Time tracking with timewarrior

I’ve been working from home for a bit more than a month – or, as we say around here, “doing home office”, which is apparently a typically German turn of phrase 😉 Since I’m working part-time (60%), and days and hours tend to melt into each other, actually tracking the time that I spend working has proven pretty useful for me to dose the “right” amount of work: make sure I’m working the hours I’m supposed to work, make sure I’m not working significantly more than the hours I’m supposed to work. For those who know me a little, they’ll have an inkling that my issue is more the latter one than the former, with me being much more worried about the former than the latter 😉

I had done that sort of tracking a long while ago with some software called arbtt. It was fairly neat when it came to automating that tracking (and that’s why I’m mentioning it here explicitly): it uses the mouse focus to determine on which window you are working, identifies said windows by their titles, and allows to define rules to classify which belongs to what. I ran that thing for a while when I was working as a freelancer, and that worked pretty well – if you’re not allergic to Haskell. (My window manager is in Haskell too, so I can survive :p )

This time around, I didn’t feel the need to fight with arbtt rule system to fit everything into categories that would be too fine-grained for my liking; after a bit of poking, I found timewarrior. There’s a package on my Ubuntu, so I just installed it, and I started tracking.

In timewarrior, you track by associating tags to intervals of time. For instance, when I start working on documentation, I open a terminal and type

$ timew start work doc

and it starts an interval tagged with work and doc. I have a very coarse set of tags: my current tags are doc (writing documentation), qa (helping our QA department with testing our software), meeting (daily and weekly status meetings, mostly) and social (when I’m socializing with colleagues, not necessarily being productive per se, although such discussions are very often fruitful). To that, I add a generic work tag to these all categories except social, so that I can easily tally my whole work hours. I’m not actively developing these days, but when that comes back, I’ll handle tags for that as well. I also track lunch when I go for my lunch break 😉

Whenever I start a new interval, it automatically closes the previous one – so if I switch from timew start work doc to timew start lunch, the interval lunch starts, and the interval work/doc is closed. If I want to stop the current interval without starting a new one (typically at the end of the day), I just go

$ timew stop

and no interval is running anymore.

To display what’s been logged so far, timew summary is the way to go. I actually experimented with tracking my Sunday yesterday, and if I want to know how long I spent cooking, I can look at my cuisine tag that way:

[isa@wayfarer ~]$ timew summary :yesterday cuisine

Wk  Date       Day Tags       Start      End    Time   Total
W17 2020-04-26 Sun cuisine 11:28:00 11:59:00 0:31:00
                   cuisine 18:04:59 18:28:09 0:23:10
                   cuisine 18:44:23 19:05:10 0:20:47 1:14:57
                                                            
                                                     1:14:57

It gives me all the instances and a sum of the time I spent overall during the day. This is particularly useful for my work usage: I tag everything I do for work with work, and that allows me to keep track of the amount of work I’ve put in the day.

If I forget to start or stop an activity, it’s trivial to do a posteriori if I’m in an “open” interval, slightly more tricky but still feasible if I need to re-insert things in the middle of other things. Generally speaking, I haven’t found something that I wanted to do that I didn’t find how to yet. The interface can be somewhat clunky, but it’s surprisingly input-flexible (the easy example is that I can do “timew start work doc” or “timew work doc start” or even “timew doc start work” – and it’ll start tracking an activity with tags doc and work in both cases).

The documentation is also very good, allowing both discoverability of features and reference. There’s also ways of getting pretty charts, to export data as JSON, and to develop extensions.

Obviously, if you’re looking for something that synchronizes between several computers, or that you can use on your phone, or or or…. this may not be the software for you. (Although running it somewhere on the internet and tracking via SSH would probably be a viable option). Me, I just want to open a term, type timew start mystuff, close my term, and be done with it – and I don’t care about tracking different things on different computers, because the context of what I’m tracking is different anyway. If your needs align with mine, I can only recommend you have a look at timewarrior 🙂

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