How I Track My Hour Balance with a Custom org-mode Clock Table

2022-01-22 • 5 min read

No one at my work actually cares how many hours I work; they just care that I get a certain amount of work done each day or week or month. But for the sake of my own sanity, I still track the number of hours I work each day. That might surprise you, if you associate time clocking with cost-cutting management and employee surveillance. But of course I don’t share my numbers with anyone else. This way, if I’ve worked shorter days, I know I have some catching up to do, and if I’ve had a busy period, I can compensate in the days ahead. I don’t need to worry about whether I’m not working enough or working too much or anything like that.

(Many years ago, when I worked my first job – a ten-month stint building prototypes at Volvo Cars – management extended the physical time clock mandate to white-collar employees, who had previously been able to report their hours at their convenience via a web tool. I remember several colleagues later on saying something to the effect that they had gained many extra hours this way, though perhaps they were the conscientious ones.)

Emacs’s org-mode can do lots of things, and one of them is clock hours. However, it doesn’t provide an out-of-the-box method for calculating hour balance. By hour balance, I mean how many hours one has worked over or under what one has decided one should have worked. Say I’m supposed to work eight hours per day but have actually worked these hours:

CLOCK: [2022-01-10 Mon 10:30]--[2022-01-10 Mon 20:00] =>  9:30
CLOCK: [2022-01-11 Tue 12:00]--[2022-01-11 Tue 19:00] =>  7:00
CLOCK: [2022-01-12 Wen 11:30]--[2022-01-12 Wen 20:00] =>  8:30
CLOCK: [2022-01-13 Thu 12:00]--[2022-01-13 Thu 20:00] =>  8:00

(Assume that I don’t eat lunch, or that I eat lunch at my desk.) According to this log, I have worked 9.5 + 7 + 8.5 + 8 - 4 * 8 = 1 hour extra. That’s a simple calculation, but when you reach hundreds of days, it gets more difficult. So it is a good thing that we know how to program and can create our own custom org-mode clock table. Here’s what I came up with:

(require 'cl-lib)
(require 'org-clock)
(defun org-dblock-write:work-report (params)
"Calculate how many hours too many or too few I have worked. PARAMS are
defined in the template, they are :tstart for the first day for which there's
data (e.g. <2022-01-01>) and :tend for the last date (e.g. <now>)."

;; cl-flet is a macro from the common lisp emulation package that allows us to
;; bind functions, just like let allows us to do with values.
((format-time (time) (format-time-string
(org-time-stamp-format t t) time))
(get-minutes-from-log (t1 t2) (cl-second
(list :maxlevel 0
:tstart (format-time t1)
:tend (format-time t2))))))
(let* ((start
(seconds-to-time (org-matcher-time (plist-get params :tstart))))
(seconds-to-time (org-matcher-time (plist-get params :tend))))
(t start)
(total-days-worked 0))
;; loop through all the days in the time frame provided and count how
;; many days minutes were reported.
(while (time-less-p t end)
(let* ((next-day (time-add t (date-to-time "1970-01-02T00:00Z")))
(minutes-in-day (get-minutes-from-log t next-day)))
(if (> minutes-in-day 0) (cl-incf total-days-worked 1))
(setq t next-day)))
;; now we can just do some simple arithmetic to get the difference
;; between hours ideally worked and hours actually worked.
(let* ((total-minutes-worked (get-minutes-from-log start end))
(hours-worked (/ total-minutes-worked 60.0))
(hours-per-workday 8)
(hours-should-work (* total-days-worked hours-per-workday))
(hour-difference (- hours-worked hours-should-work)))
(insert (format "%0.1f" hour-difference)))))))

Edit 2022-01-28: There was previously a bug in this function, which bug caused one's reported hours not to count, resulting in a massive deficit. The bug has been fixed as of today.

A clock table, or report, is basically a view onto the raw logbook data. It’s called table because it normally takes the form of one; mine doesn’t, but I will call it that anyway. You use this one like you do any other org-mode clock table, only you also need to remember to supply the :tstart and :tend arguments:

#+BEGIN: work-report :tstart "<2022-01-10>" :tend "<now>"

Then you move the cursor over the #+BEGIN: ... #+END: block and do org-ctrl-c-ctrl-c (C-c C-c). That gets you the hour balance:

#+BEGIN: work-report :tstart "<2022-01-10>" :tend "<now>"

One limitation is that the algorithm assumes that any day you worked on is a day on which you should have worked the full number of hours. So if I log a session that goes from Friday afternoon to after midnight (that is, early Saturday morning), it assumes I should have worked 16 hours those days, whereas in fact only Friday was a workday. I solve this by editing my hour reports manually whenever this happens.

(Thanks to Lei Zhao whose answer on the Emacs Stack Exchange, though it was not solving the same problem, still put me on the right path.)