Minding the Borderlands

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

Documenting a Life, One Photo at a Time

I want to think about photos and the process of self-documentation. I want think about documenting a life, one photo at a time.

A couple months ago I added a new experiment to my list of habits and routines and part of my quest to track everything: take and share a photo from each and every day.

A Liquid Life: Hydration Tracking or Some Science and Self-Experiments in Measurement

My body felt flat and my mind was off. This run wasn’t going as planned. I wasn’t exactly thirsty since I had been drinking water since the start, but my body wasn’t responding well. I had woken up late or, better said, went to bed late after a late-night client call. It was sunny and warm and I wanted to run with it.

The sun was up when I finally got up and on the road at 9am. It was getting humid and hot already. Perhaps over 25C outside in the sunny parts. I had my gear and even my water-backpack. I was aiming for a 13k (8mi) run over an hour. But my body and conditions soon dictated otherwise. My mind and body weren’t right.

So, I slowed down considerably, took a couple breaks and cut my run down to one of my standard routes: 7.5k run. over 49:34 at a pace 6:36. I had run too fast in these conditions. For a medium run like this, the effects were noticeable: general weakness, slight dizziness, heart palpitations, confusion and sweating. I was dehydrated.

Whether you are a runner or hydration has an important effect on all of our lives. In my case, this hot day run left me tired in a different way. The rest of the day I was off and even the next day I didn’t feel great. The obvious lesson as a runner was that I needed to run earlier on a hot day and if I was going to run in the heat, I needed to slow down to run without danger.

The broader lesson for me was an exploration about hydration, tracking what I drink and even a few experiments to help improve my exercise and everyday life with different drinks.

In this post we are going to look briefly at hydration. We will look at the science of hydration and some numbers scientists point to in terms of how much water you should drink. As our main goal is “tracking everything,” we will then look at why and how to track hydration. There are surprisingly a lot of apps and tech for tracking hydration and liquid consumption, but I think the main challenge before you even start is figuring how the measurements of your drinking vessels. Once you know, it’s easy to log your water and other drinking through apps like iHydrate and Waterlogged. Finally we will look at some of the key takeaways I’ve learned about tracking hydration.

How to Track the Articles You Read and Augment Your Digital Memory

Let’s future proof of digital memory by tracking the articles we read.

A lot of what we read today are internet articles. We rarely read physical newspapers. Instead, we consume information from our computers, phones, tablets and e-readers. It has all become digital or a lot of it at least.

Because so much of what we do is connected to the digital via devices and sensors, we can conceivable track everything. From steps, heart rate, sleep, and food to time, place and mood, it’s getting easier and easier to self-track. Socrates’ challenge to “know thy self” now has concrete data to base that philosophical survey upon.

Like the books we read, the articles we read constitute an intimate portrait into our mental lives. Whether you are consuming all the latest gossip or the upcoming IPO and tech gadgets, what you read is a significant portion of how you think of yourself. Like movies and music, articles and books are the backdrop upon which a thinking person exists.

Fortunately, for the self-tracker and knowledge worker, it’s easy to capture and track the things you read. With a few tools and simple processes, you can keep track of all the articles you read. You can know exactly how much and what you’ve read over time. Equally you can start to develop what I call your “digital memory” or “digital archive.”

In this post we are going to look at few tools (like Pocket and Evernote) to track what you read. All of these applications provide a way of storing articles to “read later.” By being disciplined about checking-in articles you read now on a browsers, these tools can be used to record the all articles you read. Or, if you prefer, all the key articles you read.

Furthermore, by tweaking your approach and setting up a few additions, you can measure your article reading. You can know how articles you read each week. If self-improvement or just reading more is one of your missions, you can aim to increase this number.

Moment: Automatic Track and Know Your iPhone Usage

How addict am I to my phone? How do I check it? How often am I on it? These are some of the questions an iPhone tracking app called “Moment” is helping to answer.

If you think back to the “old days” of pre-iPhone and pre-Android days, times were different. Men were men. Women were women. And phones were phones. The big player was Nokia. Back then we used our phones to make calls and send text messages. And, if we were lucky, there was some simple program or game like a calculator and slither.

These days are gone. Today we carry around little computers connected to the internet. Smart phones broke the barrier between work and everywhere else and they made it possible to be entertained, distracted or connected socially anywhere and anytime. And we do. Heads and necks aching from so much hunching over, eyes blood shot from all day usage.

We spend a lot of time on our phones. Ironically we don’t even realize how much time we spend on our phones. According to a piece in the Huffington Post called “You Probably Use Your Smartphone Way More Than You Think,” “New research conducted by British psychologists shows that young adults use their smartphones roughly twice as much as they estimate that they do.” So while you think you are only spending a few minutes here and there, the time adds up.

The study goes on to cite some startling numbers. The researchers discovered that young adults spent on average five hours per day using their phone or “roughly one-third of their total waking hours.”

So, what can we do to better know how we spend our time on our phones?

If you are in an Android phone, you are in luck. You can install the background tracker RescueTime or BreakFree to record and track your usage. RescueTime in particular is the same tool I recommend for tracking your computer time. It’s also one of my favorite overall self-tracking methods.

If you are on iPhone, it’s a bit more of a challenge. Fortunately recent upgrades in iOS 9 and iOS 10 have exposed battery usage time so you can manually check your stats. We looked at in “How to Get Your iPhone Usage Data” and found ways to calculate your app usage in a day or over a week.

This manual solution isn’t ideal. Fortunately, there are a few automatic apps to help you track and understand your iPhone time.

The best of the bunch is Moments. Using clever GPS location tracking and parsed battery usage stats, Moments helps you realize how much time you spend on your phone and where that time is going.

In this post, we are going to look at how to track your iPhone time with Moments and some of the numbers we get back. Ultimately they can help you understand your mobile phone time and, if you want, make behavioral changes.

Tracking Your Book Reading, Data Points to the Soul

When I was a child my mother bribed me to read books. I believe the going rate was about dollar a book. Unemployed and still living with my parents (I was only 8 or 9 years old at the time), I did my best to earn a steady income by reading. Visits to the library and the added bonus of “pan pizza” deals from Pizza Hut kept me fueled. I got hooked on reading.

I was an addicted reader in high school and college, and reading remains one of my most active and regular habits.

According to my records, I’ve read over 760 books, and, if I follow through on reading regularly, I have no doubt I’ll hit my 2000 book reading challenge in the next 20 to 25 years.

As a bit of an “OCD” documentarist and hardcore reader, I’ve been reading and tracking the books I’ve read for sometime. I remember using an early service on Facebook via Living Social to log the books I read. I eventually switched to Goodreads as my primary means to track my reading, though I also have lists in Evernote and spreadsheets to help organize my reading.

While I shun most social media and rarely use Facebook or Twitter, I track my reading and share it on Goodreads. It’s ironic that I don’t often post an update status on my life, but there is a public url showing what I have recently read or am currently reading.

To me, it feels pretty profound and meaningful to hide from social networks but to make public what you read.

There a lot of ways to read book today from your tablet or phone to ereader or even a physical book. Unfortunately, in spite of all of the tech to read, the experience of tracking what you read is not quite as easy. At present there is no perfect solution for seamlessly tracking the books you read from your ereader.

In this post, we will look at tracking the books you read. We will briefly look tech challenges to seamless tracking of what you read. Then we will see some approaches to manual tracking using a spreadsheet or using a service like Goodreads. With this data, we can dig into the key data points about reading, including our reading trends and tracking a positive habit or goal like books read.

Finally we will conclude with a reflection on the intimacy of knowing what someone reads and sharing this publicly. For example, I’d argue that knowing what books someone reads might be more revealing that all of the garbage someone shares on Facebook.

How to Get Your iPhone Usage Data

How much do you use your phone? Which apps do you spend the most time on? Are you addicted to Candy Crush or some other game? How often are you checking your email? Just what are you doing on your phone?

These are some of the questions we all want to answer about our phone usage. Unfortunately, Apple devices can make this a bit of a pain.

While an iPhone is an amazing device for tracking steps and loads of other health data, Apple’s permissions have historically made it hard to track the overall phone usage. Unlike an Android, you don’t have access to a lot of underlying activity on your phone. Fortunately, there is an easy workaround for any self-tracker looking to know more about their mobile usage.

Hidden in your iPhone preferences is section called “Battery” and it contains a lot of interesting information. Technically it’s recording how certain apps consume your battery. But with the click of a setting, you can suddenly see all of your iPhone usage data as an amount of time. You can even know your actual screentime on these individual apps.

In this post, we will how you how to find this area and some simple techniques to log your usage as well as how you might use this data for self-improvement.

Tracking TV & Movie Watching With Trakt.TV

How do you spend your downtime? What movies and TV shows are you watching? Are you addicted to TV or just enjoying some relaxing entertainment before bedtime?

Most self-tracking is about your active time. You might use time tracking to look at productivity and computer usage or an activity tracker to record your steps and exercise. Habit trackers and life logging tools can help you record even more of your life and there are lots of other areas we have been examining in the realm of self-tracking.

As self-trackers, you can also learn some interesting aspects about your self by looking at what you do in your post-work downtime. Do you read, do you watch movies and TV or do you spend hours on YouTube? Simply, how do you spend your downtime?

We often say, you are what you eat. When it comes to media like TV and movie watching, how much and what you consume matters too.

In this post, we are going to look at a simple tool and social network called Trakt.tv. It’s a way for tracking your TV and movie watching. For quantified self-ers and self-trackers, it is the best tool for you to become aware of how much time and what you watch on TV.

Life Logging or How to Track the Meaning in Life’s Miscellaneous

What’s the relationship between drinking coffee and pooping? Does your energy level relate to weather? To wake up time? Does regular drinking of water factor into overall mood? Does smiling or saying thank you change if you rate a day as good or so-so? How do different aspects of your routines and tendencies affect your overall day?

These are some of the questions you can attempt to answer and understand through life logging.

If you are attempting to “track everything” as we are doing, then there are a nearly endless amount of possibilities. We’ve looked at steps, music listening, meditation, podcast listening, running and habits. I’ve written a lot about time tracking too. There is a lot of ground to cover when you think about “tracking everything,” and we are slowly seeing more and more tools and techniques to passively track our lives. That said, life logging is likely one area that will remain as it provides a way to capture what we rarely consider like smiles, thank you’s or how often you shave.

Life Logging has a history of being one of the most extreme areas for the quantified self movement. Historically it meant recording your life in live streaming video. But in fact life logging has a much simpler meaning.

Life logging is a form of tracking where you “tally” or count different things in your life. It could be how many coffees, how often you pee, or when you complain. It could be who you spend time with or what activities you do most. Like habit tracking, there a number of great tools for recording different aspects of your daily activities.

Life logging is a kind of organized “tally” tracking. Like tracking your habits, it is possible with life logging to create behavior changes. But by its nature of being a much broader form of tracking, life logging requires more thought and maturation before you gain insights and actionable lessons.

If we are a product of our habits and tendencies, life logging provides an interesting way to learn about areas of your life you didn’t previously notice. Life logging makes it possible to put concrete examples onto some area of your life you hadn’t thought about before. I would argue that the value of life logging doesn’t come just from the data, but from the noticing and reflection from that noticing.

In this post we are going to look at tally tracking or so-called life logging. We will look briefly at what it is as an area of self-tracking as well as look at some great tools to get started. Finally we will open conclude with a reflection on life logging as a habit of noticing.

Track Your Habits, Change Yourself: Tools for Self-Tracking Habit Builders

We are a product of our habits–personal and organizational. Coming to grips with our habits and tendencies can have a huge impact on your life.

There are two areas that I believe all self-trackers need to incorporate in order to effectively track a life: habit tracking and life logging.

Habit tracking is about “check-ins” on your behavioral changes, while life logging is about recording all (or part) of the miscellaneous things you do in a day, i.e. how many times you smile or how often you poop.

When done consciously and meaningfully, habit tracking and life logging provide a wealth of information about the self. But when it comes to habits, it has the added bonus of helping you improve yourself. To effectively track a habit is to build and reinforce a (positive) behavioral change.

In this post we are going to look at habit tracking. We will look briefly at the difference between habit tracking and life logging. We will examine some great tools to track your habits. Finally we will talk about the larger implications of habit tracking and personal development.

Run Smarter: Run Tracking and Personal Data Using RunKeeper

If you want to optimize your behavior and habits, then you should track. Tracking your exercise and runs contributes to both behavioral and habit changes while also providing insightful data.

This has been my year of running. You can go from a dead-beat to average to super human (relatively speaking) through progressive optimizations. Even if you aren’t a data nut like me, running statistics can be helpful to decrease your chances of injury and build up your endurance, strength, and flexibility. It’s also fascinating data too.

Developing any new habit comes with figuring out my favorite tools, preferred processes and tracking my data. For an obsessive tracker like me, running comes with one of the richest data sets to explore about yourself.

This personal data can lead to a lot of actionable lessons as you train to run farther and faster. Whether you are merely looking to make some initial health adjustments or preparing for a long distance half- or full marathon, run tracking should be a key part of it.

Like counting steps, run tracking is one of the most developed areas of self-tracking. You can go the route of an activity tracker, a wearable or leverage your smart phone. For example, you can get a dedicated wearable for running, like a GPS watch or use a strap-on heart rate tracker. For most beginners, it’s best to start with your smart phone and a run tracking app.

After nearly a year of running (and trying a lot of tech), my recommendation for any runner is RunKeeper.

There a lot of run-tracking apps and many work great like Strava, Wahoo’s RunFit and Run! Zombies. I’ve tried most of them. But after tracking over 100 runs, RunKeeper remains my favorite running app due to its strong core run tracking feature set, audio cues, rich post-run data and maps, and solid interface and user experience during runs. For data crazies, RunKeeper integrates with tons of other services (including Apple’s HealthKit), and it’s easy to get an export of all of your data to obsess over using a spreadsheet or a mashup data science tool like Zenobase.

Let’s take a look at the basics of run tracking, the key data points you get, and how you can leverage this to be a better runner.