Minding the Borderlands

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

Self-Tracking With AskMeEvery

AskMeEvery is a super simple service that sends you a daily email at the time of your choice with the question of choosing. You then respond directly to the email and your responses are stored with simple graphs and analytics.

If you are a self-tracking, quantified self type of person like me, AskMeEvery is a huge enabler. I add my questions and the time I want to be notified, then I reply to the message with whatever info I want to track.

While I’m already use tools for Time Tracking and devices for measuring my activity level, I struggled to find a tool to record just random bits of data.

I’ve used Google Docs with Forms, which worked for awhile but took too many steps. I also tried Datum, which honestly seemed like a great idea but implementation was clunky and the mobile app totally sucked.

There are so many options and available tools but for me, the solution for many of my self-“recording” readings is AskMeEvery. There is no overhead of a new app or web site, since it integrates with well… email.

So what is it? And how do I use it?

AskMeEvery: An Email-a-Day to Record Whatever You Want

AskMeEvery’s website is stark and its tagline direct: “Simple, Daily Accountability: Measure, Visualize, and Optimize what you care about.”

It’s functionality is equally obvious. All you do is provide an email address and a question and AskMeEvery will send you a daily email where you record what you want.

Their “Top Five” questions are: How long did I sleep? How many minutes did I exercise? Was it a good day? When did I wake up? How far did I run?

You can then log onto the site to check your results. Depending on your responses, AskMeEvery will generate some charts and basic analytics for you. You can also easily export your data to a spreadsheet app for your own analysis.

The key ingredient is its flexibility. You create the question and there are no assumptions about your responses.

It’s a prompt with data collection. Definitely a no-brainer.

So how do I use AskMeEvery?

Tracking My Goal Committments

I use AskMeEvery for a few different types of questions, like goal commitment, simple daily recording and health and well-being tracking.

My main use though is tracking goal commitments, meaning I use it to ensure daily commitment to whatever goal I’m working on.

I am a big believer in daily pressure on whatever thing you are trying to learn or skill you are attempting to develop. Commit yourself to working on something for at least a little bit every single day, then don’t break the chain!

For example, depending on the language I am studying, I ask myself: Did I study Chinese today? Or Did I study Vietnamese today? Etc.

In pursuit of improving my Spanish before going to Colombia, I committed myself to daily study and managed some serious improvements before and after. At one point, the commitment chain spanned nearly 3 or 4 months of daily Spanish study. For Chinese, I’m attacking the writing and reading again and I’m currently on a streak of 82 days.

I also use a similar type question for other commitments like: Did I do my tech studies? Did I write in my travel journal today? Did I read a physical book today?

While there are indeed others doing commitment style goal tracking, I find AskMeEvery to be a more seamless integration to my life. It’s just a simple email to answer at the time of my choosing.

Tracking How My Health and Well-Being

I feel like there are an aweful lot of health and fitness-related apps and websites. They all aim to help you track and work on any number of things related to your body from weight to muscle to running to heart health.

There are a number of advantages to using this health-specific apps, like more scientific approach, greater community enagement, etc. But for simple personal health tracking, AskMeEvery works quite well for me.

While I don’t use it to track my weight and Body Mass Index (I use a simple Google Docs Spreadsheet), I use AskMeEvery for a few more eccentric tracking questions: How many oz of sode did I drink today? How many cups of coffee?

Regarding coffee, I wasn’t aiming to decrease my consumption but simply understand how much I was drinking.

For soda, I knew this was a pretty easy thing to do to work on lossing a bit of weight, so having this question in front of me everyday made me more aware and as such more consumption has decreased, as has my weight.

I’ll admit that AskMeEvery is not exactly suited for full-featured health tracking but it’s great for tracking very specific stuff.

Tracking How My Day Went

My other typical usage of AskMeEvery is recording how my day has gone and anything special or memoriable I want to record.

A couple months ago, I realized the happiness and one’s reflection on whether a day or week went good or bad depended on how choose to highlight or emphasis a single day.

I’m generally pretty aggressive towards self-development and building up aspects of my self. After establishing an area of interest, I do research, make goals and then push forward in pursuit of whatever I’m aiming at.

Throughout the process I try to track the committment and the time allotment. I also journal about the process. I think a journal helps keep the whole project on the “rails” and opens me up to tweaking how I am going about towards acheiving that goal.

Even though these journal entries might be general positive, by their nature I am also looking to improve myself so I am asking questions to myself and the skill development in particular about how to do it better. As such, I was feeling like I was stuck in the details and I wasn’t celebrating enough of the daily goodness and daily doings.

So, using AskMeEvery, I starting two new questions: What was my main acheivement for today? What’s something amazing/special/cool I did, experience, or learned today?

In my weekly review, it’s great to have just a few random data points on my daily doings, even though likely I could glean this from my time logs.

On the other hand, the question of a daily “amazing/special/cool” has made my days more positive and open-hearted. This question gives me a chance to recall what was great that day or something unique that I learned. These make me happier through the act of memorializing them.

In conclusion, here are a few from the last couple weeks:

  • Oct 30: Austrian guy responding to the Finnish guys’ question about how long the break would be in Finnish.
  • Nov 2: The rise of minor cultures/civilizations into some form of greatness or epic achievement, yet didn’t last into the 20th Century. Case in point: Champa People.
  • Nov 5: Inuit: Iktsuarpok The feeling of anticipation that leads you to go outside and check if anyone is coming, and probably also indicates an element of impatience.
  • Nov 11: The evening light reflecting off of the lonely temple structure in Hoan Kiem Lake, Hanoi.
  • Nov 13: Ceramic village and Vietnamese kids wanting my picture with them. Rockstar being white and abroad.
  • Nov 15: In 18 hours in April 1975, US Helicopers evacuated 1000 Americans and 6000 Vietnamese from Saigon.
  • Nov 25: Research has shown that tones in Chinese are as important as vowels (i.e. they carry as much meaning as vowels do). This is easy to understand theoretically, but I personally still think it’s hard to feel intuitively.

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