My quantified self structure (how and why)
I track 37 metrics of my life every day. This could be where I am, the quantity of alcohol I consumed, the people I spent time with, or my work happiness. This article is written to share what I track, how and why I do so. I also share how my thoughts and my processes evolved with time.
The idea of quantified self is to track metrics about yourself through wearables, phones, or by noting things. The goal is to have better self-knowledge through numbers. If you want to discover what insight you can learn from it, you can read my 2020 and 2021 all-in reviews.
My discovery of the quantified self movement with Kevin Kelly on the Tim Ferris Show
In 2019 I was living for a few months in Japan. Having a lot of time on my own, I listened to many podcasts. During an old Tim ferriss’ podcast, the guest shares stories about the Quantified Self Movement. He tells that he logged the last 10 years of his life. He said he learned so much doing so and it was fun at the same time. He wished he was younger to gather more data. (I hope to find the episode, I remember it like this, but maybe I am wrong.)
This podcast inspired me a lot. I told myself it could be quite some fun to do the same with my life. I’m still pretty young, so I could gather a lot and a lot of data. If I live up to 80 years old, I could gather up to 60 years of data! On top of that, I am a sort of data geek. I always loved to analyze and play with numbers.
If you want to learn more about the quantified self movement, you can go there: https://quantifiedself.com/
How did I start?
On May, 25th 2019, I wrote my first entry. At first, it was the most basic thing possible. I opened a G Sheets, wrote a few column titles, and wrote a new line for each entry. I didn’t think that much of what I would track. I started to write the date, a description of the day, and my location in the world. I then wrote a few numbers about my feeling of the day, the number of productive hours I had, and if I meditated or not. I also used to write my dreams on a separate note that I merged after.
From August, 4th 2019, I started to track my sleep phases. At this point I was reading the 4-hour body from Tim Ferriss. I love to experiment new things such as polyphasic sleep.
From August, 13th 2019, I started to track my eating window. This is to track my intermittent fasting. Another experiment from the 4-hour body. Since then, I still try to do as much intermittent fasting as I can.
From November, 10th 2019, I tracked my weight (not everyday), the time I wake up, and the food I eat at lunch, for snack and at dinner.
From December, 24th 2019, I started to track if I drank alcohol during the day. This is one of the metrics I follow the most on a weekly basis. From March 14th, I changed this metric to track the approximate quantity of alcohol I consumed. Of course, on a big party I can’t remember it exactly but it gives me an idea. At this time, I was tracking 14 metrics each day.
From January, 5th 2020, I started to track if I read at least a page of a book during the day.
From April, 5th 2020, I started to track 13 new metrics. They are:
- if I write something during the day,
- my stress level,
- my social decisions,
- my financial decisions,
- the time I spend on my phone,
- if my environment is toxic,
- my resting heart rate,
- my subjective health,
- the number of time I have sex (funny one),
- my sleep quality,
- the time I sleep during the night,
- my nutrition quality
- if I ate process food.
I had a lot of time at this moment and I could take a step back to think of other metrics I would like to track. Most of them are inspired by another person doing the same kind of thing.
From August, 1st 2020, I started to write down the friends I spend the day with. I am more and more influenced by personal development ideas such as a famous quote saying that we are the average of the 5 people we spend the most time with.
From December, 26th 2020, I started to track the friends I call, The number of ski/surf sessions I have and if I have a breakfast. At this time, I was tracking 32 metrics each day.
From July, 8th 2021, I started to track my work satisfaction. Work is one the 3 most important things in your life with your location and the people around you. A quote I love:
“The three big decisions — what you do, where you live, and who you’re with.” Naval Ravikant
From August, 23rd 2021, I implemented the articles I read and I track in Notion into the G Sheets. I also started to track the time I last ate during the day. I wanted to know if it is better to eat 3 hours before going to sleep.
From February, 9th 2022, I started to track if I was eating vegetables, carbs and fruits during the day as yes/no fields. I now track 37 metrics every day. It takes me between 5 and 8 minutes every day to record everything as most of them are yes/no fields or easy single-select fields.
It now looks like this 👇
What do I track?
Here is the list of all the metrics I track, the type of field and why I track it.
- Description of the day. Long text. It is my mini personal diary. I write about what I did during my day but also how I felt and why I thought of it. For the moment, I don’t go back to it, but maybe one day.
- Place. Single Select of the city or area where I am. My physical location is one of the three most important choices in my life. It is important for me to know that this year I’ve spent x days in this location.
- Feeling. Number between -2 and 2. I prefer grading between -2 and 2 to have the 0 in the middle and make it positive, neutral or negative. It is a subjective number of how I liked the day. I sort of ask myself the question, would I like to have this day again? If the answer is “hell yeah!” the rate is 2. “Yes, probably!” it is 1, “So, so” is 0, “Not that much, but it was not horrible also.” is -1. “Definitely not!” is -2. This metric is also a lot used in correlation to others.
- Productivity. Number of hours I am “productive” during the day. I’m not counting boring meetings of course. It could also be related to creativity in a way. This helps me to know the moments of my life I am doing something “intelligent” or “creative”.
- Reading. Checkbox Yes/No. Did I read at least a page of a book during the day? Helping me to build this routine to read every day. Reading is the thing that helped me the most in my life. It is important for me to continue.
- Read Articles. The number of articles I read this day. This one is automatic and comes from the Notion table I have that tracks all the articles I read online. Whenever I finish reading an article I add it to the Notion database with the Notion extension.
- Writing. Checkbox Yes/No. Same as for reading, I feel that writing helps to clarify my thoughts.
- Stress. Number between -2 and 2. Defines my level of stress during the day according to what I have to do. It can be work-related or not as I track this every day. This is a very subjective measure.
- Social decisions/behaviors. Number between -2 and 2. This subjective number reflects how I behave socially. I still don’t know what I’ll do with it or if I’ll even keep it.
- People. Multi-select of people. As we are the average of the five people we spend the most time with, it can be nice to know more about who you are spending time with. Some people might not feel good about this tracking but maybe they are not the good people to have around. It just putting number on an unconscious behavior everybody has.
- Phoned friends. Multi-select of people. I track the friends I phone. This helps me to be more in touch with the people I care of.
- Financial decisions/behaviors. Number between -2 and 2. This subjective number helps me to reflect on my financial decisions whether it is spending or investing. The goal would be to use money in a better way but I have to admit I barely watch this metric for the moment.
- Work satisfaction. Number between -2 and 2. I created this metric as work is what you do of most of your days. This helps me to reflect if I’m still happy about how I earn my money and what I do in my days.
- Phone time. Number of minutes I spend on my phone (or that the screen of my phone is used). I don’t like spending too much time on my phone. To try to decrease the time I spent on my phone, I track every day for how long was my phone screen used. On Apple, it is in the parameters, and on Android I used an app called Quality Time.
- Toxic environment. Checkbox Yes/No. This metric allows me to track if the environment around me is toxic. It can be the people, the place, what I do or anything else. It would be hard to define as it is very subjective. Since I have this metric, I rarely consult it.
- Weight. Number. Just tracking my weight. It can be a slight indicator of health, but not that important in my case.
- Resting heart rate. Number. This is clearly one of the best and easiest health indicators. This metric is given by my Fitbit charge 3. I can easily notice when my health is good and when it’s deteriorating. My resting heart rate is way higher when I drink more than one drink of alcohol.
- Health. Number between -2 and 2. This is my subjective metric of how I feel, in good shape or sick.
- Alcohol. Number. This is another metric I regularly watch to make sure I don’t have a too unhealthy life. I count the number of alcohol doses I drink per day. A dose would be a half pint of beer or a shot of strong alcohol. Of course, during parties, I often lose track of the number of drinks I have so I just approximate it.
- Sex. Number. I count the number of times I have sex during the day. I don’t use it but it might be a fun metric one day.
- Meditation. Checkbox Yes/No. I try to meditate at least 5 minutes every day. This metric is here to incite me to do it on a regular basis.
- Sport. Checkbox Yes/No. Did I do some sport during the day? It could be surfing, running or playing tennis. Doing some physical exercise every day is one of the easiest ways to stay in good shape.
- Ski/Surf Sessions. Number. I’m counting the number of board sports sessions I’m doing as it is one of my biggest passion. This is a fun metric I can analyze at the end of the year. I’m also tracking all of my surfing sessions on another database.
- Sleep Quality. Number between -2 and 2. This is a subjective metric that helps me understand better my sleep. Sleep is another important thing to stay in good shape.
- Sleeping Time. The number of hours I slept during the night. In this one, I don’t count the naps I might do. I do not use an external device to fill this one. I calculate the time between the moment I fall asleep and the moment I wake up. It’s very approximate and I round it to the lower half hour.
- Type Sleep. Single select between Monophasic/Biphasic/Triphasic… At one point I discovered polyphasic sleeping which sleeping less during the night and compensating by doing regular naps during the day. I tried to experiment with it and I now mostly do one nap a day. Sleeping only during the night is monophasic. Sleeping during the night and doing one nap is biphasic. And so on. This metric is here to count the number of naps I do and their duration which can be 20 or 90 minutes.
- Waking Time. Hour. “The early bird catches the waves”. I’m curious about my sleep schedule and at what time I wake up. It is also a way to see if I have a routine or not at all.
- Dream. Long text. I wrote my dreams for a long time. For the moment I don’t do anything with it but maybe at one point, I’ll dig into it. Working on this dream memory muscle is so fascinating. It is the door to a whole new world.
- Nutrition Quality. Number between -2 and 2. I rate the healthiness of the food I ate and how I ate during the day. This is another very subjective metric as I don’t even know what the best food is. Nutrition is another key input for health.
- Nutrition Time. Select of the number of hours. At one point I discovered intermittent fasting. It seems to be one of the easiest ways to restrict caloric input. Caloric restriction seems to be a good way to stay in shape. Since then, I try to eat on an 8-hour window and fast the rest of the time.
- Breakfast. Checkbox Yes/No. Since I do intermittent fasting and I skip most of the time breakfast. I am interested in how many times I do have breakfast whether it is with friends, due to a hangover, or a morning surf.
- Lunch. Multi-select of food. I write down everything I eat for lunch. Not the quantities, only the aliments. For the moment I do nothing with it.
- Snack. Multi-select of food. I write down everything I eat for snack.
- Dinner. Multi-select of food. I write down everything I eat for dinner.
- Cooked for friends. Checkbox Yes/No. I feel that food is a great way to socialize. I love to cook some good things for my friends, so I decided to count the number of times I do it.
- Last meal time. Checkbox Yes/No. I follow the time I have my last food for the day. I want to see if eating 3 hours before going to bed makes a difference or not.
- Process food. Checkbox Yes/No. I try to have days without eating processed foods.
- Vegetables. Checkbox Yes/No. As I don’t eat vegetables every day, I count the days during which I ate some vegetables. It is to incite me to eat healthier food.
- Fruits. Checkbox Yes/No. As I don’t eat fruits every day, I count the days during which I ate some vegetables. It is to incite me to eat healthier food.
- Carbs. Checkbox Yes/No. I feel that carbs are not that good in your diet, so I try to eat less of it.
How do I do that?
As you read before, I started with a very simple G Sheets. I had a shortcut on my phone to fill it every day. I didn’t have any routine and used to fill it sometimes at night, sometimes in the morning or sometimes during the day. Evolving in time, I added a lot of columns in the G Sheets, and it didn’t feel practical at all to continue to do it like this. I tried a few solutions such as using G Forms or building a personalized app on Bubble, but it was not easy.
The easiest way I found is to fill out an Airtable form. I do this every morning as I included it in my routine. The advantages of Airtable are that it is very simple, it is easy to make it evolve and the function to prefill some fields is very useful! If I want to prefill the description the day before, I can easily do it through the Airtable app. The form looks like this 👇
After logging a week, I send my data into the G Sheets I used to fill. This creates a backup of my data and I use G Sheets as the data source to my data visualization in G Data Studio. To sync the data I use a great tool named Naas. I used to code it a bit to transform the data but I might change it to Make. Make is easier to maintain and evolve with my process.
Why don’t I use Notion ? I am often asked this question. In my work, I use a lot of Notion and Airtable and I feel that Airtable is more suitable for very structured data such as mine. But I have no real reason. I think that Notion would do a great job for this task as well.
How do I visualize the data?
Continuing to improve the system bay by day, I created some data visualization in Google Data Studio. I first created a display of the weekly data. I wanted to have the main pieces of information in an easy-to-read way. I mostly watch the vices to improve them.
In the first part, there is the superposition of 3 graphs : my feeling in green, the number of hours I’ve slept in blue, and my consumption of alcohol in orange. On this screenshot, I was the happiest on Tuesday, Friday, and Sunday.
Next, there is another graph about my productivity. It compares to the previous week. The goal is to have more productive hours all the week and not only from Monday to Friday.
Next, there are some leisure data about what I did during my week and where I was. So this week I was only in Biarritz, I did 1 day of sport and no surfing (sad me). I also read a page 5 out of the 7 days. I also read a total of 7 articles this week.
Finally, there are some health and digital indicators. The ones I consult the most are how I sleep (quality and time), my pulse, the time I spend on my phone (in minutes), and the alcohol I consume.
I then created a similar dashboard at a monthly level and many more at a yearly level. The monthly dashboard is right there and you can find the different graphics from the yearly dashboards in my yearly review.
Why do I do that?
The reasons for me to do this evolved with time. At first, I found the idea intriguing and want to try it out. I loved the fact that Kevin Kelly (or someone else?) was doing this for 10 years and had a huge amount of data on himself. This is also an uncommon idea that I like.
I have a few reasons that push me to continue. First, it is part of my morning routine. The days I don’t do it when I wake up, I think of it a lot and try to find the 5 minutes to do it. It is also a sort of personal diary where I can catch my feelings and actions. Some people would take a lot of pictures to remember what they did. I have this routine and this allows me to remember the good as much as the bad of my past life. In fact, I rarely go back to the descriptions I wrote, but one day I will. Or maybe I’ll write an autobiography, who knows?
Reading the data is also very useful. I have two scales of reading. The micro-scale when I’ll use my weekly or monthly dashboards. I’ll read mostly the data concerning my day-to-day unhealthy habits. Those would be the quantity of alcohol I drank, the sports I did, my readings, or my sleep.
The other scale is the macro scale. I took the habit to go back to the year data through the dashboards I created. This helps me to write a yearly review. You can find my 2020 and 2021 all-in reviews on Medium. This helps me a lot to reflect on the big decisions of my life, such as where do I want to leave? Who do I want to be with? What do I want to do? Do I want this party life or a sport life or both? This is an infinite quest but it is great to use this data to help me.
To finish with a happy note I would say that life is a balance between long-term optimization and short-term freedom. Freedom is not to live without any constraints but to choose them wisely. This lifelog mania is my meditative way to share my thoughts and reflect on my life.
Tell me if you are interested in a template and a few automations to remind you to fill your daily log. You can comment on this post or contact me on LinkedIn. We will be able to work something out for you ✌️
If you like what I told you in this post, you can put a few 👏👏👏. This will help me to write more articles similar to this one.