Last week I agreed to participate in a Quantified Self Research Study that was being done by IIT design students. The research study involved a lot of self reflection about why and how I started getting involved in the Quantified Self movement and what I've learned. Here were a few of the major questions that I had to think through and reflect on:
What do you track and why?
I started off using the health & wellness QS gadgets that track steps and sleep, like the FitBit, but I got into other forms of self-tracking because I was going through the business school application process and I wanted to start keeping track of my goals, tasks and productivity, since it was a busy time for me balancing projects at work with community activities and still finding time to hang out with friends and work on my applications. At the same time, I also wanted to track how I was spending my time and the activities that I enjoyed doing because one piece of advice that I kept hearing from others who had been through the process was to spend a lot of self-reflection time because it would help make it easier to write the essays which included topics like "What matters most to you and why?" This led me to start looking into ways I could track mood and happiness, so I started searching for other types of Quantified Self applications that I found either on the QS website or through word of mouth.
I also started using applications like RescueTime, which would give me a productivity score each week based on how much time I spent on applications like Excel, Word and Powerpoint vs. reading the news on the web or checking email. I needed some way to keep myself accountable and on task for getting my work done and I found it helpful to see a breakdown of the time and applications I was using to get my work done.
What have you discovered?
Most of what I discovered in terms of my productivity ended up being common sense and I already knew the answer, but it was good to see the data to back it up. For example, I had an idea of how many hours a week I would spend working, but with RescueTime I discovered that my productivity averaged in the 80% range vs. 50-60% for other RescueTime users and I spent significantly more of my time in Excel and Outlook vs. other users.
From TrackYourHappiness.org, I learned that I’m almost equally balanced between how happy I am when I’m focused on work vs. when I’m interacting with other people. That helped me realize that I’m more balanced between introversion and extroversion than I would have thought. The data also showed that I tended to be happiest when I was either catching up with friends in person or on the phone or on Saturdays while I was volunteering for the mentoring program I'm involved in. I actually used this last insight to help me write my business school essay on the fact that what mattered most to me was mentorship in the form of both being a mentor for others and appreciating the mentors that I had.
Have you changed anything as a result of your tracking?
Even though I’m now finished with the business school application process, I’ve continued the process of tracking and still try to write and self-reflect each day, since I still find it helpful to review what I’ve done and what I want to accomplish the next day.
Also, since I’ve learned that I’m more productive in the mornings than at night, I’ve shifted my schedule to wake up an hour earlier at 6am because I find it easier to focus and make sure that certain tasks get done first thing in the mornings rather than getting put off until the afternoon or evening.
In addition to mentoring on Saturdays through Minds Matter, I’ve now also taken on an additional mentee through the Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship and have been more involved in advising local Chicago startups because I’ve realized that’s how I most enjoy spending my time outside of work.
I would also say I’m now more aware of things that have a large effect on my mood and energy level. I’ve been more consistent about fitting in a workout every morning no matter how short it is because otherwise I’ve seen my energy level decline earlier in the day and have I’ve needed more than one cup of coffee to keep me going.
Overall, the self-tracking data has helped me become more aware of what’s important to me, what I enjoy doing, and how balanced the time I spend is between aspects such as work, friends & family, community and health & fitness.
Did you start out of pure curiosity, or with a goal in mind?
It was a combination of both. I started out in order to keep myself accountable for the goals I had set for myself, both in terms of health & wellness and productivity. I wanted to keep track of what I was working on, get into the habit of regularly writing and self-reflecting as well as just remember the things I had done or the places I had been that I enjoyed the most.