Friday, December 31, 2010

Quantifying myself - a 2010 recap

Back in March when I got started on my marathon training, I signed up for a service called dailymile to track all of my workouts. Even if my marathon aspirations failed, dailymile proved to be a fantastic tool and started a larger trend for me this year. Since starting with dailymile, I've begun quantifying all sorts of useful things in a quest to understand myself better. Partly because my memory is so bad and partly because I just like data. In some cases, I don't yet know when or where the usefulness will come, but in a world of infinite storage it's easy to store all kinds of information.
Here's a summary of what I've been collecting...
The year started with dailymile, which I used to track my running, swimming, cycling and bike commutes to work. Dead simple data entry with a social/community element. I will say that I'd trade in the social aspect for a mobile app. :) MyTracks proved to be a great app on Android even though it didn't integrate with dailymile.
When the snow came, my outdoor activity essentially ended and so did my visits to dailymile. But in November, I joined some friends for the 100 Day Challenge. A friendly competition to see who could amass more points (via exercise activities). The idea is simple, you receive points for a variety of exercises - pushups, situps, walking, running, etc. The points are maintained on a Google spreadsheet so everyone knows where the others stand. There's even a little Twilio app that sends out a text message in the morning with the daily standings. I'm not even sure there is a prize at the end, but I can say that the simple fact that my numbers are viewed by others is an incredible motivator for me.
Most recently, I've started carrying around a FitBit to track my general activity level throughout the day. I'm doing this primarily as a research mission for Asthmapolis, but I've enjoyed seeing the statistics each day. And the entire process is passive. I litterally don't do anything other than snap the device onto my pants pocket in the morning.
Task Management
I've been using Remember The Milk for a couple of years to track To-dos - mostly macro-level items like "fix kitchen window" or "make yard signs for melsgreengarden". But for most of this year, I've started using it as my idea board. I've been recording every idea I've had regardless of whether or not it will actually turn into a To-do. Things like "build a Twitter app that let's one query baseball statistics". Likely never to be built by me... but I have an impressive list of good, bad and ugly ideas. Now I just need to find a better place to store them.
At the end of the year, I started tracking my project time with far more granularity. I've often wanted to know how long it would take me to build something like Frinook with my kids, or a more accurate number for the number of hours I'm spending on Asthmapolis related projects. I'm now on a path to figure some of that out. I'm using a service called Toggl which makes this process very very easy and painless.
Given the patchiness of this new habit, I don't have results for an entire year, but here is a sample of the raw numbers for what I've tracked...
  • Ran, biked, and swam 486 total miles
  • 106 total (dailymile) workouts (1 every 3.5 days isn't bad!)
  • 135 donuts burned
  • 7 pounds burned
  • 2,870 pushups
  • 3,105 situps
  • Walked 424 flights of stairs
  • 262 tasks completed on Remember The Milk
In addition to logging more things in 2011, I'd like to figure out a new way to aggregate all of it so it isn't spread across so many services. I'm envisioning a system like Nimbits and perhaps implementing a number of APIs to import the data. But I'm pretty sure I don't have the time to implement that so I'm still searching...
The pace of innovation in web design and the proliferation of native mobile applications is making data collection easier and more fun. The tracking tools have become so easy and ubiquitous, you shouldn't stop and ask yourself, "What will I do with this data?". You should be saying to yourself, "I can't wait until I figure out how to use all of this great data!"
What else should I be tracking in 2011?


  1. You can never know how right up my alley all of this is!! I think with age (and a bigger family), I've become more of a big-picture person than the detail-oriented person I was before. And I certainly don't have the technical know-how to do it the fun way you do it! But I still record a # of things in my Franklin. My mom still has my dad's "diaries" in which he kept track of everything from his blood pressure to his investments to his appointments. Guess that's where I get the urge to record -- many things that I never ever even look back at!! Verrrrry interesting read, Greg! I'll be forwarding it to Pete, another compulsive Obermeier record-keeper . . .

  2. Hi Greg! This reminded me I needed to save my bike 2010 file to a 2011 version and while at it I get into reading all kinds of interesting (to myself) notes from along the way. You "team" approach must generate a lot of motivation for all concerned. "Oh yeah? Well, wait until you check this tomorrow Greg!" I better get my “notes” file saved as 2011 too as it is 161 pages of Arial 12 long and probably about to have some kind of collapse.

  3. Questions: That “donuts burned,” stats must represent how many You ate as surely you “burned” a whole lot more. Also re “granularity,” I’d be curious to know how the bike, ran, swam miles broke down. I’m under no illusion that my bike miles (1736) are anywhere near equivalent to the other two. And a guy at AA who is a marathoner tells me he ran 10 miles in an hour, while I’m only averaging about that on my bike (my miles do include a lot of steep hills, riding hard up and lollygagging down). As one who does all three, how do you figure they compare?

  4. Thanks for sharing, Patty. I had no idea! I long for a generic system to record everything and anything with a simple text message. I might just build it myself...

  5. @pete I ran 144 miles, swam 18, and biked biked about 320. Most of those biked miles were actually commuter miles so I wasn't working very hard. And the year was a weird one. I would normally bike and swim a lot more. But I stayed off the bike early because of my marathon training and stayed out of the water because of a shoulder injury.I think the difficulty is different for different people. i would guess that most people would rate swimming as the most difficult. In terms of time efficiency, I think swimming is best. I would compare a mile of swimming (30 minutes) to 15 hard miles on the bike (45 minutes) to 6.5 miles running (60 minutes). But those times and effort are different for different people.