Thanks to one of my housemates I’ve gotten interested in self tracking lately. The basic idea is to gather data about yourself and learn from it to optimize your life. Simple example: I could log my mood throughout the day as well as the number of hours of sleep I get. Then I could correlate my average mood with hours of sleep, and I could find out the amount of time I should sleep to maximize mood. Obviously there are a lot of complex correlations you can make, depending on the amount of data you gather. There’s a whole community of people interested in this, called the Quantified Self movement.
I’ve tried self tracking before, but my past attempts all failed for a few reasons:
- Tracking was cumbersome: I did most of my tracking in a spreadsheet on my laptop, but having to manually enter a lot of data was annoying and interfered with whatever I was doing. Plus whenever I was away from my computer I had to take notes on my phone, which took even longer and required transcription later. A simpler, more mobile solution would have been better.
- Tracking was hard to remember: I tried to track my meals, but sometimes I would forget to write down what I had for breakfast. The same thing happened with tracking the hours that I went to bed and woke up.
- No good reminder system: I wanted to track my happiness level throughout the day. At the time, I attempted to do this with alarms on my phone. This was a bad plan, since the alarms annoyed my girlfriend (I would spend a few seconds getting my phone out of my pocket to turn them off), and couldn’t be easily randomized (I wanted to sample happiness throughout the day as randomly as possible).
I’ve decided to take another stab at self-tracking, and I think I’ve solved all three of the above problems.
- Simplify logging with a web app: Instead of a spreadsheet on my desktop, I’ve built a tiny web app which pre-fills data like the date and time and makes it easy to select frequent locations and people I’m with. When I want to download the data, I just format it as a CSV in a special results page. The app can be used from both my desktop and my phone, so all my data is in one place and is much faster to use than before.
- Generate random calendar appointments: Calendar appointments are much better than alarms for simple reminders. Rather than ringing forever, calendar appointments pop-up on your phone (or desktop), optionally play a short sound, and then sit quietly until dismissed. Using a library for writing ICS (iCal) files, I generated dozens of random appointment reminders for tracking my happiness and imported them into a new Google calendar, which gets synced with my phone.
I’m three days into the experiment and it’s going well. The less effort I have to put into tracking and remembering to log data, the more likely I’ll be to continue it long term. Hopefully in a few months I’ll have some interesting data to talk about.