantifier system — I have been using Music playlist. That is to say that I have playlists for different projects. For instance, there’s one for my Cognitive Productivity with macOS book, one for Hook projects, and one for admin. These are akin to exercise playlists.

Timing’s visual timeline

Let’s circle back to Timing.app. When it introduced a Timeline feature in about 2016, I switched from my previous app (Tracktime, now defunct) to Timing. Ever since then, Timing has been an essential part of my work.

And this is not merely about knowing where the time goes. In fact, as I argued on the mySelfQuantifier pages, in my case time-tracking is more about controlling how I spend my time in the hear and the now. If I spend 2 minutes reading news on my Mac, that gets recorded. Similarly for Facebook and Twitter. This keeps me on track.

Tracking my time enables me to be very deliberate about which work projects and activities I pursue on a fine-grained basis. It helps me aim for flow and “moving the needle”.

Having said that, it also enables me to deal with myriad technical, work and personal questions that require knowing precisely what I was doing at a given time, sometimes weeks or months later.

Applying mySelfQuantifier

I don’t know of any empirical research that has directly tested the original ideas in mySelfQuantifier. There are however several areas of psychology that are pertinent to mySelfQuantifier. I’ve pointed to several of them in its rationale section. There’s also the rationale section of the Manifesto for Ubiquitous Linking.

I am affiliated with four organizations. Under CogZest, I write my books, blog, and occasionally provide training services. At CogSci Apps I wear multiple hats. At Simon Fraser University, I am an adjunct professor of Cognitive Science and of Education (two separate programmes), specializing mainly in cognitive productivity, sleep onset, insomnolence, and integrative design-oriented psychology (emotion etc). I am co-founder of and advisor to Somnolence+, which provides sleep wellness training services to organizations and individuals.

At this point I can say the mySelfQuantifier seems to help me deal with this diversity of work. However, caveat emptor applies: everyone’s unique; your mileage may vary; the concepts and requirements are more important than the specific software.