For almost five years Harrison documented and recorded information about nearly every aspect of her daily routine. These laborious, demanding and introverted data collecting processes grew ever more extreme until she devised the ultimate challenge for Timelines – to attempt to document everything she did, 24 hours a day, for four whole weeks (26 June – 23 July 2006).

The Timelines project was the culmination of more than five years intensive ‘data collecting’ activity, for which Harrison documented and recorded information about nearly every aspect of her daily routine. In 2001 she photographed everything she ate for a year for Eat 22 (1,640 meals and snacks) and then in 2002, for Gold Card Adventures, she recorded the total distance she travelled on public transport in a year (9,210km). These laborious, demanding and introverted processes grew ever more extreme until she devised the ultimate challenge in 2006 for Timelines – to attempt to document everything she did, 24 hours a day, for four weeks.

Harrison was a self-confessed ‘work-a-holic who hates working’, and the Timelines project was motivated by an overwhelming feeling that she was ‘always at work’. It was to be an empirical study – monitoring exactly where all her time was going – to find out whether this was indeed true. What had seemed like a simple proposition at first, quickly became an all-consuming ritual in which she was forced to take on the dual role of ‘observer’ and ‘observed’. On the first day she confessed that ‘It was horrible feeling so trapped – I couldn’t do anything without generating and accumulating data.’, and so in order to retain a modicum of sanity, she rationalised the experiment by categorising her time into 17 possible activities such as ‘art practice’, ‘domestic work’ or ‘leisure’ and then, simply, noted down in her pocket sized log book the exact time when she switched between these. Each day the data was transferred onto an expansive spreadsheet, which by the end of the four weeks, contained 2,297 entries. As a way of visualising just exactly how she had spent her time, Harrison worked with her sister Flo (an Excel wizard) to transform these reams of data into a series of 28 colour-coded timelines.

The Timelines project had pushed Harrison over the edge and shortly afterward its completion she abruptly quit ‘data collecting’ and entered into a period of self-reflection and re-invention in order to develop a ‘healthier and more outward looking practice’. As an pioneer of the now common habit of obsessive ‘life tracking’, her 2009 publication Confessions of a Recovering Data Collector, reveals some of the pitfalls of this behaviour, most tellingly, the burden of additional unnecessary ‘work’ it requires: “I felt I was spending hours each week employed as the administrator for my own life.”

Harrison emerged from this process with a far greater awareness over her role as a cultural producer within a wider economy. She realised that the feelings she was experiencing of a state of ‘continual labour’ were not just an isolated case, but were in fact symptomatic of growing trends in the global labour market, which have arisen from advances in information technology and strategic policies to promote the freelance lifestyle. Recent projects such as Work-a-thon for the Self-Employed (2011) have seen her actively draw attention to and attempt to counteract the negative side effects of this ‘privatisation of work’ – both the isolation and the unregulated and increasingly longer working hours – within a wider community of creative practitioners. Whilst, small personal experiments such as her 2012 Email Detox, have enabled her to remain vigilant over her own time and rebalance her relationship between life and work when necessary.

Photo: Marco Frauchiger