Minding the Borderlands

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

A Day in a Life Well-Tracked: A Quantified Self Narrative

My day well-tracked begins.

I wake up and reach for my smart phone. A notification popups up with the message, “Good Morning. Today you slept 5h 48m (72 percent).”1

Much of my day remains untracked, but here is the story of what is quantified.

I rub my eyes and lean onto my back, opening my heart rate variability app2. Heart Rate Variability or HRV is a method of measuring chronic stress using the variance between heart beats. I position my finger over the light sensor and calmly breath in and on out as the device measures.

After logging a few contextual factors, I receive my score: 7.6 out of 10.0. Within my normal range but trending downwards. An expected score after a hard workout, some life stresses, poor sleep, drinking or even travel days. Yesterday I ran 18k so the change is expected. I’m told to proceed with my planned workout.

Today I open my podcast app to start the morning news, logging it during the process3. I log most of the media I consume as well as my time on different devices. Most of it is passively tracked but some I still have to manually log. My media tracking includes my music listening4, the books I read5, what article I am reading6 and even the shows and movies I watch7.

I can tell you which movies I watched and when as well as figure out when I listen to music in a day. One day my digital assistant might help me filter and find the latest and best media for me. For now, I can visualize trends and easily find a record of key articles or book passages.

As I head downstairs and take my dogs out for their morning walk, my smart watch8 is already capturing data on my steps and my heart rate. It knows I’m awake and moving. Steps and heart rate are combined to understand how active I am in a given day, and if I’m not moving enough, I’ll be nudged to stand out, take a walk or do a workout. While I could ignore them, I don’t and, as such, I move more during my days since I started tracking it.

With my heart rate data, my watch and phone are able to detect irregularities, and I can be warned if it notices heart arrhythmia or other acute issues. For now, I know my normal numbers, and I’ve started to notice when things are off.

Breakfast equals coffee with coconut oil and a bit of bread, cereal or rice pudding. I open up youtube app to watch highlights from last night’s NBA games or a news commentary video from VOX. Every video I watch is stored in my history, and I’m recommended related videos accordingly. I just wish I could tweak the algorithms to make my consumption more aligned towards my goals rather than my click-bait addictions.

Before heading to my office to finish my morning routine, I brush my teeth and take my vitamins. I didn’t used to take vitamins or supplements, but after some blood tests and research, my current daily stake includes Vitamin B Complex and Folate, Vitamin D, and Fish Oil. I take magnesium and creatine a few times per week. Some days I add L-Theanine, a green-tea derived neutrophic, to help me stay focused on a cognitive or creative project. I tap my watch or phone to log that I took my pills9.

As I open my computer, a notification popups up, “Start the day right! Distractions will be blocked for 15 minutes.” I’m tracking my computer usage10 and a productivity score associated with the apps I use and sites I spend time on. I average about 6 hours of computer usage per day, split between business needs, work projects and distractions.

An inspirational quote appears, and I begin my day by writing in my journal. These are my morning pages. A few minutes later I’ve externalized an idea, thought through my day or at least moved my fingers some. This is a productivity “hack,” but one day this text might be processed to understand my mood, state of mind, or even how a idea or decision evolved11.

I check my calendar and task list. Today the morning is blocked out for writing, and the afternoon is for digital work—programming, project management and client check-in’s. I have an event this evening, and I’ve scheduled a long run before dinner. My calendar12 chronicles closely how an individual day goes, and, once I combine various data streams together, I can visually see where I am and what I’m doing in a given time period.

I start a project timer13 as I begin writing. Unlike passively tracked time, I log the specific project I’m working on. I write for about an hour or so, flipping between tools throughout the process. I start with my draft editor and might check an internet browser for a reference. I’ll eventually switch to photoshop for some graphics work, before finalizing the post via publishing editor and server tool to publish it online. Time on each of these tools gets logged automatically, but my manual project timer tracks how long I spent on a specific task or project.

About 68% of my computer time is spent on projects or, to be more specific, is logged as project time. About 60% of my project time goes into personal projects with the remaining 30 or 40% going into business work. One day a tool or virtual assistant might better parse these logs to see trends and help optimize accordingly.

As I finish this draft, publish the post, or whatever task I was working on, I check off the completed task in my task list14. The completed task gets added into a full log of completed task. I set a goal to complete 6 tasks per day during the week, and when I hit that goal, a little message popups up congratulating me. My brain gets a hit of dopamine too. I like getting stuff done.

My task log reveal various trends and patterns. I complete about 6 tasks per day. Monday is the day I get the most tasks done, Tuesday through Friday are about average, and, like my time usage, I complete less tasks on the weekend. This past year I’ve become increasingly better at completing higher priority tasks.

I’m not particularly robotic about my time, project and task management. Each day might change slightly. Time blocks move around, and I’m able to use my energy level to adjust what’s best to work on in a particular period. I set weekly and monthly objectives that help me guide the prioritization and task selection process. The point is to use individual tasks and specific time blocks to move towards my larger goals.

It’s time to get some exercise. My calendar says it’s a run day. I change into my running gear and check my digital training coach15, who in view of my upcoming marathon recommends I run for an hour and thirty minutes at 5:50 / km. I think about a possible running route as I do some warmup drills and stretching, before starting my watch. Like all of my exercise and workouts, I track my runs too. I’m tracking not only my location and pace, but also my heart rate and elevation change. My logs also know the current weather conditions too.

These data points will be combined to assess the type of workout I did, how hard it was, and my overall training load and fitness. My digital training coach is learning from this data. Using this data, it optimizes to to avoid injury and improve my performance.

Alternatively, on a lift day, I use a smart strength training app16. It knows my past workouts, calculates my muscle freshness according recent exercises, and is able recommended the best exercises, weight, sets and reps for me. I’m assigned a workout of 5 exercises targeting my shoulders, biceps and back. I proceed accordingly, logging my efforts and reps on each set. After finishing, I save my workout data.

All combined I can see how much of my time each week goes into running, strength and even my mobility and stretching work16. The goal is two-fold: ensure consistency in my training and maximize what I can get out of the minimum amount of workout time. I can’t spend two or three hour training everyday, so instead I average about an hour a day of training across running, strength and mobility work. I’m improving in my running and strength, while keeping my training within a reasonable schedule.

Following my workout, I jump in the shower. As I get out my phone beats with a notification about tonight’s event. I check the address and travel time, before heading to the subway or ordering a taxi or uber. My phone is constantly checking and logging my location. I use this data to visualize where I went each day and can use these logs to calculate how much time I spent in different places and modes of movements.

For example, last month my log showed that I spent 33.2 hours walking and 20 hours running or cycling. I spent 7.4 hours on airplanes, 5.3 hours in cars, 5.3 hours on the subway and another 4.5 in misc travel. 10.7% of my non-sleeping time was spent in me moving myself, and 4.5% was on moving vehicles. Someday this location day might be used to better understand my life patterns and optimize accordingly.

At tonight’s tech talk, I talk and connect with a few folks, exchanging cards or connecting on facebook or linkedin. These connections have a history too. Where we met and the various interactions will build from offline, online chats, emails and other digital and non-digital webs. I can quantify much of my network from the quantity and quality of these interactions. My email and chat logs tell a tale of who I’m “closest” too. Someday there will be dating, friendship and business partnership apps that take my personal profile and history to build up optimal future and current connections. I head home from the event with a few more people in my network. I’ll followup later in the week with coffee dates and emails.

As I head home on the subway, I finish another podcast or audiobook. The digital log of what I’m consuming circles around and into a sense of who I am and what I care about. Ideas and learnings merging into a record of everything I consume and notice. I am a product of my thinking, reading, watching and noticing.

When I get home, I open my computer to check a few emails and manage a few more tasks. If I have time or energy, I might spend an hour or so on computer and coding studies. I’m mostly watching videos and going through study project activities. One day I might have a digital coach to help me to better optimize my learning and improve my weak points and areas I struggle with. For now, I’m just trying to broaden and deepen my skills.

As check off my last task, I check my todo list for tomorrow. I shift a few unfinished tasks from today to later in the week. I try to figure out tomorrow’s focus and how to better arrange my time to fit in work, personal projects, social and exercises. I double check my weekly focuses and “biggest boulders” to ensure tomorrow’s steps match in with my overall horizon.

Satisfied and mind emptied I close my computer or phone. It’s time to watch a movie or show before a book and bed.

I log my movies and shows too as well as my books. I still haven’t found a great use for these logs, except that they provide an interesting view of my recreational activities. Currently I know how much time in a day, week or month went to movies and books. Maybe one day I’ll know more or perhaps this is a tracking curiosity I shouldn’t obsess about and stop tracking entirely.

I’ll admit that building a self-tracking life has taken some time, but the goal of tracking isn’t just the data, it’s the learning and noticing. In a world of distraction and digital addictions, I’ve noticed a lot about myself and adjusted accordingly.

Like my time, my money is better spent and invested. My body is better cared for and my mind is being cultivated towards my hopes and dreams.

I track much of my life as I proceed through my day of work, meals, movements, social engagements, exercise and relaxing. Tracking is a habit rather an obsession. I have systems rather than the constant question of what to log.

The result is that I know how much time I spend on my computer, phone and projects. I know what I’m getting done and what I’m consuming too. I can quantify my body’s fitness and health. I can look back on interactions with friends through photos, personal notes, and my calendar. I find the digital memory of books, ideas and articles. I have gained a different kind of total life recall. This is one of the advantages of the quantified life.

I track a lot. But as I lay in bed, I’m not thinking about any of this. I’m reading a book or brainstorming something in my journal that I want to build or write. I’ve had a good day.

For a day in a life well-tracked, it was equally well-lived.





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