The Dread of Collecting Data

The thing I dread the third most is collecting data. Usually by manually logging it in some spreadsheet. It isn’t uncommon for me to log things in three to five different systems on a given day. The period when I’m experimenting on myself and have to track things is always such a chore and I am so relieved when an experiment ends.

The thing I dread the second most is having to analyze the data. I usually get into flow once I start, but these days, with windows of time to focus being limited, a file of raw data brings more dread than joy.

The thing I dread the most, however, is not having data when I make important decisions. Without data, not only will you be inaccurate more often, but you will not know how inaccurate you are. Data helps us be more accurate and also helps keep our gut in check my reminding us how often we aren’t correct. That is why I press through the things I dread second and third most.

2017 Focus: Quarter Year Update

With the start of a new year, I take the time to set my focus for the coming year. I believe that by doing less, I can achieve results that are exponentially greater than the sum of the results from split focus.

I detailed my 2017 focus here (read that first if you want more context). Here is how I’m progressing.

2017 Theme: Sabbath Year

2017 Challenge: Define & Launch A Sabbath Year

The launch of my sabbath year is slowly becoming a real thing. I’ve taken the first steps to put it into action and begun to lay out logistics.

After years of keeping the topic limited mostly to family & close friends, I recently gave my work concrete notice. I had roughly suggested the idea previously to my manager and one of the founders, but there was no firm timeline or next steps associated. There are still a lot of details to figure out, but the fact that I will be taking a leave from the workforce is looking fairly certain at this point.

As of now, it looks like the start date will be mid-year – sometime between now and August. This means I need to accelerate my planning a bit more as I’ve been somewhat light on that to date. I’ve not come in any danger of going over the seven hour a week planning limiter that I set for myself.

Along with planning logistics, I have done some rough thinking on the overall philosophy of a year of rest. Funny enough, more than a handful of people in my close circles are going through similar processes of taking rest or time away from their primary labor. Though most of those are shorter, in the few month range, their philosophies often share common motivations so we’ve been able to have some great discussion.

2017 Habit: Time Outside With Family

This year I renamed this particular focus item and changed a few things about it. So far I am extremely happy with the result of that process change. It has encouraged the right behaviors, repeatedly, without any strange side effects or end-of-year rushing.

To give one concrete example, I start my week on Monday, so by Sunday I am usually aware of how much time I have remaining to hit my weekly goal and trying to find extra minutes where I can. Walking to church takes about 20 minutes while driving takes about 10 – I typically prefer my mental state after walking but often time pressure & the weather push me towards driving. Lately the extra 40 minutes of outside time has helped tip the scales the other way though and I’ve been walking, even if it is cold or a bit rainy. To me that is one example of a decision I wanted to influence this year.

One process change I might consider in the future, however, is a phased ramp up where the goal is slightly easier at first and progressively gets harder during the year. For this year particularly I suspect Q3 is going to be really easy to hit 7 hours per week on account of the nice weather, long days & my break from a day job. I wouldn’t be surprised if a few weeks hit the 30 hour range.

As for results, of the 13 weeks in the first quarter I’ve managed to hit the seven hour goal 7 times.

This might seem unimpressive, but it was actually quite hard. Seattle winters are cold, wet & dark – none of which make being outside with toddlers easy and all of which increase the time overhead of getting outside (putting on jackets, shoes, gloves, hats, etc.) On top of that I am at work during the day during the week which means there are only a few hours where I am home and the kids are awake and those are usually hours where I’m doing wake up or bed time routines.

I realized how aggressive the seven hour goal was during a recent vacation to warm weather. My total for the week was only 16 hours and I had nothing to do but be outside. A lot of time is eaten up by nap times, meals (minus a few picnics) and driving to sights we wanted to see. I also took some me time to surf which doesn’t add to the total.

So far I’ve found that if I can get ~2 hours logged by Friday I can usually fit the other 5 in over the weekend.

To get some interesting data, along with recording time, I’m keeping track of what activity we took part in and which family member I was with.

We can see that our primary activity is walking – we do a lot of that around our neighborhood on account of the low overhead. A few blocks at toddler pace takes about a half hour, which is usually all I can fit in after dinner.

Most of my time outdoors is spent with the boys, or as an entire family. It is not very often that I have all three kids by myself and am outdoors on account of taking all three out is really hard. I have not once been outside with just my baby girl – I’ll need to change that in Q2. I have been outside with just Suzanne a few times, but I guess I didn’t log those – another thing to correct.

I will add that on top of that time shown in this table, I also spent another 31 hour outdoors without any family members. This includes runs by myself, surfing and activities with non-family members. I’m excited that less than 1/3 of my total outdoor time was solo this year, discouraging that was part of the motivation behind this goal. (I don’t have great baseline data on this from last year unfortunately.)

Finally, here is a collage that includes pictures of a few of my favorite outdoor activities from this year so far: New Years polar bear swim, bundled up, running, gardening, picnicing and playing in the snow.

2017 Exemplar: Eric Liddell

I started my study on Liddell by watching the movie that most people know him from, Chariots of Fire. It had been a long time since I’d seen it and this time I had something particular to pay attention to. I really enjoyed the movie.

I am now reading a biography about Liddell that came out recently – For the Glory. This seems to be the most in depth one written to date, so the timing is fortunate.

What is obvious about him so far is his work ethic and concern for others. Neither of which was my focus for this year, but perhaps I’ll learn more about his sabbath and rest in time.

Ting Cell Phone Service – A Review After Three Years

I first signed up for Ting in March 2014 – that means I’ve been a happy Ting customer for over three years now! I thought I’d share my thoughts as to why I switched to them in the first place and why I’m still happy.

Ting recently gave me a coupon to share that will save you $25 off your first bill. If you’re interested in switching, here is the link to save $25: https://z6fnld2cc46.ting.com/

The Switch from Verizon

I had long been a happy Verizon customer when in 2014 I opened a bill to find I owed over $200 for our three phones. That was above my limit of acceptability. I decided I needed to look for options.

I looked at the plans of the major carriers – AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile. I also came across a few alternative plans; Republic Wireless, Tracfone, Cricket, Virgin Mobile, Boost Mobile & I had even heard rumors of Google Fi.

Selection Criteria

As I began to look at those companies, I came up with a list of criteria that was important to me.

  • Device Options
  • Cell Service Quality & Speed
  • Customer Service & Experience
  • Price
  • Flexibility

I ultimately selected Ting, obviously. I’ve actually reevaluated every year since then and reselected Ting each time for these reasons.

Device Options

We’re iPhone folks and making a switch to another phone would be a difficult undertaking. I actually love Google products and my phone is mostly using the Google alternatives to Apple default software. The effort involved in retraining my wife & mom to use a new OS & phone made it hard for me to consider switching, and so compatibility with iPhone became a strong criteria.

I did try to keep an open mind to other options, but it was going to take a lot to convince me to be on something other than iOS.

On top of that, even if I went with Android, I would want a pure Android OS and not some reskin. I got burned pretty bad by Android fragmentation in the early days where my phone stopped getting text messages suddenly because of an unknown defect that lay between the OS, carrier and phone manufacturer’s reskin. A fix never came. A few of the companies I looked at ran a very custom version of Android and that made me very nervous – unless they had limited their supported phones dramatically, that would likely eventually result in me having a phone that didn’t work and an unplanned need for a new phone.

Ting allowed the iPhone – back in 2014 when I signed up, you had to use the iPhone model that was one year old, but that is what I happened to be using at the time anyhow, so I was ok with that. Recently they’ve allowed the most recent version of the iPhone to be used – something I’ve taken advantage of by upgrading to the iPhone SE the day it came out. I legitimately might have been the first Ting customer to use the iPhone SE.

So with phone selection & my iPhone preference in mind, the results were:

Cell Service Quality & Speed

In the many years I was a Verizon customer, I had very few dropped calls. Switching to something else seemed risky – I knew how miserable the lives of my AT&T subscriber friends were with all of their dropped call issues.

I did a lot of research about service areas and congestion in my area before switching to Ting. At the time they only operated on Sprint towers but now you can select between Sprint & T-Mobile. I live in a major city where there is great coverage, so congestion tends to be the biggest concern, especially during peak times.

After three years of using Ting I’ve noticed a downgrade in cell service quality from Verizon – but it still meets my bar of acceptability. I have had a few dropped calls & there are some places I’ve visited on vacation where I didn’t get great data service. But 99% of the time I am happy with the cellular signal. I’m ok with 99% of the results for ~50% of the cost.

If you’re considering switching, the best thing to do is check the coverage (use this cool tool) around where you live and ask neighbors who use Sprint & T-Mobile how those services perform in your area. From my experience, neither is quite as good as Verizon but often that is fine because the cost savings are so great.

Customer Service & Experience

I mentioned above that Ting uses other company’s towers which they essentially rent signal from.  What Ting actually provides themselves is the account tools & customer support. Those are top notch and probably the biggest reason I picked Ting.

Their website & mobile app are amazing. Here are a few things you can do really easily from either your computer or phone:

1) Settings

Control the settings on devices. You don’t need to do this often, but it is nice to be able to control and check easily whenever you need it.

2) Usage

Here is a screen you can use to see your usage during the month. Along with total usage in each of the three categories they charge for, you can see how much each person is using.

With this I can see that we are at 99 text messages so my next text message will actually kick us up a tier to the next payment level. With text messages that is only like $2 so it isn’t a huge deal. With minutes it can mean another $20, so it is great to have this info handy.

3) Usage Alerts

Along with seeing our usage, I can set automatic alerts to help us stay within our budget. You can see below that I have it text reminders at certain limits and then actually turn off the data if you exceed another limit. It is easy to turn back on if we decide we’re ok going over, but having the limits in place helps make sure you don’t accidentally blow through data when you thought you were on wifi or something like that.

Customer Service

The final part of the customer experience is Ting’s customer service which I would rate as world class.

The few times I’ve had to call them for help with something, I’ve talked to someone that was friendly, helpful and empowered. They were able to solve my problem and one time even gave me a $10 credit as an apology.

I’ve called in before on a weekend and actually talked to a human in the United States in less than 5 minutes – which is amazing. When I’ve emailed in there was great follow up thanks to their use of a ticketing system called Zendesk (which I also love).

One caveat is they don’t have store locations all over like the major brands do. Some people like going into their local Verizon store and walking away with a phone & signed contract. I much prefer doing things on my time which often is not the same time a local store would be open. Doing things with Ting sometimes means waiting a few days for a new phone to come in the mail rather than having it in hand right away – but that isn’t a big negative to me – most of my shopping is online these days anyways and part of the reason Ting is less expensive is they don’t have to pay the overhead for all of those storefronts.

Overall, I’m super happy with the customer experience with Ting – this is one area where they exceed the national providers.

Price

Ting makes it pretty easy to predict your price with this cool tool as long as you have some info about your average usage over the past months. Because of that, I knew what I was getting into and if you’re thinking of switching, you can too.

What I wondered back then was if things would drift up over time. I pulled some data and it turns out that hasn’t really happened. In fact, I’m paying less today that I was when I switched over.

I’m averaging about $85 a month for 3 iPhones – much less than the $200 I was paying to Verizon before I switched to Ting. Just to reiterate, I’m paying nearly 60% less than I was on Verizon for service I’m just as happy with.

For the observant, there are two things you might also notice in the chart above.

First, there was a time towards the end of 2015 where you can see our data usage drifted up a bit, as did our bill. We set up some better alerts (the ones I showed up above) and that helped us get things down lower than we originally were.

Second, there are a few months that are a bit lower. When I first joined I got a credit for signing up and cancelling my old contract, so my first few months didn’t cost much. The few other random dips are because of credits I received, like the one I mentioned from customer support.

I’ve kept abreast of other cell phone plans that have come out such as the recent T-Mobile unlimited plan and every time I run the math, I am still coming out on top with Ting price wise. For someone like our family that doesn’t use a ton of data, there doesn’t seem to be a better plan.

Flexibility

My favorite thing with Ting is that I have a ton of control over how I use my cellular devices, how much they cost me and how often I change things. I haven’t found many other options that give as much control.

Not only am I not in a contract – which means I can cancel at any time, but I don’t even have a fixed amount I pay every month, it is based on what I use. So I know that I can use less and pay less, which is awesome control & flexibility that I’ve taken advantage of to save an additional 15%.

I also have flexibility into what device I use and when I upgrade. With the major carriers you often get a discounted phone after two years, but really you’re just paying for that over time as part of your bill. With Ting we have full control of how often we switch. We’ve found that if you take good care of your phone, it can last longer than 2 years, which means a little more savings through a longer depreciation curve. On top of that, we also usually buy our iPhones used when a new model comes out so we often save even more.

Conclusions

I’ve been very happy with Ting as have a few friends I’ve referred over. If you feel like you’re paying too much for your cell phone service or you aren’t happy with how they treat you, then I suggest you consider the other options that are out there. If you care about the things I mentioned – I hope this post helps with your evaluation.

Finally, as I said before, Ting recently gave me a coupon to share with you for $25 off your first bill if you decide to switch to them. (Ting also gives me a $25 credit for my next bill as a thank you for referring you – so it is win win) So, if you’re going to switch, might as well save yourself a few bucks by using this link: https://z6fnld2cc46.ting.com/