Minding the Borderlands

Mark Koester (@markwkoester) on the art of travel and technology

How to Track Your Sleep

A lack of sleep can seep into nearly all aspects of your life. You become less able to be mentally focused, make good decisions and process complex situations. Your body and health takes a hit. Your physical training suffers as you don’t get enough recovery. Your mood and social relationships suffer too as you are unable to engage with others as fully since you are tired.

While we know we need to get enough sleep, how much is enough?

Even before we chew that question, first off, how much are we getting? And, secondly, how does a certain amount of sleep affect other areas of our life? For example, how is our productivity, mood, physical training, etc. correlated to the amount and quality of our sleep?

Over the past several years and especially the last couple months I’ve been obsessively tracking my life. By documenting different trackable areas of our lives, I’ve collected a lot of interesting data to compare and learn for. I’ve assembled a toolkit to passively track many aspects of my life, like computer time, steps, heart rate, and music listening among others. Besides just being interesting to learn about, this data has empowered me to be more “data-driven,” i.e to work smart, live healthy and be happy.

I also track my sleep. By tracking a range of aspects of my life along with how much I sleep, I’ve been able to see correlations between my sleeping patterns and higher performance in other areas of my life. This is particularly true when it comes to physical training, focused work, productivity. But it is also subjectively positive as well. I feel good, energized and happy.

We often say that one way to gain a better quality of life is to sleep more. And, like a lot of goals, if you can’t measure it, you can’t really change it. Fortunately there are a lot of great options to track your sleep. Along with steps and activity trackers, sleep is one of the most tracked areas today.

In this post, we are going to look at some ways to track your sleep. Your initial goal should be to reach a baseline number of just how much sleep you are getting. Hopefully you should also have a new habit that makes tracking your sleep passive and hands-off.

Once you are tracking, you become accountable and can take measures to ensure you get enough sleep for your heath, mental clarity and creating the best version of you. We will look at deeper sleep analysis and data correlations in a later post.

Some Great Books on Running: Personal Reviews, Takeaways and Quotes From Runner-Writers

“People sometimes sneer at those who run every day, claiming they’ll go to any length to live longer. But don’t think that’s the reason most people run. Most runners run not because they want to live longer, but because they want to live life to the fullest. If you’re going to while away the years, it’s far better to live them with clear goals and fully alive then in a fog, and I believe running helps you to do that. Exerting yourself to the fullest within your individual limits: that’s the essence of running, and a metaphor for life—and for me, for writing as whole. I believe many runners would agree.” (- Haruki Murakami, “What I Talk About When I Talk About Running”)

2016 was my first year of running. I started out of shape, aiming to complete a 5k, and I finished my first full year (2016) by running my first half-marathon distance and by reading a memoir on running, life and writing by Japanese novelist Murakami entitled, “What I Talk About When I Talk About Running.”

Like most new challenges and skills I pursue, I approached this year of running through reading and study. Besides running, it was also a year for reading about running. While you mostly learn to run by running, visualization and following good examples are key aspects to accelerating how fast you learn and improve.

We might be “born to run,” but there are many aspects of running and performance improvements that can be gain by reading about running from elite athletes, scientists, new and old runners and coaches. Quite simply, I also learned to run by reading some of the best books on running by runners.

Running is not just about fitness, I’ve come to learn. Like Murakami’s quote at the beginning, running is about pursuing and exerting yourself to the fullest. Life is to be lived.

In this post, I’m going to categorize, summarize and share my favorite quote and takeaways from some great books I’ve read on running. Hopefully this will give new and old runners alike some books to add to their reading list.

Tracking Your Goals: Getting Your New Year’s Resolution Right

It’s the beginning of February, and we are already one month into a new year. How are things going with those New Year’s Resolutions of yours?

Typically the New Year means an increase in gym attendance, weight loss clubs and dozens of other manifestations of the infamous New Year’s Resolution.

Various folks laugh at the idea of these “silly” attempts at self-improvement and even the rituals themselves. Personally I admire the whole idea of the new year’s resolution since its a vocal and public attempt at self betterment and life improvements. If nothing else, it’s people trying to be better than currently are.

Unfortunately, as winter fades into spring and sometimes much, much sooner, these goals for the new year end up failing. You decide it’s too hard, you are too busy, you aren’t ready or a thousand other justifications for why this year just wasn’t the year to do something you’ve always wanted to. Excuses pile up. Your willpower declines. You give up.

Goals can fail for a lot of reasons, but in my view, one of the main ways we fail in our goals is not setting up a system to track and reinforce new habits and behaviors.

As I wrote in “Achieving Your Goals: Make It Measurable, Trackable and Have a Plan,” there are three steps to increase your chances of successfully reaching your goals: 1. Make It Measurable, 2. Track It, and 3. Have a plan.

By pursuing measurable goals with tracked data, you get on-going feedback. This data shows you your progress objectively. By leveraging a plan that you take from experts and build and modify according to your data and your experience, you take ownership over the process. The cornerstone of this system is getting feedback. And the best way to get feedback is to track.

While there are a lot of ways and tools to track your life, I want to look at few focused examples of how adding a tracking component to your New Year’s Resolution pursuit

Running in Angkor Wat and Siem Reap, Cambodia

Temple Run meets Indiana Jones meets Tomb Raider? Welcome to Running in Angkor Wat and Siem Reap, Cambodia.

Recently I spent about a week in Siem Reap in Cambodia, famous for Ankor Wat temple, floating villages like Kampong Phluck, and a few other spots. Along with visiting these sites, I also did some running.

Considering the lack of guides on running in Siem Reap and Ankor Wat, I wanted to share some of my observations, experiences and route “maps” to help fellow traveling runners.

My 2016 Annual Review

As 2016 ends and a new year starts, I wanted to share some of the constellations of things that happened in my life and sketch out the arrows of projects I’m working towards in 2016.

Comparatively speaking, 2016 was another great year. In spite of a start to the year that took me off of the path I was on and tough realities dealing with that, I achieved nearly all of what I had hoped for this past year, especially with my health, fitness, travel, writing and personal learning.

It was a hard but productive year. On one side I was looking for new opportunities. None of which panned out. I had reject several lukewarm offers. Instead, like all bootstrapping entrepreneurs I looked at my strengths, hustled up some opportunities and got to work.

Here is my annual review for 2016.

My Year in Podcast Listening: 2016

Here is the story of building a tool for tracking my podcast listening and an infographic of all the episodes and time I spent listening to podcasts in 2016.

2016 was my first true year of podcast listening. I’ll admit to being a bit late to the party when it comes to podcast listening. Fortunately we are in what some are calling the “golden age” of podcasts, and this was a great year to have started this new habit. While traveling, running or cleaning, I was grateful to have consumed so much awesome and thought-provoking episodes this past year.

But after a year of podcast listening, what did I listen to? And how much time went into podcast listening?

The short answer: I listened to 4 days, 23 hours and 2 minutes worth of podcasts. I consumed a total of 191 episodes from 23 different podcast channels and publishers.

The long answer was that it wasn’t easy to find answers to these questions, so I had to build something. No podcast listening app does a great job of tracking.

As a self-tracker and someone who likes to have a record of what I consume, not knowing my listening history bothered me. The desire to know to track my podcast listening habits eventually lead me to start creating my own way to track my podcast listening.

Here is what I’m building and some of the statistics I garnered.

2017: Here’s What I’ll Be Tracking

While you can’t quite “track everything” in a life yet, 2017 is definitely a good year for self-trackers. With some common technologies, good routines and a few apps, you can effectively track some very useful life metrics today.

2016 was an especially fun year for me of self discovery around personal data and self tracking. I did a number of experiments and tracked a lot of diverse data points. I tracked the majority of my time and all of my habits too. I tried a lot of gadgets and apps in the quantified self space, and I expect to do more of the same in 2017. That said, going into 2017, the list of tools and apps to self-track is considerable. These tools make it easier than ever to track a growing percentage of your life, but it also can be a bit overwhelming.

In “How to Track a Life,”, I summarized my takeaways on best tracking tools. In short, it is possible to track an array of major metrics related to your health, your productivity and your life with only a smart phone and a few apps. It’s even easier to track with an activity tracker or smart watch, and the data gets more robust and actionable. Most of this tracking I argued can be done passively, and with a few more apps and additional manual logging, you can gain an even more comprehensive log of your life.

Here’s what I’ll be tracking in 2017 through my primary method of data collections (Apple Watch + iPhone):

Achieving Your Goals: Make It Measurable, Trackable and Have a Plan

Rarely do we fail at our goals because they are simply too hard or we are too busy. We in general fail at a goal because we didn’t make it a habit.

The simple answer to why some people succeed at so many things and others don’t is that successful people create feedback-driven processes and habits. They set an objective that is reasonable and has measurements to know if you are getting there. They come up with a way to track and see progress as you work on that goal or projects. And they follow and modify a expert plan to get there.

To increase your chances of achieving your goals, the formula is simple: you need to set a goal you can measure, a goal you can track, and a goal you can build a plan around.

How to Track a Life: Ultimate Guide of Tools, Apps and Techniques for Self-Tracking

What are the recommended tools to start tracking your life? What apps and devices might you use get more personal data? How to track a life?

After several months exploring self-tracking and the quantified self, I’d like to share my advice on the recommended toolkit for anyone getting started with personal tracking. This list of tools is biased towards smart phone apps since I believe it is the best way to get started and, in many cases, a smart phone is the best tool available for tracking.

While my current goal is to track everything or at least understand how complete a picture we can get of our lives through self-tracking, I also realize that most folks aren’t quite as obsessive as me. In the past months, we’ve looked at tracking steps, getting a record of what music you listen to, how often you meditate, total podcast listening time, which habits you are checking off, what TV shows and movies you are watching, how you spend time on your mobile phone or on your computer, and even how to manually life log or record anything else you want to track.

I’ve diligently tried a lot of tracking technologies with an emphasis on consumer tracking on a smart phone or wearable. Hopefully this article can provide fodder for personal exploration into some new area of self-exploration with data. I hope you enjoy and happy tracking!

Here are my tips for setting up a tool kit for your own self-tracking.

Living in Qingcheng: Digital Nomad in a Chinese Mountain Town

This post was original published on ChengduLiving.com. Thanks to Just Charlie for building and cultivating this great site on life on Chengdu.

I’m writing this from the second floor of my three-story villa. Above the cobbled roof, it’s blue skies with a tinge of puffy white clouds. It’s a hot day but cool fresh air greeted me during my morning jog amongst rice fields and corn rows. In the background sits the ancient mountains called Qingchengshan (青城山), and since late November 2015, I’ve called this place my home.

“Home” has a more nuanced meaning for me after so long abroad. I’ve spent more than a decade abroad now. Over one third of my life outside my home country. I’m an American, but over the last decade of so, I’ve spend less than a few weeks a year in the United States.

My long stays in great cities of Europe, South America and Asia and my journeys in-between have made me more cosmopolitan, more of a digital nomad. I’m not homesick or travel weary. I’m passionate and enjoy wandering the world. It’s my identity baggage.

After having called Barcelona, Hangzhou, Paris, Shanghai, Strasbourg, Chicago, and even Chengdu at times as my home, I’ll admit that Qingchengshan and even China might seem like an odd choice for a multilingual, cosmopolitain American. And it was.

So, how does one end up living in a Chinese mountain town and what’s it like? Here’s the tale.