Toggling my life

Ball and chain

When my ex-boss, or ‘project leader’ as he liked to be called, told me I needed to sign up to a time tracking site, I was a bit put out. ‘Standard practice for contractors,’ he told me. ‘Ankle monitor,’ my husband called it. But there it was, like it or not, I was about to be trussed up and tracked.

The site, the boss said, was called Toggl, which immediately set my teeth on edge. How was one meant to say that? Was it pronounced Tochel (Yiddish and rude) or Tog-Ler (Danish and wholesome), or did one just pretend the ‘e’ was there all along? Being over the hill, in tech terms, or even perhaps halfway down the other side of the slope, I thought I’d probably need to watch a video to work out how it all operated. As it turned out, there was no need. You simply entered a task and the timer started. Press stop and the task with its accompanying duration was entered on a list.

There were, however, moral issues to consider. Should you press stop when you went to the loo? What about a cup of coffee? Surely an office pee was a reasonable thing an employer could be expected to pay for? I mulled over this while doing my work eventually opting for the guiltless pee. I stopped the clock and spent a fair amount of time dawdling to the bathroom and back. I felt self-righteous and virtuous – feelings worth any price.

By the end of the morning I had a sizeable list of impressive-looking tasks:

  • Blog article: Automation 0:18:34
  • Sync weekly meeting 0:45:55
  • Questions for upcoming blogs to interviewees 0:15:04
  • Team sync notes 0:01:36
  • Infographic: CS vs Bootcamps, updates 0:19:00
  • Annual tech study 0:18:04
  • Blog article: StackOverflow 2019 0:26:54

Looking over this, I realised I’d done a complete full circle: I loved Toggl. How could I have doubted it? Look at what I’d accomplished, so neat and square and black and white. How could I have worried about that missing ‘e’? My day looked sharp and in focus. I even considered whether I should have added ‘Trip to bathroom’ and ‘Making Coffee’ to the list and Toggl(ed) them. Could I cut down on their duration next time? Could I discover trends – toilet visits on Wednesday taking, on average, longer than Monday? And what would it all mean?

Because the big issue about life is, of course, Time. What to do with it? How best to use it up? It’s said that time is the great leveler, but that’s not entirely true, is it? Sure it’s the big leveler between the rich and the poor – it doesn’t matter how many millions you’ve squirreled away, you’ve still only got a set amount of time. But Time certainly differentiates between the ‘healthy’ and the ‘ill’, and the ‘young’ and the ‘old’ – it’s what makes these groups largely invisible to each other, their different relationship to Time: the sharply dwindling supply in the case of the ill and the old. Time, perhaps more than anything else in life – even things like what work you should do or whom you should hang out with – is the problem that needs to be solved.

Here’s my advice: solve it with a time tracking app. I’m kidding of course – there’s no solution to the Time Problem, but even if the thought of how much you have left is the fundamental existential question that traditionally causes terror and dread, there is at least something rather satisfying about recording everything you’ve done with it so far.