When I’m on the internet, the lines between work, play, and total time-wasting become blurry. Am I on Facebook and Twitter because I’m maintaining a social networking presence for my ensemble, or because I’m trying to turn my brain into mush? Am I really returning my students’ emails, or am I staring at my inbox in a vegetative state, inexplicably deleting emails from Emirates Airlines? I’m concerned about how addicted I sometimes feel to my computer and smartphone, and I question whether they’re really helping me do the things that are important to me.

Last week I started using Toggl. It’s a time-tracking tool, totally web-based and free, that uses a simple timer to help you keep track of how long you’re spending on different tasks. I haven’t really figured out all its features, but it has already helped me stay focused on one task at a time. (It’s been shown that, whatever we may think, one task at a time is all that our brain can effectively handle!) I’ve realized there are some pretty basic categories (teaching studio, blog, Chicago Q admin) of real “work” that I do on my computer. Once I’ve told Toggl that I’m working on one of those tasks, and the timer is running, I feel more committed and less prone to distraction.

I’ve even been using Toggl when I practice violin. It’s interesting to have a record of how long I typically play before I become mentally or physically tired. I often just need a quick break to stretch, or rest my mind.

If you have trouble with this task-management stuff too, I totally recommend Toggl. It’s not about “clocking in” or berating yourself for not working enough; for me, it’s about gaining a clearer understanding of my work patterns.

P.S. While I typed this WordPress post about Toggl, I received both an email and a Facebook message. It reminds me of this Portlandia sketch. God help us all.