Tracking Equals Improvement

Have you ever tried to implement a new habit in your life and struggled? I have, all too often. Recently I stumbled across Sebastian’s posts about his personal tracking system and decided to try it out for myself. In roughly a week I’ve gone through three different versions of my own tracking system as I’ve worked to discover the version that works the best for me, personally.

The basic idea

“What gets measured gets managed.”
This is a principle that I’ve run across in a variety of business books, but that can be applied to most aspects of one’s life. The simple act of actively noticing (measuring) something forces you to be conscious of it. As you grow conscious of the results and inputs that cause them you will automatically change the inputs to help achieve the desired results.

“You don’t want to break the chain.”
Comedian Jerry Seinfeld measures his productivity by getting a big calendar and crossing off each day that he actively writes with a big red X. After a few days he has a chain of X’s, and then his only goal is to not break the chain. As the chain grows longer the motivation to not break it grows stronger.

My current tracking system

My tracking system combines these two ideas in a very easy-to-use, mobile format. I’ve used a piece of grid-lined paper that easily fits into my pocket so that I always have it available. There are 8 columns: one for each day of the week, and one with a list of the 11 tasks/projects that I want to complete/track. For each item I simply check it off once completed, put a dash if I don’t, or write down the information that I want to track. The checks quickly formed a chain that I don’t want to break, encouraging me to keep completing the tasks each day.

    What I’m tracking

  • Wake time
  • How long sleep?
  • Did I floss?
  • Active?
  • Productive?
  • Network?
  • Write love note for my wife?
  • Complete school work?
  • Read?
  • Sketch something?
  • Drink more water than other types of beverage?

Start simply

It would be easy to add a lot of detail to this system, quickly making it cumbersome and something that I wouldn’t actually use on a daily basis. To stop myself from doing this I’ve tried to keep each item to something that can be tracked with a single number or Yes/No answer. Each of these represent a personal goal that I am currently working on, so over time the list will change.

Simple goals
I have become rather sedentary and am working back into a regular exercise routine. Instead of jumping into something that I wouldn’t sustain, though, I have set the goal of simply being active each day. This might mean going and playing a physical game, talking a walk, or working out. This simple goal empowers me to complete it instead of limiting myself to a specific activity, location, or required equipment.

Simple tracking
It takes only a few seconds to note what time I woke up and calculate how long I slept (to the nearest 10 minutes). A yes/no response is very quick to write down. The only further details that I am recording is what action I take to network each day, a few words that mention how I contacted what person. Because it takes so little time and I can always have the paper with me I have made this as easy as possible for myself. Since the answers are so easy I don’t have to remember a lot of details and can record all of them at a single time if I need to.

Simple archiving
A piece of paper folded and stuck in one’s pocket doesn’t last for a terribly long time, but I do want to store the results in order to compare them over time. To do this I have created a spreadsheet that is stored online with the same categories. It takes only a few minutes each week to transfer the information from the paper to digital version, and then I have the entire history available to compare.

Quick improvements

Over the last week I have spent less than a total of twenty minutes and begun to build good habits (flossing daily), become more productive (creating on a new business), and started noticing patterns in my life (sleep and mood).

What would you like to change and improve in your life? You need only a few minutes each day to get there.

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