How Six Years of Time-Tracking Shaped My Life
Time is the most precious resource that you can possibly have, because it’s required for anything else that you can possibly care to do. Time is also non-renewable. Many years ago I put those two facts together and decided I would do my best to seize each day. That pursuit has led me to design and build my most valuable tool along the way: a time-tracker for iOS called Quantizy that now holds about 20,000 records from over 6 years of my self-tracking.
I’m here to share the story of why I built Quantizy because I think I’ve learned a lot about using a time-tracker to track health and productivity goals (and about balancing self-improvement with self-acceptance) that you might want to try out for yourself.
Quantizy is available now (in beta) from the App Store, and I’m looking for people to test the product. With your feedback, I plan on making the product a little bit sleeker and a little bit smarter until I can confidently sell it on the App Store world-wide.
From the very beginning, as a company, Quantizy must respect your privacy and your data. Therefore we will not sell your data to advertisers, but will require a monthly subscription. And, for so long as we’re around, we’ll make it our mission to build digital products that inspire self-awareness, reflection, and motivation for positive change in your health, wellness, and productivity.
The Origin Story
Many years ago when I was still a teenager growing up in southern Virginia I decided I would dedicate myself to the relentless pursuit of self improvement and do my best not to let a single day go to waste. In my student-athlete days, this meant taking extra classes while competing as a year-round athlete in two varsity sports. To stay on top of this busy schedule, I got religious about keeping my calendar neatly marked and organized. I charted each semester at a glance from start to finish, with all my commitments and deadlines spread out in between. A sea of red, blue, green boxes to neatly guide my life.
This pen-and-paper system served me pretty well. My habits were immaculate. I was able to graduate as valedictorian of my high school and attend the University of Texas with a scholarship to study Computer Science and Mathematics.
When I got to college, it wasn’t so rosy anymore. Nearly every single minute of my day had to go to my STEM classwork. My sleep cycles were a mess. Every night I was going to sleep later and later. To save time at the gym, I’d go in at 11pm when it was most empty, leave at midnight, and return to my studies. The pace was excruciating, but I was determined to finish both of those degrees in three years’ time.
It didn’t work. In 2013, after my third semester, I crashed and burned and quit school with both of my degrees already two thirds complete.
Many life lessons later, it’s now late in 2019. It’s been a handful of months since I had exited the company I co-founded and embarked on a sabbatical. Besides a few months of zazen and surfing, I still hadn’t done much of anything professional.
For the last six years, however, I’d been imbibing as much literature on wellness and productivity as I possibly could while launching my career as a software engineer and startup founder. To test out the knowledge I was learning, I conducted a multitude of personal experiments. They include: spaced repetition for memory training, learning instruments and language for better cognition, intermittent fasting for better metabolism, meditation for its benefits, meditation for its own sake, polyphasic sleeping, cold showers and the Wim Hof method, the importance of deep work and myelination, a bundle of daily journals for every skill and sport, a daily bullet journal for prioritization, and on and on. If it’s a New Age trope, trust me, I’ve done it.
Throughout it all, the most beneficial thing was how I kept evolving my daily practice of tracking and integrating how I spent my time. I tried a few different variations — starting with my old trusty pen-and-paper calendar from my student days. I added a spiral notebook, then tried a moleskin journal, and even writers’ pads, but what I landed on at last was to periodically check-in with myself and journal with a time-tracker app on my smartphone. (Think of a time-tracker as a hybrid between a calendar and a journal).
So why not build my own?
How to (Almost) Build a Company by Yourself in 12 Months
Starting that November, I took out my old calendars and re-built them in an experimental macOS application made with TypeScript + React + Electron. It was a satisfying moment to see my old pen-and-paper system staring back at me as a desktop application. I could click and zoom around. It was alive!
But not quite. I had managed to import all those previous years of data directly into the codebase as a single CSV because they already existed in a smattering of CSV files from other time-trackers and spreadsheets and calendars. It was a clunky process getting them all to cooperate. It dawned on me that if I kept using other apps to collect this data then I’d have to go through this monotony each time. For the system to really feel alive, I reasoned, it needed to exist on my smartphone, my tablet, and my laptop. (And preferably my smartwatch, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves).
January 1st, 2020. I open a brand new TypeScript + React Native codebase to start building an iOS application for iPhone and iPad to complement my macOS calendar. The goal was to have any of my devices, whether Apple or Windows, Android or iOS, sync with each other, so I decided to build the backend as a REST API built with PHP + Laravel, my bread and butter framework. I had been playing around with names and landed on Quantizy, pronounced like “Quantify” but with a little pizzazz.
The company for Quantizy was started in May, because that was when I thought surely the app would be done sometime soon and wanted to setup a bank account for paying customers. The website was made in spurts in November and December, and the macOS app is still in development (iOS took precedence).
Why It’s Not a Good Idea to Build a Company by Yourself in 12 Months During a Global Pandemic
Unless you’re looking for a high dosage of chronic stress, I think it’s a pretty rotten idea to try to build an app that’s competitive in the App Store as a solo developer, much less during a global pandemic. I challenge any of my readers to name an app that’s in the Top 10 or 20 of its category and has just one single individual running the whole operation (and not counting RollerCoaster Tycoon). It’s more likely the case that behind every successful entrepreneur you can name, there’s a network of co-founders, investors, clients, employees, consultants, and contractors that helped with every aspect of their business, likely right from the beginning. And if you don’t have any of those right from the beginning, it’s probably a sign the time’s not right for you to embark upon that journey quite yet.
I personally didn’t expect it would get this far. I honestly thought I might say “good enough” when I had a working prototype of my system on my laptop at the end of 2019, or when I had one on my smartphone during the summer of 2020, but as it turns out I really wanted to push my limits, raise my risk tolerance, and try to make it ready for sale on App Store by the end of 2020. I think I’m pretty close to hitting that goal, but I know there’s a few things that I’m missing, so that’s why Quantizy will stay in beta for a few more months.
The lesson: if you’re a solo entrepreneur, particularly in the highly competitive web and mobile space, you better be damn sure of what you’re getting into, and that’s a lot of pain and suffering.
What Good Is a Time-Tracker, Anyway?
Nowadays, it seems like there’s a tracker for everything. There are trackers for walking, trackers for running, trackers for swimming, trackers for lifting, trackers for calories, weight, sleep, mood, intermittent fasting, heart rate, screen time, alcohol consumption, tobacco use, water-intake, and on and on. It can be a bit overwhelming to navigate the landscape of self-tracking and biometrics as a newcomer.
My advice: if you want to get serious about learning a new skill, or deepening an existing one, whether it’s an art or instrument or sport or otherwise, you should make a record of when you started, when you stopped, and scratch some notes about how it went. You’re welcome to try pen and paper, you can use a spreadsheet or a calendar, but I think a time-tracker is a better way to do this.
If you want to raise your self-awareness, to learn what makes you sink or swim, doing something like keeping a bullet journal where you check-in with yourself at the start and end of your day is a fine idea. Again, you can use pen and paper, you can use a spreadsheet or a calendar, but I think a time-tracker is a better way to do this.
Don’t just take my word for it. There are a lot of good books out there on productivity science and positive psychology (the study of human flourishing) that suggest being disciplined and introspective about the way you spend your time pays off. I would recommend Deep Work and So Good They Can’t Ignore You by Cal Newport; Ultralearning by Scott Young; Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People; Mastery by Robert Greene; or Principles by Ray Dalio; but there are many more. And if you pay close attention, you might even notice a lot of peak performers preach about the importance of a daily routine, daily meditation, or daily journal as the secret to their success.
Now let me get off my pedestal. This whole time I’ve been going on about self-improvement, but I’d like to take a moment now to talk about self-acceptance. It’s a lesson that’s been hard for me to learn, that I don’t think I’ve fully learned, and that I might never learn, but I suppose that’s alright. There will always be the dynamic between the self you want to see in the mirror and self you actually see, but that’s alright, too. As somebody who has pushed himself to burnout or injury more than once, I might risk adding just one more bit of advice: remember that slow is smooth, and smooth is fast. Time-tracking is good and all, but for best results use it in tandem with a good support network of peers, mentors, and teachers.
This brings us to the present day. For obvious reasons, being a solo entrepreneur in the iOS market with no revenues during a global coronavirus pandemic hasn’t exactly been a barrel of laughs. I’m proud of the work I’ve done, but the real challenge still lies ahead, and I’ll need your help.
Like I said above, Quantizy is available now in beta from the App Store, and I’m looking for people to test the product. With your feedback, I plan on making the product a little bit sleeker and a little bit smarter until I can confidently sell it on the App Store world-wide. Someday soon I’d like to add support for smart-watches, Android, web, and/or desktop, but each of those will take some time.
If you happen to be technically minded, or financially inclined, or just interested in lending a hand as we build products that are actually good for people — let me know.
Though I’ve worked alone, none of this would have been possible without the support of my family and especially my parents. Without their support I’d have given up long ago. To Philip and Gleb, for their guidance and encouragement. To all the friends I’ve shared and discussed this with along the way. To Kurt Spellmeyer and the Cold Mountain Sangha for teaching me about self acceptance. To Taylor Otwell and Jeffrey Way for making me a far more competent developer. To Facebook and their engineers for the powerful tools of React and React Native. To all the open source contributors whose shoulders I stand on. To Tim Ferriss and his podcast guests for the lasting inspiration. And to all the authors whose words have lit my way.