Spreading the Free Software love: gtimelog & some neat productivity hacks

Today’s the day to say “thank you” to the people who make Free Software. Obviously, I use a lot of the big, well-known products all day, every day: the GNU operating system, the Linux kernel, emacs, mutt, LibreOffice, Firefox, and so on, and I’m grateful to the thousands of people who have built these programs over the years.

Yet today I want to highlight a couple of less prominent people and the software they’ve written. They’re not as well known,  but they make an important contribution to my work and productivity.

There’s Marius Gedminas, who develops gtimelog. Consisting of a few Python scripts, this neat little program is essentially a digital stopwatch. I tell it what I’ve been doing, and it tells me for how long I’ve been working, on which tasks, and how many hours I’ve already worked this week. It also generates reports summarising all this information. The data lives in a very simple plaintext file, and it’s very easy to make edits later. This is useful when I’ve been working away from the computer, for example while attending an event.

This is pretty basic stuff, of course. But used right, it makes a lot of difference. This kind of monitoring is especially important because like everyone else here at FSFE, I’m passionate about what I do. When you’re working for a good cause like Free Software, it’s always easy to say “I’ll just put in a few more hours”. This is fine for crunch time, but it’s dangerous when it becomes  a routine thing. When I’m working too much, creativity disappears first; then, quality; then, motivation; and somewhere in the process, my family usually begins lodging serious objections.

This is why I use gtimelog, and encourage FSFE’s staff to do the same. For me and many others, the program has become an important tool to manage our workload. It helps us to stay creative, productive and passionate. It helps us perform over the long run.

The other person I want to mention here is Debian’s Stefano Zacchiroli. He’s a three-time Debian Project Lead, and a very cool guy. He also happens to rely on some of the same productivity tools that I use: Mutt, to deal with insane amounts of email, and emacs org-mode, to deal with insane amounts of tasks.

Both of these tools by themselves are wonderful. They’re even cooler when you get them to work together. That way, I can turn emails that I’m reading in Mutt into tasks that get listed in org-mode. And this is exactly what Zack has made possible,  with a few scripts (he tells me an update is in the works). I still have to try these out, but I’m already looking forward to a better workflow.

Marius, Zack: Thank you very much!