How To Measure Your Life
A couple of years ago Clayton Christensen, one of the foremost researchers into innovation in business, wrote a book titled How Will You Measure Your Life. In that book he applied the lessons from his business research to our personal lives, It’s a superb book. I took two things away from it relevant to this blog post. First you need to become aware of what’s important to you and second you need to invest your resources in those areas.
This post is about simple tools that will help you become more aware. Everything I’m going to describe you can do with pen and paper, or with a spreadsheet. I don’t recommend either. If you’re anything like me you won’t have the discipline required to keep tracking unless it’s easy and rewarding. So I’m going to recommend apps and gadgets that make tracking sustainable and fun.
There are thousands of apps and dozens of gadgets out there to help in the quest to live well. I’ve not reviewed all of the alternatives, but I am going to share what I use and consider plenty good enough to meet everyone’s basic needs. I don’t think you need to worry to much about finding the best tools, just make a decision, start and commit to keep going.
Track the things that are important in your life. Many people recommend tracking new habits you want to establish. That’s fine but I think it’s much more important to track the things that are important as well, habits you think you already have. When I started doing this I was shocked to see just how infrequently I did things that I loved or valued. For example I really like it when we all sit down for a family meal, but when I started tracking we were only achieving it a couple of times a week, now it’s more like 5. It’s also a good idea to track habits you are trying to break or to spot patterns of negative events. For example I now track how frequently I take strong painkillers, this used to be about 25 days a month, now its frequently less than 10. Tracking makes you more conscious of things that are important to you. I’ve included a sample of my own tracking data on the right. I use the lift app for my tracking, it’s web and cross platform, easy, motivating and has great visualisation. You can also export your data as a CSV file for further analysis.
Keep a Journal or a diary. Lot’s of people recommend keeping a journal, I’m not going to disagree, but I personally don’t have the discipline to do it. I do however think it’s incredibly useful, fun and insightful to let technology journal for you. In my case I do this with an app called Momento. It automatically builds a Journal from my blog posts, tweets and Instagram photos. I can manually add additional entries as well. After years of use the 2-3 daily diary tweets, occasional photos and blog posts build into an incredibly useful diary. I can easily search it to find when I was at Chorley to do my travel expenses, find out when I had the boiler serviced, when I last went cycling. I use it to compare how I was feeling last year and this. Just recently on the anniversary of my Dad’s death a few years ago I looked back on my entries for the month he died and I treasured those memories. It’s an amazing payback for such a tiny amount of effort.
Track what you eat. Even if you don’t need to loose weight I think it’s worth tracking what you eat for a few weeks or maybe months. I started about a year ago and I’ve not looked back. Like habit tracking and journaling I’ve found it fascinating to see how little attention I paid to food until I started tracking it and how, without much effort, my diet has improved steadily just because I pay attention. I eat very simply, only about a hundred foods and maybe 20 different meals so it’s easy for me to keep track. I use the MyFitnessPal app and I’ve found it quick to use with excellent reporting. I can’t see myself stopping tracking now as it takes me literally 2 minutes a day – it’s great. I also track my weight using WIFI scales but I don’t recommend that for most people.
Track your movement. In what’s fast becoming a recurring theme in this post when I started tracking my physical activity I was again surprised at how little I moved. Even though I felt that I was obsessed with moving about when faced with the cold hard facts I found that over the years I had gradually stopped moving around in the afternoon and evenings. The afternoon and evening walks had stopped, the after dinner swim was no more, cycling had become a once a month major event. A soon as I clipped the fitbit to my belt all that changed. As soon as I became aware I started to do more and over the last year I’ve gradually changed my work and home life to encourage movement. I use the fitbit one, which clips to my belt, my wife and one of my daughters also use the same model. We all like them. I love the fact that I don’t have to think about it, it’s always there, automatically feeding my activity and calories burned into MyFitnessPal. Years ago I had a much cheaper belt clip tracker, it didn’t sync to anything but it did the job. I don’t recommend it though because it takes more effort and with tracking the less effort, the more likely you are to keep tracking and the longer you keep at it the greater the benefit.
This post describes my personal journey in more detail.
I’m going to talk about other apps for relaxation, sleep, pain and other tracking needs in the specific sections of this guide. The ones I’ve listed above I consider to be the basics.
The picture is of Scarborough Grand Hotel. The building is designed around the theme of time: four towers to represent the seasons, 12 floors for the months of the year, 52 chimneys symbolise the weeks, and originally there were 365 bedrooms, one for each day of the year. The hotel itself is in the shape of a ‘V’ in honour of Queen Victoria. An excellent picture for a post about ‘measuring’. Debbie and I went on holiday to Scarborough last year. I did my longest ever walk that holiday. My fitbit tracked every step, my achievement is recorded by tweets and photo’s in Momento and lots of food was eaten and tracked in MyFitnessPal!