Punching in/out the org-mode way

One of org-mode’s features I started to use more frequently is the clocking of tasks. “Punching the clock” for each task I do was tedious at start, but with time it became a habit. This is a small addition to my workflow, but it comes with significant advantages.

There’s an option to start a running clock with org-capture (to automatically “punch in” whenever I create a task) but I don’t work that way. I often look at a large list of tasks and projects on my agenda, pick what I need to do next, and then start a clock as I work on it.

Sometimes I check in a project that is not scheduled for that day. This happens if I have extra time or if I’m doing something related to it. I leave the task scheduled for the original date but clock in. At other times, I clock in for tasks that are already done or canceled if I’m asked to review something. Whatever the case, it’s a way to navigate an otherwise organic and chaotic day. C a a l brings up the agenda buffer with the logged tasks, and it shows me what I’ve been working on and how many “chunks” I put into it1. It’s not always possible to be exact with the length of time I worked on a certain task. Sometimes I forget to clock in, so I add an approximate time duration after the act; at other times there might be a conflict between the org file on my phone and the desktop which I need to correct. What’s important to me is that I know I worked on the task that day.

Since I record notes and separate the entries with an inactive timestamp, there’s also a rough correlation between the logs and the notes. For example, say I have a task called “plan a trip”. I punch in, and then go online to look for hotels. I create an inactive timestamp inside the task under the properties drawer (C-u C-c C!) and type down notes about the prices of different locations and their availability. When I’m done, I punch out. Later I can review my agenda and I see that I was working on “plan a trip” and if I want to know what I did I can check my notes and refer to that time stamp as well. The timestamp is so easy to include, it just comes naturally as a log entry to me.

Using the clock like that adds another layer of “doing stuff”. I use the scheduled tasks as a reference of importance, which also roughly translates to when I want to do it in the day. This keeps the clock logs as a record that I actually did get to the scheduled task and did some work on it, since I often reschedule my tasks as well.


  1. I sometimes have something I call a “boomerang” task. This is usually a bigger task or a project which I want to work on for a large amount of time. Since I know I’m going to get interrupted and can’t just keep working on one thing, I “boomerang” it: I keep returning to it and punching in and out of the clock throughout the day. This allows me to keep track of projects and chisel my way at larger undertakings. ↩︎