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Evolution of My Self Tracking Form

Evolution of My Self Tracking Form

Posted on 26 September 2011 by Austin Yoder

The Orange Shawl

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.

Origins

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:

Version One

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).

Delivery

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 “daily@nudgemail.com,” making sure to keep the “include form in email” box checked.

Email Form

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.

What’s Next?

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.

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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.

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Examples of Self Tracking

Examples of Self Tracking

Posted on 20 September 2011 by Austin Yoder

Skim Time: 5 Mins
Read Time: 8 Mins

Music

Visual representation of all the music I’ve listened to in the last two months.

What is Self Tracking?

Recording data about yourself, following the idea that you can achieve greater self knowledge by actively observing your behavior and habits. The idea that logging data about yourself and attempting to observe trends in it can be a productive approach towards growth.

Self tracking is a budding interest / hobby of mine. I got interested in it after seeing Nicholas Felton’s Feltron Reports. Since then, I’ve had an on and off obsession.

I’ve been playing around with different methods for self tracking for the past two months, and gathering input from trusted friends.

For example, I know that in the past two months, my weight has fluctuated between 204 lbs and 215 lbs, usually hovering around 208 lbs.

Today, I want to share what I’ve been up to. And why I think this is cool aside from knowing my average and median weight over the past two months.

How I started Self Tracking

I initially started self tracking as an extension of my to-do list. Last year when things would get crazy, I would write down all of the big picture stuff I wanted to get done throughout the day, and review what I had and hadn’t accomplished at the end of every week. Usually over tea, or scotch.

It was a way to wind down at the end of the week, review my progress, plan for the coming week, and another excuse to drink tea, or scotch.

This weekly review system worked great for me for a while, but I found myself wanting to review more than just my to-do list, and to review in more depth. I wanted to get some really specific measures on how I was doing, how I was spending and “wasting” my time.

It’s currently September 20. Since this month began, I’ve spent a total of 13 total hours using Gmail, 2.45 hours in Google Docs, and 1.5 hours on Netflix. And I’ll tell you: not all of that time is productive or unproductive in the way you might think, initially.

In addition to seeing how I spend my time online and during the day, I wanted a way to concretely and objectively measure progress I’ve made on my goals for the year. Ideally, something that would keep me thinking about my goals on a daily basis.

A method of personal accountability.

So I came up with (with the amazing help of some of my closest and smartest friends) a daily tracking form. I fill it out every day. In the mornings.

I use it to record things like my daily weight, where I park my RV, whether or not I remember my dreams from the night before, and whether or not anything stressful happened the day before.

I’ll write more about my daily tracking form soon, and show you what my most current version looks like. It’s undergone several changes in the past two months, and is still evolving.

But first, I wanted to share some cool examples of what I’ve learned about myself. And to show you how I’m currently visualizing / representing them.

Austin’s Listening Stream on Last.fm

(Click the + and – buttons to zoom in.)

I exclusively listen to music on Spotify, because it “scrobbles” to Last.fm.

This means that it records my listening statistics, like the # of times I’ve listened to a song, and which artist I’ve listened to the most. I used to use Pandora, iTunes, and Grooveshark, but none of them offer the scrobbling capability that Spotify does.

There’s a great site out there called Lastgraph that analyzes all of my listening data collected on Last.fm and spits out a slick graph showing me which artists I’ve listened to the most. If you use Last.fm or have enabled scrobbling on Spotify, definitely go check out your own graph. It’s a very cool way to see what you’ve been listening to. I was surprised to see I had listened to so much Ratatat.

Top Artists Listened to Overall:

Top Artists

1. Beirut
2. Ratatat
3. Yo Yo Ma
4. St. Vincent
5. Michael Jackson
6. Dubster Spook

Top Tracks Listened to Overall

Top Tracks


1. Beirut – East Harlem, with 169 plays
2. Beirut – Santa Fe, with 25 plays
3. Beirut – Goshen, with 24 plays
4. Yo Yo Ma – Unaccompanied Cello Suite No. 5 In C Minor, BWV 1011: Prélude, with 17 plays
5. Beirut – Payne’s Bay, with 17 plays

For anyone who hasn’t listened to East Harlem on Beirut’s New Album Riptides, go give it a listen.

More Examples of Self Tracking

I’ve been tracking sleep both by logging it in my Daily Tracking Form, which I’ll write more about soon, and by using FitBit, when I haven’t lost or misplaced it.

I probably averaged between 4 and 6 hours of sleep per night for most of my senior year at Georgetown. As you can see, I’ve been getting much more sleep lately. I’ve averaged 7.72 hours of sleep over the past two months, which seems like crazy amounts of sleep to me.

sleep

FitBit shows me when I fell asleep, when I woke up, how many times I woke up during the night, and gives me a “sleep efficiency score.” I don’t really know what that means, or how it’s calculated. But apparently mine is pretty ok.

I’d like to get my average sleep time down to around 6 hours of sleep per night, but honestly, the extra sleep lately has been very nice. I think it’s helped my overall productivity, and I almost never feel sleepy during the day.

I started 2011 at around 200 lbs and 21% bodyfat. I followed Tim Ferriss’ slow carb diet for the first three months of the year and wound up at around 205 lbs and 15% bodyfat.

Currently, I’m around 207 lbs and 17% bodyfat.

Keeping tabs on my weight and %bodyfat overtime has been a great way to stay healthy this year. I’ve been lazy about my diet for the past few months, and consequently have gone up in %bodyfat.

Tracking all of this let’s me know (concretely) the effect my sloppier eating is having on my body. At least in one very superficial way that admittedly doesn’t take into account many, many other factors.

If I were going to get really serious about tracking my weight, I would buy a Withings Wi-Fi Bodyscale on Amazon (only $159 at present), and weigh myself twice a day: once in the morning and once in the evening.

I also track which muscle groups I work (legs less often than others), whether I lift, do cardio (rarely), whether or not I stretched after I worked out (rarely). While I’m in the gym I write down how many sets and reps of which exercises I do in a paper notebook. I’ve played around with getting all of the data on my workouts online, but I haven’t found a good way to do it yet.

So far this is the best visualization I’ve come up with, although I have more interesting data that could be played with.

That’s right, I used nearly 19 GB of data on my phone in August. After which point T Mobile slowed my data speeds enough that I couldn’t even open a web page. That’s close to 5,000 songs worth of data in a month – 5x what you could store on a first generation iPod.

I was going to try to make the legend for this:

0 (gross)
1
2

But for some reason, Google Charts won’t let me write “gross” next to zero.

Hours slept per night over the past two months, and estimated REM cycles (the kind of deep, refreshing sleep where you dream).

My drinking vices, stacked all up next to each other, enumerated in cups and drinks over the course of the day.

I don’t think that many of these visualizations are the best ways to visualize the data I’ve been collecting. I just don’t know of a better way to visualize it all yet. Until I figure that out, I’ll keep hacking away and trying to figure it out, but if anyone out there reading this post is into this sort of thing and knows of a better way, I’d really appreciate it if you get in touch with me!

Definitely more to come on this front. I’ll show you all the form I use to do my daily tracking soon.

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Anybody else out there tracking a habit or some behavior?

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