If we ask questions – as Socrates warns us we must – eventually our ability to answer them becomes limited by the data we have available. If we wait until we have the question to start collecting data, it will take us some amount of time to get baseline data and then even more to measure change during experiments. We won’t have our answer for some time – weeks, months or even decades. We might never get an accurate answer. This is why we must record data that we do not yet know how we will use. Some day we will have a question that these data can answer. This is why we must bear the burden of recording and storing information. Some day an important question will be quickly answered because of the hard work we put in now. Here is a story to highlight one recent, though not all
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
Tracking Time I recently wrote about plans I have to tweak a time tracking system I’ve been using for close to a decade. I’ve been breaking down time spent into the things it consists of rather than the physically observable action. Similar to how a nutritionist might break down a meal into its elements; carbohydrates, proteins, vitamins, sugars, etc. This is the second post in the series where I look at various elements of how we spend our time. The Beneficiary The second batch of elements I will write about is who the beneficiary of our current actions is. As I’ve observed how I spend my time, all of it consists of; enjoying the now, investing in the future, giving it for the sake of others or wasting it. The beneficiary is either me right now, someone (possibly me) in the future, someone else or no one. Each time block we spend will consist
Tracking Time I’ve been tracking my time for close to a decade and over that time, thanks largely to the logistics of this process, the categories I use to bucket my time have evolved. What started with three simple categories; labor, leisure & human functions, eventually evolved to include ten categories. Even those gave me problems though. For example both driving & biking to work count as commuting, but they are clearly different. How do you account for those differences and the impacts they will have on your life? Because of this, I’ve recently begun thinking of how I spend my time in a more reductionist manner. I’ve been breaking down time spent into the things it consists of rather than the intended result. Similar to how a nutritionist might break down a meal into its elements; carbohydrates, proteins, vitamins, sugars, etc. I have a notion that separating the goals of my time from
Last December I started measuring a few things about myself every day. Now, four months in, I’d like to take a look at how it has gone and what that data has shown me so I can improve upon the system. Success of the System Over 102 days I completed the survey 80 times. Based on that I would deem the method a success. Any system that is able to remind me to do something and succeed in getting me to do it ~80% of the time is doing pretty well in my book. Pivoting my completion percent by the day of week gave me the following. The astute reader will notice that my completion rate was >1 on Wednesdays. I thought there might be a bug or double logging errors in my system. When I looked into it I realized that a few of those were actually my
Imagine this – its 6:00 AM on a Thrusday and you’re driving half an hour up the coast to surf a wave you never go to during the week. Why? Because your iPhone told you to. That killer session you had last summer, it looks like the swell is lining up to recreate it. So you grab your board and hit the road hoping to turn the stoke up to 11. The world of surf forecasting & reporting has evolved slowly over the last 50 years. While it has adapted to the world of websites and mobile apps – most are simply new skins on the broadcast weather radio reports surfers have relied on since 1967. They are channels for data. They tell you the swell height, period and direction and something about the wind. Even when they look amazing they are usually showing the same information. They are not simple and intuitive nor are
I gave a talk last month at the San Francisco Quantified Self meetup about the time tracking project I’ve been doing over the past 6 years. I would say more, but I don’t want to steal my own thunder.
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