by Mike Shea on 12 December 2014
As we close in on the end of 2014, I have some interesting information on the data I tracked using my Lifetracker application. I also want to consider what tags I bother to track in 2015. This is always a deeply navel gazing sort of activity but, like the rest of this lifetracking bullshit, it's one I enjoy.
"Why bother" is a great and important question. For me it comes down to the following reasons:
If we know why we're tracking stuff, the next question comes down in what to track. Over 2014 I tracked more than 8,000 elements of data through tags and goals. Here are some examples of data I recorded on 7 December 2014:
Storing tags as key value pairs gives me a deeper level of granularity I didn't have before. Now I'm not just tagging one particular thing, I'm also further refining and describing that thing. The items with the "1" value above aren't nearly as interesting as the ones with an actual value like "TV With Michelle:Miss Fisher". It lets me put together interesting charts like this one for reading books and audiobooks over 2014:
and this one for which books I actually read and listened to:
So what tags are useful and what ones are best omitted? What are some good practices for tagging? Here are some ideas:
Good tags track meaningful keys and values.
Tracking keys alone isn't that intersting but the full key value pair can lead to some interesting analyses as we saw above.
Tags should be interesting.
They're the sorts of things we want to learn about, the things that matter to us.
For example, I track every D&D game I ran over 2014. I love running D&D games and therefore it's something I want to track. I also tracked, for a while, my D&D preparation. That wasn't as interesting. As a lazy dungeon master my D&D prep often constitudes little more than writing down five phrases in a Moleskine in about 2 minutes. It's not a real creative activity. If I actually wrote 500 words it might be worth while but I can track that with "Write:D&D Campaign Material".
Tracking books, movies, videogames, and TV shows are interesting. They show both the macro trends (how many days did I read over the year) and the specifics (which books did I read when). This is the usefulness of tracking keys and values.
Good tags teach us something we might not otherwise know.
If we're tracking something we do every day, it's just going to be a gray bar across a whole year. What good is that? We already know we do that. Instead we should track things that may vary or show us patterns we might not otherwise see.
There are numerous things I do every day that matter to me but aren't really worth tracking. They're just not that interesting. I try to make my wife's life easier by doing the dishes every day. This was something I used to track but it just wasn't that interesting so I stopped tracking and deleted the data halfway through the year.
Tags should track what is important to us.
We should focus our tags on what we actually want to see. A good key value pair might be steps:10234 which is great if you have a pedometer on you all the time. Now that phones start to track this, it's not so bad, but maybe all you care about is whether or not you passed 10k steps or not. That's the important part of it.
Of course, this means looking at the big picture to determine what "important" is. I've studied this personally for over a decade and I think my current set of six is pretty good:
If those are important, what are the interesting daily activities that fall in here?
Another advantage to storing key value pairs is in its flexibility. It's easy to decide to track something new and add it to the stack. One doesn't have to rebuild the entire system to start tracking something new. While it's nice to have a whole year of data, it isn't necessary.
So looking back at regular tags in 2014, here are some key ones I enjoyed tracking, learned from, and plan to continue to use. The ones with a colon are key / value pairs.
What other sorts of things are interesting? What other key value pairs might be fun to track, might show interesting results, and is important to me on both a grand and daily level? It's hard to wipe the slate clean every year and decide once again what's important.
What keys and values do you think you'd track in your own life? I'd love to hear so send me a email to email@example.com or tweet me.
In January we'll take a look at the whole of 2014 and see what we learn.
Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org or follow @mshea on Twitter. If you enjoyed this article, please use this link to Amazon.com for your next online purchase.