Innovation Session

Innovation Session: Gathering Data on Myself

If you can measure it, you can improve it.

With that in mind I plan on measuring more things about myself in 2013 as I continue optimizing areas of my life. I currently do a quarterly review of how I spend my time and an annual 50K ft look – but I think there can be benefit to a daily granularity.

In general, I am a strong advocate of data based decision making.  Often this does not require complicated computation or advanced statistical techniques – it simply requires having the right question in mind and some relevant data to look at over time. Trends will show themselves. This is especially true when the area in question is not already highly optimized.

As anyone that works with data will tell you, though, getting clean relevant data is often what most of the effort goes into on a project.

There are a lot of really cool things going on with self measurement right now – it is sometimes called quantified self . The focus on it is making it easier to find tools that seamlessly track aspects of your life. Some that come to mind are:

Tonight, I’m going to put some energy into creating a system that lets me easily gather data about myself. Hopefully I’ll be able to iterate through a few versions before the new year starts.


  1. Daily – I have done some sampling before but want something more consistant and granular
  2. Easy – it is hardly optimizing if the process costs more time & energy than the results
  3. Diverse – it should include structured & unstructured data, qualitative & quantitative about a wide range of topics
  4. Actionable – I want to stick to those things which I can impact
  5. Future-proof – there are questions I will want to ask later that I don’t know yet

First off I need to select a system to use. I was thinking about but am hesitant because of the fact that the founders now work at Facebook. I don’t want to rely to heavily on a system that might become unsupported or shut down shortly.

After a bit of looking, it seems like most of the forward thinkers are using custom tools. I’m going to opt for Google Docs & use the form tool which gives me both ease of entry and organized storage. I’m then going to set up a reoccurring calendar event that will pop up a link to the form every day at 8:00 pm on my phone. That should take care of requirements #1 & #2.


Now to come up with questions – I am immediately thinking of three categories I want to measure.

  1. Things I want to quantify so I can later try to correlate them
  2. Things I want to codify so I can later look back on them
  3. Things I want to ask so they will stay on my mind

1. Quantifiable info

The first few items will likely include items I just want to get raw number for and which are fairly factual by nature. I’m guessing that most of these will be interesting but more so when used to shed light on other items.

  • How many hours did you sleep?
  • How many hours did you work?
  • How many hours of deep concentration did you have?
  • How many hours did you read for?
  • How many meaningful conversations did you have?
  • Did you exercise?

Then there are items I’m going to put numbers to that are a little more abstract. These ones are starting to drift away from requirement #4 as they are less actionable – but I suspect they will indicate problems with the items above.

Health in each of the following:

  • Physical
  • Mental
  • Social
  • Emotional
  • Spiritual
  • Vocational

2. Situational items

These questions, I’m hoping will provide deeper context for the items listed above. Mini-snapshots of my life.

  • What is the thing you are most excited about today?
  • What is the thing you are most worried about today?
  • What was one thing you accomplished today?
  • What was one way you failed today?

3. Items to keep on my mind

There are some things, that by keeping them on the top of your mind will affect your actions. I’m hoping these questions have that result.

  • What new thing did you do today?
  • How did you serve others today?
  • What did your actions today say about your character?
  • How were you a loving husband today?
  • What time did you spend today that you now wish you hadn’t?


 Here is the final product on my phone – just in time to wrap the session. It is a bit long at 24 questions, but I like a lot of it. I’m going to consider the next 10 days a test run and make some tweaks before settling on something to consistently use for 2013.

Edit: After a few days of working with the longer list I realized that I needed to drop a few questions. I was able to get it down to 13 without losing too much by dropping the first set of quantifiable questions. I’m not too concerned with time tracking here and that I can get fairly accurate data on that with a sampling method I use elsewhere.

I also realized that for the health questions, 1-4 was not a granular enough scale so I’ve changed that to 1-10.