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Grovember - Part 1

21 Nov 2013

It’s that time of the year again. The month where men around the world cease their shaving of moustaches to raise awareness for prostate cancer. Unfortunately for me, I’m genetically handicapped in the field of facial hair growth. So this month I decided to instead grow something else… myself.

Yes, everyone grows (or should) all year round – physically, spiritually, mentally, whatever else floats their boat-ly. What I wanted to do differently this month was better understand if and how I actually grew. To do so I needed to document everything I did. At the same time that’d finally give me a proper answer to a question I’ve been asked a lot lately: “If you’re averaging only two hours of class a day while studying abroad, what do you do with all your time?”

What I Think I Do

Despite having practically no class, somehow time just flies by. I still find it hard to believe my exchange is already past the halfway point!

I won’t deny that there is a lot of partying when abroad. Mythbusters no longer needs to do an episode on that. Last I counted, the longest streak I had was 8 days. But events only consume nights, not days… usually. So when the sun is out, what am I doing?

I have a list of goals to work towards and I’d like to think that’s where all my time’s invested. Without getting into details, my goals can be encompassed by the following groups:

Primary goals

  • Exercise
  • French
  • Travel
  • Code

Secondary goals

  • Cook
  • Dance
  • Write

In reality there are without a doubt hours, if not days, of Facebook and Youtube in the equation as well. I wasn’t sure how much exactly though, hence why I wanted records.

The Scientific Method

To gain a greater understanding of my growth, I created a short list of questions to answer once I acquired stats:

  • What percentage of time is spent on each goal? What percent is wasted? What percent is spent partying?
  • How did wasted time change over time?

As an engineer and a lazy person, I wanted to get metrics with as little work as possible. This meant I needed to poll my life in an unobtrusive way and the results had to be something I could feed into a database to easily analyze.

My daily workflow already included Google Calendar and Ohlife so I tried to take advantage of those. Every morning I scheduled out my day on Calendar as a guideline. Then before bed I translated that into a machine-parseable list of events to include in my Ohlife.

For each item I gave it a category, an estimate for length of time it took, and – just for kicks – who I was with. Aside from the goals, other categories I added were “no goal”, “classes”, “socializing”, “reading”, and “planning”.

To get even more info, I installed some apps that passively studied me and didn’t require any effort on my part, like Timing and Sleep Cycle. No work is the best amount of work.

After establishing these methodologies I came up with some other questions:

  • Does my sleep affect how much time I waste? What factors affect my sleep?
  • How much time do I spend with people? What factors affect my sociability?
  • If I plan ahead for what to do in a day, do I get more done?
  • If I plan ahead with more items than I know I’ll have time for, what impact does that have?
  • How accurate is my perception of time spent on tasks?

For now that’s all I’ve got based on the data I’m collecting. Grovember - Part 2 will come at the end of the month, wherein I do the actual analysis and provide pretty graphs. If there are any other questions you’d be interested in hearing the answers to, feel free to tweet at me or contact me through any other form of social media.

The Nitty Gritty

For people that are extra bored or interested in this stuff, this last section is for you. I’ll go into a bit more detail about how I categorized things.

The tasks that matched goals are self-explanatory. The only vague one from those is traveling. Whenever I’m in a foreign place, even if I’m just aimlessly wandering it’s “traveling”, since I’m still absorbing the culture when I do that. If I’m actually working towards a goal while traveling, I labeled it as that goal. Clubbing I considered as “socializing”. There’s nothing particularly cultural about it; it’s the same music no matter where in the world you are.

Browsing the internet, errands, and chores I counted as “no goal”. Classes and time spent studying for them went into “classes”. French class was an exception - I stuck that in “french”.

Since every item was given only one label, I chose the one that seemed the most fitting. Cooking with friends is both socializing and cooking, but I’d be doing it primarily to socialize.

If I sporadically messaged people while browsing the internet, I just considered it all “no goal”. But if I allocated a solid block of time focusing my attention on talking to one person, I counted it as “socializing”.

My system for cataloging who I was with is quite flawed. Anyone I interacted with during an event I included in the name list for the event, even if I wasn’t with them the whole time. I’d be open to suggestions if people have a better approach that doesn’t complicate it too much.


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