Everything that I did yesterday

May 7, 2020

I’ve been obsessed with the concepts of procrastination and optimization since, well, the conception of this blog. I grapple with the universal struggle of looking for ways to improve productivity and efficiency almost everyday, and it usually results in a lot of self-loathing when I find myself aimlessly queuing for games that I know I won’t win or watching worthless content on YouTube.

I’m also a very forgetful person.

I can’t tell you how often I’ll be sitting at my desk, doing some homework or something, when I look at the time, squint my eyes, and think to myself:

Wait, what did I just do for the last four hours?

So, in an effort to both track what I do in a day as well as find areas of improvement, I decided that I would just write down everything that I did for a day on a Notepad application. To keep myself honest, I used a screen recording software to track everything that I was doing on my computer, and used my phone camera to record everything that I was doing in real life.

Here’s what I ended up with:

9:16 – 9:28 Woke up and showered

9:28 – 9:49 Breakfast

9:49 – 9:57 Bathroom, flossed, brushed my teeth

9:57 – 11:08 AP Calculus practice

11:08 – 11:13 Got distracted and starting watching Youtube

11:13 – 11:21 Browsed the AP checklist and demo site

11:21 – 11:34 More AP Calculus practice

11:34 – 12:33 Took a break by watching YouTube and doing push-ups

12:33 – 12:58 Finished history homework

12:58 – 1:37 Finished math homework

1:37 – 2:00 Lunch

2:00 – 2:11 Bathroom, flossed, brushed my teeth

2:11 – 2:31 Did more push-ups and curls

2:31 – 2:53 Helped marinate meat, refilled water bottle

2:53 – 3:04 Finished reading The Things They Carried

3:04 – 4:06 Watched YouTube

4:06 – 4:42 Finished biology homework

4:42 – 4:53 Painstakingly submitting assignments to Canvas

4:53 – 5:08 Did some English homework

5:08 – 5:35 Went outside and shot around (basketball)

5:35 – 5:54 Ate an apple while watching Youtube

5:54 – 7:58 Did more English homework but got distracted by texts

7:58 – 8:15 Watched Youtube

8:15 – 8:51 Dinner

8:51 – 9:26 Basketball and push-ups

9:26 – 9:30 Bathroom, refilled my water bottle

9:30 – 10:20 Watched Family Guy

10:20 – 10:45 Push-ups and curls

10:45 – 11:10 Showered, flossed, brushed my teeth, dried my hair

11:20 Got into bed

Here are a few things that I noticed:

1. Publicity and accountability is motivating

Two days ago, I made a promise to myself that regardless of what would happen on May 6, I’d write a post on it the following day.

So yesterday, I was obviously not about to just absent-mindedly go about my day doing whatever I felt like doing, because I don’t want people to think that I’m lazy. No, there would be structure. There would be realistic goals made ahead of time. I would be proactive and work with urgency.

Consequently, the results are a bit skewed and don’t represent what a normal day would look like for me. But because I’m self-reporting, I don’t see a way to solve this problem; even if I consciously tell myself to act normally, my ego still wouldn’t want people to see my vulnerabilities, so I’d always be performing at a level higher than my usual standards.

I’m not claiming that you have to pressure yourself to write a blog post chronicling your day in order to achieve the same results—there are many other ways to hold yourself accountable for your day: you can set expectations with a friend ahead of time or jot down when your breaks went on longer than you planned, for example.

I’m sure there are plenty other, more creative ways of doing so, but the overall point remains: it’s a lot harder to enforce self-discipline when you’re left to your own devices, but when you make commitments to others, or to your past or future selves, it can get you going.

2. Structure is important

This one is probably less of a surprise, but setting expectations and making a rough outline of what should be done and how long those things should take helps a lot in navigating your day. The ability to do work is not always determined by whether or not you have the time to do so, since there’s physical and mental states, the working environment, and other factors to consider.

But you’re always able to relax, because there’s so many ways to do so nowadays, and because the only requirement for it is time, not brain power. So guess what your brain would rather do?

3. I got to see exactly what happened

An obvious benefit of writing down literally everything that I did on a minute basis was that I can see what went well and when things went awry. At night, I got to look back and identify the times at which I tend to work better and remember why I was lacking when I did. Going forward, it helps me figure out ways to improve and what I can realistically do in a day.

4. I felt conscious

I’ve written before about how humans naturally operate on autopilot and that it takes a trigger to get us to pay attention to the present, and this is something I remember feeling yesterday; there was that sense of purpose instilled in me, and it helped me stay focused on whatever I was doing at the time (for the most part).

Some final thoughts

Even though it’s not really possible to quantify the value of a day, this is only a sample size of one day, so it does feel a bit preemptive and disingenuous for me to offer broad takeaways or sweeping claims about all this. So take what I’ve said so far with a grain of salt.

But I’m not exactly done with this little experiment, either. Though I don’t know how sustainable micromanaging myself with video recordings and meticulous note-taking will be, it’s something I’m definitely going to keep trying, because there’s been some success with it so far. I can predict that this is probably going to be too labor-intensive for my small, impatient self, but who knows? Only time will tell.