by Mike Shea on 30 June 2014
Warning: navel-gazing ahoy! Continue reading if you're into the topic of life tracking and don't mind some self centered egotism. Otherwise, please return to your regularly scheduled cat videos.
Looking back at life back in 2009, tracked each day by hand, and compared to today brings up interesting observations. Looking back five years gives us a much greater perspective and scale while looking at daily tracked goals gives us a larger amount of data to observe. It shows us what mattered then and lets us compare it to what matters now so we can get an idea what will matter in the future.
When it comes down to it, though, success often isn't accomplishing more but demanding less.
Below is a graphic generated with R from an Excel spreadsheet fed by hand from a daily life goal checklist I kept in my Moleskine notebook throughout 2009. Each goal was either checked off or left blank each day. 33 days were omitted for a lack of entry resulting in a total of 332 days and a total of 3,320 points of data.
There are a bunch of interesting things we can discover when looking at the chart above. Here are a few observations.
If we look at the whole picture, we see that in 2009 I checked off 1,989 goals out of 3,320 possible for a total of 59% accomplished.
This year I've been tracking my goals and daily accomplishments with my lifetracker app. While the year is not yet complete, I can normalize the data captured to date and compare it to my daily goals from 2009.
The chart below is based on 180 days of data collected from 1 January 2014 to 29 June 2014 with no omissions. "Create", "Relax", "Love", and "Befriend" scored positively if I scored them 7 or better on a 1 to 10 scale. I was able to include "Read", "Eat Well", and "Exercise" from tags I captured each day with the Lifetracker.
You'll note that "Work", "Simplify", and "Benefit" aren't on this chart. "Work was generally a boring thing to track. "Simplify" is more of a state of mind than an activity so I got rid of that. "Benefit" ended up not being something I regularly worked on. It was the sort of thing I wanted to be better at but I never really put in the energy. It's a perfect example of the sort of goal we can omit based on our behavior rather than our desires.
Overall we see greater consistency day to day. That's a positive change, I think.
"Read" became much more consistent with 88% of days checked off in 2014 from 32% in 2009. Today I read every night before bed and listen to audiobooks in the car almost every day. With these two habits it's hard to go a day and not read some sort of fiction.
"Create" has gotten much more consistent with 82% of days checked off in 2014 compared to 67% in 2009. I'd love to write 500 words a day every day for the rest of my life but I'm not quite there yet. I create in lots of different ways, from prepping a D&D game to sketching some mountains. Still, we see much more consistency from 2009 to today.
"Relax" dropped to 78% of days checked off in 2014 compared to 98% of days in 2009. Either I scored relaxing much easier back in 2009 compared to today or I simply relaxed more back then. Knowing what my life was like in 2009, I think I'm just scoring it harder these days. Still, it's very consistent overall.
"Love" remains solid 92% of days checked off in 2014 compared to 97% in 2009.
"Befriend" actually went down to 78% of days checked off in 2014 compared to 84% in 2009. Again, I'm either scoring it harder now or I'm worse at it. Lately I've been emailing friends on the weekend so it should get more consistent over the year.
"Eat Well" is much better at 66% of days checked off in 2014 compared to 32% in 2009. I'm eating better so far this year but portion control is a big problem for me and I think it will continue to be a problem for the rest of my life. I can get on a good streak for months, sometimes up to a year or more, before dropping back down to shitty eating habits. I think oscillation in eating habits is just something I'll face until I'm back to the mud.
"Exercise" vastly improved to 82% of days checked off in 2014 compared to 8% in 2009. I expect it's because of reduced expectations. Today I consider good daily exercise to be 10,000 steps and walking a bunch of stairs (240 to 360 stairs on work days). If I hit 10,000 steps, I feel like I've gotten the exercise I need. More is always better but I have to be realistic given my current lifestyle. I don't exactly remember what I counted as a good exercise day back in 2009.
If we consider the data from 2014 so far, I've "checked off" 1024 out of a total of 1,260 possible goals for a total of 81% success in in 2014, 22% better than 2009.
The value of daily life tracking is certainly unproven. Personally, I'm not sure it's a lack of data that leads us astray when we compare our daily lives with our desires. I think it has much more to do with our own internal motivations, false expectations, and limited willpower.
Still, I think we can learn a lot from what we track, not so much to change our behavior but instead to change our perspectives and expectations. I only needed to wear a Fitbit for five days before I had a pretty good idea how to get 10,000 steps a day. Once that's routine, why measure it down to the step? It might be nice to passively record and analyze daily information but the results might not lead us to a healthier lifestyle, it might instead simply show us what we can expect for living the lives we already live.
Real change is real hard. One of the best changes we can make is managing our own expectations for ourselves so we don't go to sleep disappointed every day. Taking a look at daily life data over a year five years back gives us a much more objective view of those days and helps us build those realistic expectations.
If you can't live the life you love, love the life you're living.
Apologies to Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young