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.

software:
spreadsheets
plain text files
browser based timetracking
Outlook/iCal
popup applications/widgets asking for the current task

corporeal:
sticky notes
paper
tally sheets
notebook
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:
Names:
BrickLog
Daily Column
TimeStack
TrackStack
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

Update:
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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78 Comments

  • Saint says:

    Nice idea man. I read you through lifehacker.

    What about “Lework” o “LeGantt”, something like that?

    Saludos!

  • Luís Alves says:

    Hi,

    I loved your idea. Allow me to suggest a name: LEGOLOG

    Regards,

    Luís

  • XC says:

    OMG, LOL! The single disadvantage:
    coworkers coming to your place and disassembling your time tracks. You kill me! :)

  • Karen says:

    Afraid it wouldn’t work on my desk (work at home) with a Lego-crazy kid nearby. ;) I do like your idea though.

  • Thomas Switala says:

    Excellent idea.

    You should get Lego Mind storm now to scan your Lego Time log at the end of the week to automatically update your time sheets.

    Thomas

  • Adam says:

    Logel

    Lego + L backwards

  • Stephanie says:

    I stumbled onto exactly the same solution for one of my students who is blind. She was driving me crazy asking, “How much more time do we have?” Until I realized that sighted teenage students are just surreptitious clock watchers. So we used leggos to track our time almost just as you described! We were both much much happier, and as you say, those little blocks are great tactile toys for those moments of puzzlement or plain reflection.

  • Nelo says:

    Hello, I just wanted to say I found your idea quite interesting. Having played with Legos for years as a kid probably makes me like the idea more.

    I couldn’t understand it completely though, you say you organize your time in 15minutes intervals, yet I only see 10 intervals in the first image. So you only work two and a half hours?

  • tack says:

    How about “PlayTime”? Since you’re playing with Lego (FUN!) to track your time.

    Capturing data might be easier if you rotated the day tracks 90 degrees on the y axis. Then you could ‘batch capture’ an entire week with one image.

  • Brian says:

    So the red represents time spent playing with LEGOs…?

  • Mark Blair says:

    I love it! :-) I’ve been checking around and another option if you want even more colors is to buy them individually at:

    http://us.factory.lego.com/pab/

    I’m thinking that a whole project management scheme could be worked out, using the Lego minifigs too, to assign resources… Lots of possibilities!

  • Michael Hunger says:

    Oh, thats great thanks.

    Michael

  • Michael Hunger says:

    No, the red time is an especially tricky module of our software :)

    Michael

  • Michael Hunger says:

    Sounds good.

    Michael

  • Michael Hunger says:

    But with a blind student, color coding gets difficult. There is only one type of surface material to differentiate.

    Michael

  • Michael Hunger says:

    But it would be that easily manageable. The current sizing is just perfect. Also keeping track of the hour of the day is much easier with this a column per day setup and it reflects the way we create our calendars.

    Michael

  • Michael Hunger says:

    The quarterly hour intervals are the 4 studs in a row. 4 studs (15 minutes each) make up an hour. So each hour is represented in one row.

    Michael

  • Michael Hunger says:

    I’m reluctant in using names that contain the tradmarked LEGO(R) name.

    Michael

  • Michael Hunger says:

    Actually I’m using a java program accessing my iSight camera for doing that.

    Michael

  • Matt says:

    Blocks of Time

  • Gilbert says:

    Nice idea dude!

    I suggest as name “workBlock”, sound almost like “worklog” but with block word for Legos.

  • ned says:

    great stuff. you can download lego digital designer from the lego.com site for free and do this same thing virtually.

  • Dan says:

    Outstanding concept and execution!!

    How about:
    - TicToc
    - Tic-Brics

    I also vote for:
    - Logels (no trademark infringement there)

    And you *must* let the folks at Lego Serious Play know:
    http://www.seriousplay.com
    Lego Serious Play is the official Lego management consulting practice — I’m not joking, this is magnificent stuff — talk to Robert Rasmussen who runs the show in the US:

    Robert Rasmussen
    robert@rasmussen-and-associates.com
    1 413.567.0977 work
    Principal, Robert Rasmussen & Associates
    Longmeadow MA 01106
    http://www.rasmussen-and-associates.com

    He’ll love it!

    - Dan Roam
    author of “The Back of the Napkin: Solving Problems and Selling Ideas with Pictures”

  • Stu says:

    Loving the lego..

    I know you don’t want names like lego, but an anagram: ELOG would be pretty sweet :)

  • christoph says:

    Really nice. The phrase “blocking time” in a time-management manner gets a complete new definition.

    I favor a name like BrickLog or just “Brick” or something similar. With this you can intrdoduce some new metaphors in your projects like “have you bricked your time already?” or “Allright, let me just finish bricking my last hours of work and I’ll have a look into your problem…”.

    Seems the most flowing terms for me at least.

    Regards.

    P.S.: Btw. with this you’re not just a blogger, you’re a blocker (i a positive way) ;)

  • Andy says:

    nice idea – how about the name “Time Block”?

  • quobile says:

    great idea. i think dan has the name with tic-toc. keep up the creative thinking.

  • fantata says:

    Genuis!

  • iFubesi says:

    Very nice idea! I suspect this will be on my desk by Friday.

    How about “Click-Clock” as a name?

    Cheers

  • Joe says:

    Terrible idea!

    It seems you’ve demonstrated how much time you waste working on 8 simultaneous projects! You have so much going on, that its impossible to “track” and just makes colorful art… Whatever happened to the benefit of “getting things done” ?

  • Sorry thats not my choice. I’m an independent consulting working at a client’s location. There I do a lot of coaching for different projects as well as some development for these projects. And the people there don’t put tasks on my backlog waiting for me to prioritize and do the stuff one by one.
    The same for time tracking at all. Thats not my choice as well.
    Even when doing GTD you’re moving more than one task ahead during the course of one day. If you have to wait for input or things to happen you proceed to the next task. So having tasks with a fine granularity would produce even *more* than eight items per day with GTD.

    Michael

  • Pedro says:

    Hello Michael:
    I think it’s a great idea, I have the same problem like you and I haven’t found any idea to solve it but with you I suppose I will manage my work hours better..I have a question,With your experience, how many blocks and which type of them, more or less, do you need of each color to use your Lego Time Tracking (it’s in order to buy only the blocks that I need)???

  • serverdude says:

    For a name: *Lepotit* – LEgo POwered TIme Tracking.
    or *Lepotick*

    I think it’s brilliant – well most simple solutions are :)

    You could actually enhance this to encompass estimating tasks by building (or just counting off) the timeslots needed to develop a module. Then only use those bricks when you’re developing (and filling in your own timeslot), remembering to discard the bricks you have spend. This way you can see (or weigh) how far you have progressed according to the estimate – effectively getting a burn down chart for the task.

    So “bag and tag” a task by putting the estimated bricks and the description of the task in a bag.

  • Michael Hunger says:

    I did a quick estimation upfront.
    If you work 5 days 8 hours you need 5×8x4 = 160 studs (1×1) minimum to do all your hours. I just tripled the number because of the different colors and sizes of the bricks. So the package that was on sale at amazon containing 600+ pcs (of which roughly 70% are one row bricks) fit best.
    You can always buy more. Perhaps getting some cheap ones at ebay is also an option (or go to your local flea market)

    Michael

  • bag’n'tag sounds great.
    I wrote some stuff on estimation/planning. You’re right you just estimate the amount of work for an individual task and put aside that many bricks. While doing you time tracking you’ll easily see how much of the available time is already taken and if you used more or less time than estimated.

    You can also do this for the whole (agile) team. After estimating the tasks you put that many legos on the task (just use a building plate per task to hold them). And the developers take their share from the task’s bricks to track their time.

    Its also quite easy to take pictures of the planning and tracking legos and put them somewhere in the planning documentation.

    For documenting on the bricks you can use any water proof pen. Perhaps using larger bricks (duplo) would make it easier to write on them. Otherwise you can just stick paper between two bricks with annotations or additional information.

    Michael

  • serverdude says:

    Lego made letters at some point – I was unable to locate them on shop.lego.com, but I found http://www.littlesmarties.com/images/dslg9547.jpg even so, they’re probably too slow to use. A paper note stuck between a brick and the board are probably better.

    My suggestion for weighing the bricks is just an easy way to estimate over multiple projects how far into the combined effort your teams are. That would, of course, require a change from quarters (of an hour) to ‘points’ in Agile terms – but hey, it’s a free world .. sometimes ;)

    I just got my 6177-box yesterday – it’s brilliant :)

  • Mikael Becker says:

    Brilliant!
    I’ve been fiddling around with iCal but wasn’t completely satisfied.
    And if you can make it work with java-webcam. Maybe something for my iPhone.

    In Sweden we have a standard color-scheme.
    Green Monday
    Blue Tuesday
    White Wednesday
    Brown Thursday
    Yellow Friday
    Pink Saturday
    Red Sunday

    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.

    And, by the way, I love lego.

  • Poldie says:

    Surely the best name for this system is “Legwork”.

  • Giorgio says:

    can yuo share the java software :) ?
    Very glad to give it a try

  • Vinnie says:

    What if you modified the blocks to put resistors of varying resistances inside (coded by color) such that when you stacked them you’d be able to apply a voltage and based on the output current uniquely determine the time usage? Could be a fun little hardware project as opposed to software.

  • Mark Whiting says:

    Really awesome project.

    Have you tried any other physical representations of data like this?

    Mark

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  • Stephen says:

    I love it! Heck, if you don’t mind, we might even modify the time tracking software OfficeTime (www.OfficeTime.net) to have a special fun report that shows your time in Lego bricks. :-)

    May I suggest “LegoTime”?

  • JH says:

    I’d be interesting to combine this on a larger blackboard to add notes with chalk.

  • How fun!
    Thanks for your comment on our blog that brought us here.
    http://www.vertabase.com/blog/why-time-management-is-important-stress/

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  • Christoph says:

    I found this on InfoQ and am amazed. Can’t wait to get to my parents
    and grep my old LEGOs. :-)

    Like the other Christoph I’d suggest something with “brick” in the
    name as in other LEGO projects (eg. thebricktestament.com or
    brickfilms.com). How about “Brickalender” or “Time Bricks”?
    Time is bricking away! ;-)

    CU

  • I thought about extending Lego Time Tracking to a kind of Agile story and task management. There you take the time estimated for the task and put that many bricks of the color assigned to the task away to a central location where it is clearly visible (ar

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  • nile says:

    nice man, but you could always automate the problem with a product like MetriQ (http;//www.metriq.biz/) – you won’t run out of brick that way!

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