November 21, 2011

Bulk view

Quantified Awesome: Why I track

People often ask me why I measure what I measure. I do it because I’m curious, and measurement lets me collect the data I need to answer those questions. For example:

  • How do I use time, and does that align with how I want to use my time?
  • How do I use money, and does that also align with my priorities?
  • How much time does it take me to do things, and how can I optimize?
  • How much of my things do I really use, and where does it make sense to improve or to eliminate?
  • How can I reduce the time I spend looking for things by simplifying and by organizing?
  • How can I reduce waste in the kitchen by making perishable foods more prominent?
  • How many books do I read and in what areas? How much value do I get out of the library? (Tons!)
  • How much progress am I making towards my goals, and do those goals really matter to me?

There might be long-term advantages to tracking, too. I’ll be able to see trends and changes that might not be noticeable day-to-day. I can use data to support longer-term decisions. I can get better at estimating and dealing with risks, costs, and benefits.

It doesn’t cost a lot of time or attention to track. For example, I prefer to manually track my activities using an app on my smartphone (Time Recording for Android Pro, although there’s a free version). It takes me a few seconds to switch activities, and I do that as I’m heading out the door, waiting for the subway, or doing other things that don’t need a lot of attention. It does take some time to analyze my data, particularly as I build many of my own tools. That also counts as professional development time (Ruby on Rails, visualization, etc.), though, so it might even be more of a benefit than a cost.

I love reading about behavioural psychology, economics, and other sciences that illuminate our predictable irrationality. I can see how I compare in terms of sleep, leisure, and other areas that researchers have explored. It’s fun finding patterns and getting a sense of what lies ahead.

What could help me take this to the next level?

I’ve started sharing work in progress to motivate myself to track data. This also makes it easier to refer to data and visualizations when sharing observations. The more I add to it, the more I come up with ideas for improving it.

I’d like to organize my posts better, so that you can easily find experiments and ongoing observations. It will also help me see what I’ve changed and review my decisions.

I’d like to write more about how people can try things out themselves, and build publicly-available tools to simplify analysis. That way, I might get to learn from other people’s observations and be inspired by the changes they make.

Reading primary research would be great, I think. I can find some papers online, but not all. Summaries in popular psychology books often skip the details, like the methodology the researchers used. I’ll see which journals are carried by the Toronto Public Library. I can also try writing to the authors to ask, or I can look into getting a digital subscription to the University of Toronto’s Robarts Library ($79.10 for six months or $135.60 for one year, mostly access to ProQuest 5000).

I also want to connect with other people who also measure and experiment. I like going to the Quantified Self Toronto meetups, sharing my experiences and ideas, and following up with sketchnotes of those sessions. Edison and the Quantified Self forums might be good ways to connect with people outside Toronto as well.

Plenty of room for growth!