Two years ago, I got interested in the quantified-self movement. Most of you know that self quantifying is the practice to measure many things about ourselves. Its goal is to improve health and habits by providing a better understanding of what influence us the most.
When you deal with QS, you quickly understand that managing a lot of data is quite challenging. With the rise of internet of things, various connected devices emerged and made the tracking easier. But crossing data is still a tough problem. There are few softwares offering this service while providing a good experience. Even if there is good one, using it means also giving all your personal data to a single third-party. To me, that sounds creepy.
I wanted to quantify myself, but honestly, I felt too lazy. I didn’t want to record my measures regulary in spreadsheet and finding ways to compare them. But like many programmers, I like to solve problems with software. So, I designed Kyou, a tool that allows to visualize data you track on a single board and compare them to each other. It comes with automatic trackers that deals with data stored in your Cozy personal cloud and custom trackers that allows you to put your measure directly in the app. Additionnaly, I created a second app called Konnectors to fetch and store data from vendors of my tracking devices and make them available in KYou.
Once done with my tools, I felt confident to run my QS experiment. I shaped a QS setup including common trackers like daily amount of sleep, steps, expenses, weight, working hours and mood. I tracked some other habits too like playing the clarinet or counting the number of push-ups I do every day. To make my measures, the two tracking devices I used were the Jawbone Up bracelet (Sleep, Steps) and the Withings SMB Scale (Weight).
“Another aspect of self-measurement is staying Objective” John C.Havens, Hacking Happiness founder
I started my experiment on January 1st. At the beginning everything was ok. I quickly got used to tracking my mood manually, my working hours, my clarinet and push-ups habits. It was a lot of fun but soon I got a weird feeling. Browsing my trackers on a single page everyday was like monitoring a web server. I was not checking if a machine was running well, I was checking if I was running well. Was that a good idea to provide my tools with so much power?
Then I started to enjoy the benefits. I didn’t feel guilty anymore to wake up late. When I had my 8 hours of sleep three days in a row, it was obvious that I was more productive. Tracking my steps push me to take any opportunity to walk more (avoiding subway when I can, having an end of the day walk with no purpose, etc.). Things get really interesting when I learned a new skill: getting the feeling of distance. I could evaluate how many steps would require to go from one place to another. Tracking my habits was powerful too. When I was training for my clarinet concert it motivated me to play every day during two weeks (something I never do usually).
Then came the most exciting part: I found relations between trackers. Here a few of them:
- when I work less, I walk more
- When I walk a lot, a few days later I sleep more
- During certain period of time, my expense and my sleep amount share the same progress
- A high expense is followed by a bad mood day
- long day streak of good mood leads to more sleep
I wish I would find more but I was already quite satisfied. Some weird measurement was related to specific events so I added to KYou a feature allowing to store notes. That way I had explanation to unexpected phenomena.
But then after three months of QS, things became harder. I was in an intense period of stress. At the beginning it was manageable and QS helped me a lot to deal with it. But my stress level reached a point where it became too high. I had too much things to do and I stopped tracking myself properly. QS requires rigour. Even with KYou it requires regular work and I couldn’t find the time to quantify myself properly. At last things took a turn for the worst, I broke my Jawbone.
NB: The Jawbone build quality is low. Octavian, who writes about productivity on this blog, experienced the same kind of problem as I did.
Then, I ordered a new UP bracelet and lost 3 weeks of measuring. What surprised me is that losing my bracelet gave me a sentiment of relief. Self-quantifying makes you more responsible of yourself and taking a QS break can be relieving. Then my new Jawbone Up shipped. I made the mistake to upgrade to the UP24 and discovered one of the user anti-pattern QS trackers shared: it requires a recent phone to store your data. So I had to wait three more months (the time to decide to buy a new smartphone, chose it and buy it) to start quantifying myself again. So my 6 months experiment finally ended being a 3 months one.
“We have to keep in mind that there’s information that does not go through data but via human interaction” Thanassis Rikakis, Emerge Founder
Now, after all the not so pleasant experiences were said let’s go back to the benefits. QS changed something else in me: I’m eager to experiment more. It’s not directly related because I don’t measure their result but It made more curious to see the impact of new habits on my well being. My benchmark is only what I feel by applying a new rule. Here are exemples of experiments: I spent one month without drinking alcohol. I tried to eat only fruits and vegetable in the rawer possible way. I wash my hair with cold water every day. The results are interesting, but would require another blog post. By the way if you have any suggestion about a good experiment I could perform let me know.
So, what is the status of my QS experimentation? I finally got a new smartphone and back to tracking my sleep and steps. Since we finished the Cozy fundraising, I feel less stressed and started to fill my custom trackers again. Last but not least, I decided to add two trackers to my setup: my blood pressure and my amount of commits. With these new insights and a longer period of tracking, I expect to discover new hints about the Quantified Self practice. My new session will start on september 1st.
To conclude and summarize, here are the key points of my experiment:
- QS requires rigor. That could be accomplished through a daily routine.
- Variation matters more than amounts.
- QS could bring to you unexpected new skills like estimating distance.
- QS is great to “fix” an habit or to achieve a goal on a short period of time.
- QS is good to optimize but won’t help much when it’s about getting out of hard context.
- Grabbing personal data is addictive: you want always to have more of them.
- Knowing yourself provides you with more responsibilty toward yourself.
- Having a QS break once in awhile is a good idea .
That’s all for this first QS session. I hope to be able to write more feedback Once my second session of QS done! Thank you for reading this article. Do share your own experience of QS tell me what could be improved in my QS setup. Feel free to comment here or or in the forum. (I opened a dedicated subject).