I just shared some examples of self tracking with you. I’ve been tracking different things about myself every day for the past two months. Some examples were: my weight over, what my music listening habits look like in visual form, and how many cups of tea, coffee, and alcohol I’ve consumed. I’m also tracking how many times I shower per day, and am proud to report I’ve only not showered, like, 3 days over the past two months.
Today, I want to write a little about the evolution of my self tracking form. If all of this self tracking stuff isn’t for you, feel free to skip this post and come back later.
I originally got interested in self tracking after I saw the awesome work that Nicholas Felton had done in his Annual Feltron Reports. Nicholas is a graphic designer, and apparently very big on data. When I saw how he had laid out all of the beers he had consumed in a year by location on a map, I naturally thought of tea. How cool would it be to see how many cups of tea I had consumed over the course of the year around December?
I started thinking about what I would want to track about myself, and then I realized it would be a great extension of goal setting. I’ve talked before about how I like to set goals, and about how I experiment with different forms of public and private accountability to help me reach my goals. This seemed like an interesting experiment in accountability to myself, and I thought it would be a fun way to review my goals on a daily basis.
So I jotted down a few things, and made a Google Form. Here’s what my first self tracking form looked like:
You can see, I wasn’t really tracking anything very fun. Basic health stuff like whether or not I had worked out that day, and how much I weighed.
Recording any dreams I remembered seemed like a good idea, and I thought it might help me to have more lucid dreams. (Only once).
Then, I emailed some friends of mine who are way smarter than I am. I made up a video discussing the idea of self tracking with them, and then asked them what they would self track, if they were going to do it.
Their responses were, predictably, much more insightful than the stuff I had thought up.
It also happened that right around this time a DC Quantified Self Meetup was happening. I went down to the Georgetown Waterfront and listened to even more people who are way smarter than me talk about their own efforts at self tracking. People tracked their moods in different ways, the meetup was hosted by some health company that sees self tracking as integral to the future of medicine, and there were a bunch of grad students who had made iPhone apps, and older programmers. A really cool bunch.
After hearing about a neurologist who spends ~3 hours per day tracking himself (filling out questionnaires, analyzing the readings from his 4 ActiWatches – each of which costs $1,000, and measuring his core body temperature with some swallowable-sensor) I decided it was time to re-do my self tracking form.
Here’s Version 2:
Other takeaways from this form:
- Checkboxes, scales of 1 – 10, and multiple choice style questions make a long form much quicker to fill out.
- I divided up the form into categories like “health,” “social,” and “lifestyle.”
- My attempt to track my energy with the grid “Energy (Horizontal) & Mood (Vertical)”, was ill fated. It was to be too difficult to read in the spreadsheet to be worthwhile.
- All of the networking questions were well-intentioned, but I just don’t care enough about it to track whether I thought my meeting with someone new was substantial or superficial.
Later, I added a question or two about whether or not I had made a positive impact on someone that day, and whether or not I had pushed someone outside of their comfort zone during the day.
These were GREAT questions. I had primarily focused on things that were completely internal till that point, and it was a good way to keep me thinking about (productively) pushing people outside of their comfort zones.
Then I went back, solicited some more input from my friends about what they would track, and sorted all of it into a big ass database of self tracking questions, all sorted by category. I had everyone’s health-related questions grouped together. Everyone’s social / interpersonal questions grouped together etc…
Then I decided I would just try to track all of it every single day, regardless of whether or not I felt like it was relevant to me.
Here’s the result.
Version 4, since Version 3 only had some minor adjustments.
A lot changed in this form, and primarily because I was just adding in every single question that my friends and I had thought up. There are some spelling / grammar errors in the questions – but this is exactly what the form looked like that I filled out every day.
There were a lot of things that I liked about this form, and several things that I disliked about this form.
Version 4 Takeaways
- The categories I used in Version 2 continued to develop here. I separated Mental and Physical Health, and added “Personal Development.” These categories started to correspond to broad categories I use when goal setting.
- I don’t know how I ever thought I was going to track the exact time I ate breakfast lunch and dinner every day, and when I went to the bathroom every day. Clearly, I was insane. I still think this is good stuff to record, but not through manual input. Too time intensive.
- “Key Takeaways from my Readings” a good idea in principle, but I never really answered this one. It basically meant taking time to analyze my readings in addition to the 15 – 25 mins. it took to fill out this form, depending on how thorough I was being. Those two should have been kept separate.
These are the forms that I used to record numbers on myself for 2 months.
Make Your Own Form
If you think you’d like to play around with your own self tracking form, I’d suggest starting off much smaller than my Version 4 form. It can get a little overwhelming spending 15 – 25 mins. sometimes, and it’s probably better if your own form evolves more organically.
First, come up with a few categories you’d like to see more clearly in your own life. Next, come up with questions to break those categories down into something quantifiable / measurable in a form. Fill ‘em into a Google Form (in Google Docs).
You can embed the form in a webpage if you have, and go there every day to fill it out, or you can have it emailed to yourself on a daily basis.
I played around with putting a daily recurring reminder to fill out the form in my Calendar, but found that to be sloppy. I had to click on a link since you can’t embed html or iframes in a Calendar Event. (I even checked with the Google Calendar Google Group coders.)
The best solution I found was to go into the Google Form settings and email the form to “firstname.lastname@example.org,” making sure to keep the “include form in email” box checked.
NudgeMail is a neat email service that let’s you send reminders to yourself, or have emails pop up in your inbox at a predetermined date and time in the future. I use it sometimes to remind myself to follow up with people about projects, and it just so happened that they have an easy “daily” recurring function. FollowUpThen is a similar service, but I found it more difficult to deal with their daily function.
After going through all of these forms I was excited to discover Sebastian’s blog. Aside from the fact that he pumps out consistently cool content on interesting topics, he had spent a lot of time thinking about self tracking. That link is to a post about the evolution of his self tracking form, which is also where I got the title for this post.
After seeing Sebastian’s self tracking forms, I think this is his newest one, I’m experimenting with a slightly different form, and format. It’s shifting towards planning things out in advance, tracking big accomplishments, and generally making my days more efficient throughout the day, as opposed to filling out a form one time in the morning, or at night. I’ve only been using this newest version for a few days, so won’t write about it now. So far I like it, and assuming all goes well, I’ll do another post about it soon.
Other Self Tracking Resources for the Curious
- Your.FlowingData.com: UCLA Grad Student Nathan Yau’s project to let you capture data about yourself through Twitter.
- Daytum.com: Nicholas Felton’s project, similar to YourFlowingData, the same dude who produces the awesome Feltron Reports.
- Mycrocosm.com: a project sort of similar to the two mentioned above. This one was created by MIT Media Lab-er Yannick Assogba. I tried using this one for daily tracking for a while, but ultimately preferred the Google Form.
- Public Tableau: this software looks SO cool. As far as I can tell it only works for Windows, which means I can’t use it. But maybe you can.
- Lastgraph: to visually represent your music listening habits, like I did in my self tracking examples post.
- QuantifiedSelf.com: an ever-expanding community of people who are into this sort of thing. I went to a DC Quantified Self (QS) Meetup, and was pretty blown away by the neat projects people were doing. Their guide has some good links / tools on it.
- FitBit.com: I’ve used a FitBit on and off to track my sleep and activity throughout the day. It’s great, but easy to lose and/or misplace.
If you ever decide to try out self tracking, or are already self tracking, I’d love to see what you decide is worth tracking! I encourage you to drop me a line, or share for everyone to see in the comments below.
Thanks for reading, as always. It means more to me than you might know.