After last month’s disappointing attempt to apply self-help literature I have decided to take a different approach to autoethnography than simply reading self-help books and trying to follow the advice. This change in direction is inspired by two very different interpretations of time. First up is Laura Vanderkam’s Off the Clock. Laura advocates tracking time-use as the first stage in time management and provides spreadsheets on her website to download to facilitate tracking time. Second is the critical designer Ted Hunt’s collaboration with philosophers at King’s College London on senseoftime.com to explore how we value and occupy time. Senseoftime challenges us to rethink the design of technologies that record and represent time. I particularly like the idea of colour time. This is not a new idea; in the 1970s the German designer Tian Harlan proposed the Chromachran to tell the time using colour. These anti-stress watches can now be purchased for a few hundred pounds at vintage watch sellers. My approach to colour time is to use colour to track my own time.
So with Laura Vanderkam’s worksheets and a total of 11 different highlighter pens I’ve been tracking my time for a month. The worksheet is divided into half hour time slots, and I classify each half hour according to my main activity. I could be more accurate and go down to ¼ hour but I find 30 minutes is enough detail. There are two design flaws with this approach. First the worksheet is very small and does not have the time on the right hand side so I make mistakes towards the end of the week (I have now rectified this with my own worksheet). Second the colour differential between different highlighter pens is not always easy to detect (so taking this forward I am thinking about switching to Sharpies…)
I have 11 main activities: sleep; travel (mechanical excludes walking which is exercise); self-care (personal hygiene, treatments such as manicure, hairdressers and massage and meditation); food (preparation and eating); work; housework (non-food); shopping (going out, online is doing nothing); exercise (walking, swimming and yoga); craft (sewing and crochet); socialising (including volunteering) and doing nothing (lying in bed, watching TV, listening to music, reading for pleasure, browsing internet for non-work stuff and staring into space).
So far the last four weeks look like this:
And the overall summary of the four weeks is:
I would like to point out that the small amount of time spent doing housework is facilitated by my 19-year old daughter!
Self-discovery or discipline?
I have two observations. First while this exercise might start as an exemplar of Foucault’s Technology of the Self as I am learning about my temporal regimes, it quickly becomes a technology of discipline. Over the four weeks I have started to do stuff to fit in with the worksheet. I spent more hours in week 4 doing work, craft and also sleeping (I was more tired as a result) compared to week 1. I started week 1 recovering from a virus so the hours spent doing nothing were partly recuperation (and health issues will always disrupt time). But as I became more aware about how I used my time, I started to make deliberate choice to influence the colour distribution. So as I carry on tracking time, maybe I will become more ‘productive’ – at both work and craft (as long as there are no external, disruptive episodes).
The second observation is, as time use researchers have shown, there is inertia in my weekly rhythms. This is particularly for activities that I spend most time doing (large numerical observations vary less than small ones). Socialising is the most volatile activity, partly as this depends on other people. But work and sleep do not vary that much.
Tracking time is not just a strategy for self-discovery, it becomes in itself a way of organising time. Daily activities constitute and are constituents of time and the temporal rhythms of everyday life are habitually intransigent.