On LEGO Powered Time-Tracking; My Daily Column

Posted by Michael Hunger on Aug 1, 2008 in development, fun, lego |

I’ve had troubles with time tracking my worktime for all the years. I always found this to be a tedious burden and inconvenience. So one morning in my blue hour (reading in a cafe before work) I spent the time pondering the alternatives.

I started listing software and realworld solutions to timetracking that are possible and tried to contemplate if they would (or had) worked out for me.

plain text files
browser based timetracking
popup applications/widgets asking for the current task

sticky notes
tally sheets
diary / filofax

But none of these seemed to work sufficiently for me. But the arrangement of events of a day in iCal struck me as beeing a stack of time boxes atop each other. Having played recently with my daughters legos (duplo), I quickly jumped on the thought of using them to build these stacks in the real world.

the lego box of 600 pcs, no 6177
So I bought an box of 600 legos from amazon for around 19 Euros. Opening the package showed me that fortunately there was a variety of colors (white, black, brown, red, orange, yellow, green, chartreuse, blue) and lots of different sizes (lengths) and two widths (one row and two rows of studs).

the content of the lego box
As a child I hated these one-rowers as they were not useful in building stuff. But here and now they seemed a perfect fit. Small enough and in the right sizes. I chose a time partitioning of a quarter of an hour. So I can use the lengths 1,2,3,4 to build 15,30,45 and 60 minutes worth of time in a row representing an hour.

Stacking these hourly rows on top of each other builds up the whole day. I use the different colors for the projects I’m involved in (8 are just enough), putting them on the stack whenever I want and have time to do so (but mostly quite instantly).

a single day of work as a column of lego bricks
I made up a single width column as ruler for the work hours (from at around 10 am up to 6 pm). So I can easily see whats missing and at what time I did something. For the days of the workweek I chose the rainbow color scheme (red, orange, yellow, green, blue – Monday to Friday) for the longer base row that I stack my hours on. So I can gather a whole week of time tracking until I have to enter them in some time sheet (software). I put the columns of a whole week on top of a green building plate to fix them.

a whole workweek as lego columns on a green plate
You can easily see how much work you did for any given project as you recognize the colored areas rather than time ranges (8:45-11:15). Having the relative time shares as part of this setup helps as well.

You can even plan your work by prebuilding your days on temporary bases with the planned amount of time for each activity (or putting at least the estimated amount of bricks aside).

The benefits are obvious:
it works (for about 4 months now)
I have something to play with while pondering stuff
it looks great
it’s incredibly fast with no overhead
planning is possible

The single disadvantage:
coworkers coming to your place and disassembling your time tracks

I’m still looking for a great name for the whole thing. Here’s what I have collected by now:
Daily Column
The timeful way of building

I appreciate any suggestion for a great name.

One last thing I have been thinking about is getting these daily columns recorded automatically. So using your webcam or phone camera, you just hold the “day” in front of it. After taking the picture it is processed. The extracted information can be used in any possible way.

Update: I started writing a small java application that shall exactly do this. It’s almost finished, so stay tuned. Writing the data to iCal should pose no problem as well.

Early preview image of the scan application:
rastered time column

Post on Lifehacker
InfoQ follow up article.

I added a poll for the name of “Lego Time Tracking to the blog” Feel free to vote or to suggest new names.

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  • Liz says:

    Call it Log-O!

  • Gary says:

    I am sitting pondering without the advantage of having legos to play with! But I manage sw developers and have struggled myself with the problem of adequate time tracking (particularly w.r.t. buy-in, completeness, accuracy).

    One advantage to legos is they are sitting there always available and easy to use. No fussing with account names and passwords or having to navigate to unfriendly UI screens. These seem to me to be important attributes for any viable software-based solution.

    Would you agree?

  • I would certainly agree. You know software developers are a certain kind of people. Craftsmen with an artistic side. I think you’ll have great success with the lego time tracking as this corresponds very well to the visual representation of the time used and to the means of building software out of small (reusable) building blocks.
    I’d suggest to try it out with one or two developers – you can have a drawing who may do that :)

    Please report on your success.


  • Bigg Success says:

    We read a very interesting post by Michael Hunger at the Better Software Development blog. What we learned from Michael is that sometimes it pays to think inside the box! He uses Legos to track his time. You have to see his illustrations to really unde…

  • softwaredude says:

    Add some Lego Mindstorms to this and you could robotically enhance your project. It also works with the Java programming language.

  • Lea says:

    I love this idea. Particularly, because it will help me stay within my hours “budget.” I can keep track of my hours fine with traditional methods, but at the start of a project I’m allotted a certain number of hours and I have trouble staying within that. I think I might count bricks out at the beginning of a project, make sure not to reuse them in my timekeeping, and keep an “hours left” base to montior how much time I have remaining to use on the project.

    Thanks so much for sharing your idea.

  • Proworkflow says:

    We also have a clock that doesn’t tell us the time but how much time is left. For example: now the time is 15.15 and the bus leaves at 16.00, makes no sense for some people. But the “quarter-clock” will tell you that it is 3 quarters left until your bus leaves. You make something as abstract as time much more concrete.

  • andrew says:

    Thank you ,I love the lego idea!

  • Andre says:


    very nice Idea… If you’d like to try a Time Tracking Software, look here: Log My Time


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  • Lego is tops says:

    Time to get your Lego shares!!

  • Julien says:

    I love the physical-digital mix that is the trend today. Nice idea. :-)
    (even though it wouldn’t work for me, I love being only digital)

    How about 2D codes on each lego piece, with color and size encoded?
    Once they are fixed, your image is easier to decode, and less error-prone.

    I’m aware that you can do without, but easyness and reliability are nice to have…

  • Alex says:

    Hi Michael!

    I just wanted to say that I have tested your time tracking with LEGO and I love it! I often get to switch between different projects and LEGO is really helping me to report my time. Never thought that time tracking could be this fun! :-)

    I am sure that my colleagues will soon have LEGO on their desks too. Hope this is ok with you! I am going to mention you when trying to spread this phenomenal idea…

    Thanks for the inspiration!

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  • aj says:

    i am a stay at home homeschooling mama and today i thought of doing this to keep track of all my various tasks…daily. my kiddos have tons of legos. i applied a different color to each task i need to accomplish in my 11 hr day (7 tasks total–meal prep/school/dishes/laundry/exercise/personal hygiene/computer) and i build a tower as i complete the task. today is my first day…will post a pic in the future maybe.

  • aj says:

    TimeBlocks, TaskTowers

  • Sarah Kuhn says:

    Could work great with the Pomodoro technique (http://www.pomodorotechnique.com/). I’ve been using it with great success and have “rewarded” myself at the end of each 25-minute time block with a piece of Zometool or some other building toy. This gives even more information, although I also like the free-form of Zome.

    Please let us know how your Java app is working–seems the perfect enhancement. I’d love to use it.

  • Sarah,

    unfortunately I didn’t finish it. Too many other projects that were more demanding. But I can put what I have on github and perhaps someone else can chime in.

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  • Adam Logan says:

    I looked for Brick Log on github, not seeing anything. Great concept although doesn’t seem as portable as an app would be. Could just make an app that uses graphical representations of lego pieces for units of time, be easier than dealing with photographs and stuff, but then not as fun as playing with real legos.

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