What I Learned From Tracking My Life For 3 Months

RomesFall

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I got called 'OCD', 'Mental' and 'Insane'... Just because on one day I tracked 56 separate things I did... But actually after what I learned, it's clear that I was mental for not doing it before.

This all came about from me trying to optimize my life...

This is about lifestyle design and actually designing the lifestyle you want with the help of data to forge a path with the least resistance to get to your end goal as quickly and probably sanely as possible.

This is just one of my many experiments in lifestyle design that has really worked for me, at the start I tracked an awful lot of different things because I wasn't sure how it would all correlate... There were some unexpected interactions. I'm only tracking 15 things a day now... But I won't get into that just yet...

This is going to be a multi-part story to save on it being too much to digest at once.

The first post is going to be about how this has actually revolutionized my life personally and all the things it's helped me realize.

The second post tomorrow will give some backstory as to why I found it necessary to track as much as I could for 3 months, which might resonate with some people here who experience similar problems who aren't sure if they even have problems getting what they want due to aspects of their life/routine.

In the final post I'll explain how I did it, how you can do it if you wish and what I actually learned about myself overall (sharing some data) and how that data has given me more control of my life.

Introduction:


We all have real invisible controllers in our life, once you break free of some of the main ones in life, namely the psychology of modern day people in the modern world, then the only enemy is the enemy within.

Once we're no longer merely 'good little consumers' like we're all meant to be, we eventually learn that we are our own worst enemy, that the things we do shape the very reality we live in. That we are responsible for our happiness and unhappiness. That it's hard to stop doing the things we've always done, or the things we've not done. That our mindset can make or break us on our quest to have the life we want.

We learn that we're not free to do as we wish, to achieve or experience what we desire the most until we've earned that freedom with hard work and determination on the battleground that is our own mind. Because to a large extent we're slaves to ourselves in ways that we don't even know... Believe me, I have the data to prove it.

If you take your life seriously, which I hope you do even if you like to go mental now and again, then you probably have some kind of plan of how to get to where you want to be... That's lifestyle design.

It's about getting the life you want.

To really know yourself and your weaknesses / problem areas, you've got to understand intimately what it is that you do on a daily basis, how it effects you and why... If you don't really know, then like me, you might find yourself screwing up for reasons completely unknown to you.

When you're tracking your life and gathering data the first thing that changes is that you realize every lost battle, every failure is a chance to grow and learn, re-assess and attack again.

Fact: Lifestyle design is important, because among other things it can help you eliminate and optimize a lot of the shit that's slowing you down or keeping you from achieving your goals right now.

In fact there are issues in all our lives that continue to resurface whether we're conscious of them or not... These issues make us unhappy and prevent us from progressing, whether it's something as small as not finding time for the gym for 3 months it can all have a terrifying knock on effect. It's important to make it all work in order to keep progressing...

Is progress actually iterative, or linear? No not at all, progression comes in peaks and troughs, these inflection points are real for everyone and you weather the storm when you hit a plateau.

This isn't to say that you can't do anything about it though, because by keeping track of your life you can identify issues you don't even know you had, issues that can effect you in all areas of your life.

Or if you are aware of an issue you can keep a close eye on it and see whether there's a correlation elsewhere that directly leads to this issue rearing it's ugly fucking head over and over and over.

Eliminate the cause and the symptom will disappear... Let's not forget in the west we have a treat the symptom mentality and it's not rational...

With this kind of data at your disposal you can avoid those plateaus, the failures and general problems more frequently and maybe even indefinitely, who knows.


Intimately tracking your daily activities requires a lot of time and effort, and patience... But it's the key to a better life and really should be at the center of your grand lifestyle design plan in general.

You learn that you can't fight the enemy on all fronts, when a single habit takes around 3 weeks to foster/break according to research... If you have 10 habits (which is a small number really, who only wants to change 10 things about their life?) that you want to foster for good that's 30 weeks... Assuming you focus on one at a time which is sensible. 52 weeks in a year... It's not easy. It does give you a long-term perspective and that's good because it allows you to operate on a whole new level.

In a sense the key is organization, it's partly about collecting data and finding the weak points and remedying them in some way. Data has revolutionized how I perceive myself, because I know how much sleep I get, how many calories I eat, how many times I indulge in a bad habit and I can correlate all of this...

Did I lose all motivation and energy at 2PM? Yes, so what happened? Oh I forgot to eat breakfast, or maybe it's because I listened to a certain kind of music and it got me down... I know all of that, even to the ridiculous stuff that I later learned didn't really need to be tracked. I tracked it all to begin with because I didn't know what was going to be important...

I now know how to organize my day better than I ever have to get the best out of myself, and every time I tweak that routine I get more data back... It's constant feedback, it's refining myself. It's a minimalist approach, and while many people squirm at the idea of living a rigid routine, the truth is that it doesn't mean you're boring or you're not spontaneous. It just means that when you're not doing something spontaneous that you're being as efficient as possible, that you're moving toward your goals on the path of least resistance.

It makes doing what you need to do easy, it makes doing the things you hate doing bearable. It's about dedication, perseverance and strength of character... Because it's not easy, changing isn't easy unless you're not changing for the better.

Most of all it's helped me design a routine that actually works, which is so important since you can design your routine like an auto-pilot program to take you straight to the finish line... If you do it right that is... Or like my old self you might just find that you keep screwing up despite having all the skill you need to get the job done.

If you don't know where the problems are then they'll just keep persisting and yes sometimes you do need to take an extreme approach if you're extremely serious about wanting the life you envision.

Conclusion:

I know this is super long so thanks for reading.
 
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RomesFall

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Something had been bothering me for a really long time...


It was wisdom that taught me that sometimes it's better to completely step back. In the back of my mind I'm always ruled by the idea that you'll get 50 years, if you're lucky, to forge your career and achieve your dreams and ambitions.

I'd just wasted the last 2 of mine and I wasn't willing to do that again.

There's nothing worse than lost time, taking into account that not all lost time provides a lesson from failure.

While I have learned a lot over those 2 years there's plenty of things I've done or not done that has been totally, utterly useless in terms of any kind of positive returns.

It doesn't sit well with me...

So I'd tried everything over the last few years to improve my output and consistency.

Some things I tried helped, some helped a lot and others just didn't work for me at all. I kept what worked and I removed what didn't, let go of toxic friends and family. I sold anything that wasn't essential for my life and my lifestyle goals.

It's not the daily increase but daily decrease. Hack away at the unessential. - Bruce Lee

When it came down to it though I was still screwing up over and over again, every few months, for what seemed like no reason. There was no 'obvious reason'.

Personality flaw? Lazy? Self-sabotage? Attempting too much at once? All of these things swam around my head for months and months. I worked on my self like any of us would. I improved and the problem didn't go away. I might have improved, but the problem hadn't gone...

One thing we know is that it's hard to get going again. If you can keep going it's much easier than starting over.

The momentum of positivity and productivity in our own lives largely relies on the ability to keep on going and doing the things that truly matter to us.

Each time productivity worsened for me it was like an uphill battle to get going again and over two years it just wore me down.

I totally re-assessed what I was doing and why...

It turned out that I wasn't happy doing client work anymore. Actually the whole reason I learned marketing was because I wasn't happy with just selling businesses websites and letting them 'sink or swim'.

All I ever wanted to do was help people build their businesses and adopt modern technologies and ideas.

For me client work was very rarely like that... It just didn't turn out the way I had hoped.

So that was a good bye to 3.5 years of work and the last 2 had felt like a complete waste.

Which by the way is a real bias (I forget the name) but when we keep doing something because we've already invested time or energy into it instead of just stopping and trying something else...

Two years I wasted because I just wasn't willing to give in.

It had caused me so much stress and so many problems that I actually lost the ability (productivity, drive) to work on my own projects. Old sites I had either got sold, abandoned or forgotten about by their audience...

Over time and in the end I was relying on client work to sustain that lifestyle, to bring in most of my income and it just added to the stress.

And so I finally, grew some balls and made the decision, leading me to stop all client work in June last year.

I'd been refining just about everything in my life since the beginning of 2015...

- Focusing on what I cared about.

- Saying no to people (which kind of fits in with the above).

- Started to eat properly and get regular exercise.

- Pushed myself out of my comfort zone by focusing on my fears and addressing them because I had self sabotaged a lot of times in the past.

- Quit my main source of income that I felt sure was causing me most of the issues I was having elsewhere.

Plus a lot more...

I was sure every single time that each thing I removed or tweaked was the thing that was holding me back from being productive and achieving all of my goals.

I took a month off after I decided to stop doing client work and re-charge my batteries.

I got really positive, felt the best I had in years and was ready to get back to building my own sites and grab the rest of 2015 by the balls, make some money and get myself back on the right track to success and happiness.

Did that happen though?

Not really... I was doing the best work I had ever done for about a month and a half, then it all went to shit again.

I fell off my productivity wave and everything suffered.

I didn't know where the problem started, or where it really ended. The only thing I knew was that in another very real sense, the problem started and ended with myself.

So it was back to the beginning, refining, minifying...

Cutting out crap that I didn't want 'distracting me' or 'dragging me down'.

So after some tweaks I got back to doing the things I needed to get done again, like going to the gym and working on my projects... Eventually it happened again.

It always happens again, to me and to you and to everyone. To some degree. We fall off.

- Maybe you've sat around binging on Netflix instead of doing that content you meant to do.

- Maybe you fired up Steam and sat around shooting zombies for an entire day.

The point is, whatever it is at some point this happens and it's at that point that things start to deteriorate quickly...

How many journals here on BuSo haven't been updated for months? Mine included btw.

We don't like to show vulnerability so it's easy to say 'we got too busy', but in reality for 80% of the people here that's probably an excuse, because they fell off - just like I did... Just like we all do at some point.

How often is that for you? How often into a big project, or a new workout routine, hobby or whatever do you experience this happening?

Reality is that we're pretty good at doing what we've always done, bad habits and all... Some of us might be really good at getting work done, but suck at something else. It's not just as simple as getting better at sticking to that one thing, because it's just a symptom of a larger problem... Whatever it is for us, it gets us miserable when we do slip up and that inevitably effects everything else anyway...

It's all connected.

We know when we screw up, we know it makes us more likely to screw up again... We know it's harder to get going again we have, but what we don't know is why.

Is it a question of productivity? Is it a question of motivation or mindset or what? It's a bit of all of those and it's something else too... It's the missing part of the equation, it's just your general life and your routine and how it all plays a big part.

We spend so much time working on each of the others but quite often we don't give the same attention to a great deal of things about our life such as the music we listen to, the clothes we wear, the amount of times we without thinking login to social media, the amount of time we spend doing certain tasks and more so the way that everything we do interacts together. Like a recipe the results can be very different when you add in just a little too much or if you put something in before another ingredient you was meant to add in first.

Conclusion:

If you relate to any of that then there's a good chance that what I'm going to show you in the final post will give you some good ideas on how and what to actually track, how to re-organize your life with the data you get back and how to increase your ability to actually change your life with the data.

Thanks for reading this long ass post once again :smile:
 

Daquan

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What a cliff hanger! Where's the final post. *bangs silverwear on table* We want final post we want final post!

Self-awareness is critical to self-optimization. I know this, but still haven't done it because like you said its a serious level of "crazy" effort. But that's where the real life-hack secrets some out.. It just so happens that you ate oatmeal instead of biscuits and gravy on 80% of the days where you performed better. Little clues like that can make all the difference.
 
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I used to track myself but I ended up falling off each and every time I tried to.

Right now I'm just pretty much focused on waking up early and doing a morning ritual. Once I get that down I'll add something else. At some point I should start tracking again. I feel like my ego gets hit when I have a few bad days and I end up stopping my tracking....
 

RomesFall

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After a brief intermission due to the week being hella busy I'm here to finish this and dish the dirt!


1. What Should You Be Tracking?

Good question isn't it? Instead of hitting our heads against the wall it's important to first ask what the purpose of tracking your daily activities are.

When we track calories, we're not just tracking them for the sake of it. It's to manage our weight gain/loss.

The first thing to do is set out the basics...
- What time did I wake up?
- When did I have breakfast/lunch/dinner? Did I skip them? What did I have?
- Did I get my lazy ass in the shower this morning?
- What blog/forum/social network did I go on? How long did I go on them for?

The basics here are going to be somewhat the same for most of us, but also quite personal too. I don't use things like social media or skype very much at all anymore, but that may not be the same for you.

Tracking Micro-Activities:
If you're looking to track micro-activities that may be effecting your productivity, the first thing to do is apply the same thinking that you did from above.

Think of what, why, when, who, how...

Here, things get more complex though because when we set out the basics it's pretty easy to rationalize the purpose of tracking how many calories you consume, when you get up and even things such as when you jumped in the shower / if you did. You stinking rat bastard!

"You cannot underestimate the importance of practically everything." - John Maxwell

Our purpose with our micro-activities is finding out what the purpose is.

So asides from what you've already set out, you should now list everything you do on an average day, then the things you do on a weekly basis but not necessarily every single day.

This could be listening to music, reading a book or whatever. It's probably easier to say that it's the things you'd normally deem not even worthy of a second thought about doing.

Tracking Habits:
One last one to track... Let's say you're a smoker and you want to do something about that. One thing you can do is track how many cigarettes you're having every day. If you play games and you'd like to spend that time doing something more productive then you can log the amount of time you spend on games.

Making yourself accountable for these bad habits in this way is making you face reality and it's a harsh slap in the face that can be really useful.


2. How To Track Your Life:
After you've decided how much you want to track you've got to setup or adopt some kind of a system for doing so.

Option 1: Manually Logging -
This is what I do, using Google Sheets. Initially mine was a mess, not very organized and it was literally just 'DID YOU DO IT'-esque. Now 3+ months later I effectively run my whole life out of Google Sheets.

The point is it doesn't have to be perfect, especially if you're logging a lot initially.

Some tips I have for this is to set things out in a quantity specific or TRUE/FALSE way so you can use Boolean integers to log what you've done. This is useful because you have to crunch your own averages later. Also leave room to make notes, this is in case you notice some mood based change after an activity.



I'm now at a point where my main sheet links to other sheets such as my workout routine, daily tasks and work tasks. The main sheet is color coded into blocks, these are habits I've worked on that involve co-dependent tasks and it outlines my morning before I start anything else.

Why? Well because I've found if I win my morning battles that the rest of the day follows.

In my main sheet I'm also logging the time I get up, go to sleep and bad habits like drinking tea and cigarettes I've smoked.

Option 2: Existing Solutions -
There are existing solutions available on the market. I've not used any myself yet, but there are three that look more promising than others I've looked at.

https://exist.io/ - This looks by far the best and I do think I'll be trying it very soon. It offers up what it calls insights, which is precisely what I've talked about being important in the other two posts.


How f'ing cool is that ?!?

https://www.mercuryapp.com/ - 2nd best option.

http://daytum.com/ - 3rd best option.

3. General Trackers:
Once you've decided what you're tracking and how, you can start looking for simple solutions for tracking specific tasks or activities.

Here's some of my favorites:

Toggl - You may have used this before if you've done freelance work, it's just a simple time tracker that allows you to track, store and export specific tasks you've done and for how long.

MyFitnessPal - Is there a better calorie/macro tracker available? I don't even know/care because this one works so well. I just snap the bar code in my phone with this app and use my electronic scales to figure out my macros and calories easily.

RescueTime - Track how long you spend on websites, block them etc etc... I'm sure you've come across the concept before, but this is a seriously awesome thing to have if you're logging your life. You don't even want to know how many hours I spent lurking on here when I first started tracking...

Pedometer - Alright I have an old ass pedometer for tracking footsteps, but I'm sure this can be done nowadays with smart watches, fitbands (is that what they're called?) and other things.

Any others? I'm sure there's others so if anyone can share their favorites that'd be appreciated! I think due to logging mine manually I probably miss a lot of potential applications that are available.

4. What I Actually Learned:

Okay so I promised some data, and sorry not sorry, but I don't have any good visualizations for this... I'm just going to give some hard examples to show you how powerful this can be.

Average Hours Sleep:
I get up at 7:45 AM every day now, but I used to get up between 6AM and 7AM. 7:45 AM is my optimum time it seems.

I thought that I would get to bed at around 12:30 on average at most nights, but as it turned out this was the minority.

My average hours of sleep I logged after a month and a half was 2.5 hours a night.

I don't need to explain to anyone the importance of sleep or the effects on performance when you're sleep deprived. Needless to say this has facilitated the most change elsewhere in my routine.

Average Cigarettes Smoked:

I thought I was having around 10 a day and it turned out my average was 14 cigarettes per day. That's really bad, fuck it I know it's all bad... Point is it kicked my butt into gear and now I make sure I have less than 10 a day.

Average Days Breakfast Ate:
To begin with this was a really big crutch of mine and I would skip breakfast, smoke more to compensate and then eat crap at lunch time... This was most changed when I started to get more sleep.

Now I never miss breakfast, but to begin with only 1/8th of my days started with me actually having breakfast in the first hour after waking.

Music Listened To:
This was harder to track of course, but I would purposely play different playlists on my spotify, go back to work and use a pad of paper to note any changes in energy, mood etc.

I found that if I play anything but 'chillstep' that my energy will drop, or I'll get distracted and sometimes nostalgic. Music can have a big effect on us. Anything you 'imbibe'/absorb can make a big difference. TV, Movies, People you listen to etc.

Work Hours:
Back in 2013 life was pretty good... I'd get up whenever I wanted, work until 11PM (so usually a 10-12 hour work day) then stick on a movie, have a drink, fall asleep on the couch and repeat that until the weekend came when I'd go partying.

Over time all that changed, I stopped partying, I 'gained' more responsibilities and slowly but surely my work hours dropped... Back before I quit client work I was working properly for around 2 hours a day. When I started tracking the same was true.

Now I'm working 3-5 hours in the morning and 3-5 hours at night. I found that by splitting my day in two that I got more productive work hours out of myself, with time to get everything else important done in between.

It's important to find a balance and what works best for you. If you know you should get to bed at 1 AM but you want to finish that last feature on your site, seriously just drop it and pick it up in the morning.

Badly Paired Tasks:
As I showed in my main sheet' screenshot I pair my tasks into blocks. This is helpful because you can mentally say I have 11 things to do today, opposed to 40 separate ones, which somehow improved my completion rate.

Some things just don't go well together, you'll notice this when something continuously gets failed to be completed. Or if you fail that, then it creates a domino effect across the rest of your day on more than one day.

One example of this, is I had meditation sit between breakfast and motivation in my morning routine. I found that if I meditated I would 9x / 10 fail to then get to work for a good amount of time after.

Another example is doing my workout before I shower in the morning, seems rather silly to shower before doesn't it? Well, as it turns out if I do it in the 'rational' way that I just seemingly don't bother to shower at all. Conversely if I don't shower first thing in the morning I don't wake up properly, and probably fail to do the workout at all.

Once you've been tracking for a while and start removing tasks that you no longer feel like you need to track you'll notice dozens of these 'bad pairings' and they'll take up the majority of your time experimenting with optimizing your routine.

Conclusion:

The bottom line of all this is that I'm a much happier person than I was before... I get shit done, I'm moving forward again. I found my weak points, I'm working on the ones I still haven't eliminated and looking for new ones all the time.

I think this kind of lifelogging is important whenever a big change has happened in your life.

I know now that I should have done this ages ago because what worked for me in 2013 (when I was last this productive) doesn't anymore and instead of trying to get back to that, it was important to find what works now.

I now firmly believe small influences can have big effects, that small changes can bring about hugely positive or devastating results.

Take aside how I feel, how much more productive I am... I can still say that I'm no longer in the dark about my life and that I have a great degree of more power and control over my life than before.

I highly recommend giving this a go!

Thanks for all the likes I got on the first two posts. Thanks for reading!

Any questions let me know.
 
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Kevin

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Are you still tracking? I am, but I don't approach it the same way as you. However, I've still made massive progress on the things I want to track. What I've found is that tracking less - better - has paid more dividends for me personally.

For example, I meticulously track my food, water, workouts, finances, and business metrics. That's really it. As we all know, "What gets measured, gets managed," and managing all of those areas of life naturally pull the lower level habits into alignment. Because if you're not compromising on the above, all of the little shit you're trying to track will either die or follow suit.
 

RomesFall

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Are you still tracking? I am, but I don't approach it the same way as you. However, I've still made massive progress on the things I want to track. What I've found is that tracking less - better - has paid more dividends for me personally.

For example, I meticulously track my food, water, workouts, finances, and business metrics. That's really it. As we all know, "What gets measured, gets managed," and managing all of those areas of life naturally pull the lower level habits into alignment. Because if you're not compromising on the above, all of the little shit you're trying to track will either die or follow suit.
I'm still tracking everything you've mentioned, I think you're right, those are really the essential things that compound everything else.

I'm also tracking a few smaller areas that are important to me, or small things I've noticed that can be too easily 'shrugged off', but directly correlate with poorer overall performance for me personally when not completed.
 

Kevin

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Love it. For me, finances was the biggest illustrator of the model of awareness > adaptation > optimization. Most of us struggle in some area of our life with awareness - "If only I knew how much I spent on [category], I would change it." But we're too afraid to look, because we know we won't like the result.

With no-judgment awareness of those metrics, it makes it really easy to make changes.