A couple of days ago I attended a phenomenal workshop on monthly planning hosted by Sebastian Marshall and Kai Zau, the guys behind Ultraworking. In the QA section of the workshop, we talked a bit about tools to help us track what's going on in our lives so that we can later look at real data when we evaluate and not rely on gutt feelings. I shared a simple process that I currently use to track my sleep but that is so versatile that you can literally track anything with it that fits into a spreadsheet.
It's however a bit complicated to explain via video call (which the workshop was), so I sat down afterwards and sent Marshall an email with a step-by-step walkthough of my process. He suggested that I make a blog post out of it, so here we go:
Tracking can be a pain, especially when you're on the go or when you have needs that none of the available tracking apps meet. I've tested a lot of tracking apps, but most of them are too complicated, don't let me track what I want the way I want or don't export their data easily. That's why I came up with some creative chaining of available apps that allows me to track my sleep, for example, in six button presses on my iPhone and is immediately available as a spreadsheet for analysis. Here's what you need:
Drafts is great, because it is a note taking app that does not get in your way: when you start it, you're presented with an empty notes sheet and can start typing immediately. Critically, it also allows you two do two other things: save text to files in Dropbox and use TextExpander snippets. And not only does it allow you to save new text files in Dropbox, it allows you to append to files. And while most people use the append-to-file function to append to a .txt file, you don't have to do that. What we're going to set up instead here is to append to a .csv file, which makes all data immediately available for analysis. Wait, what? Append to .csv? Yup, that's right: because .csv files literally don't need anything but comma separated values, all you need to do is write something like
2017-11-28, 22:01, mood, 7
and you have a new row in a .csv-file that any spreadsheet program (or data analysis script) can read. Even better: by creating snippets in TextExpander and importing them into Drafts, you can semi-automate this process and speed it up significantly. For the example above, you could define a snippet such as
xtm (shorthand for
expand track mood) that expands to
2017-11-28, 22:01, mood,1 so that every time you type
xtm you get the current date and time and the word "mood" separated by commas. Then you just need to type a value for your mood (7, good, chocolate) and you're done. 24 characters down to three ain't bad, right?
So, here's a detailed step-by-step guide for how to track the time you go to bed, for example:
- In Drafts, go to the Actions Sheet (button in the right upper corner)
- Click the plus in the upper right corner
- Click “Create Action”
- Give it a name (i.e. Log Sleep)
- Click on steps
- Scroll down to Services
- Select Dropbox (you might be prompted to connect Dropbox if you're using Drafts for the first time or haven't connected it yet)
- Set Filename to [[title]] (including the brackets). Now the first line of the note will designate which file to append to. You do not need to enter the file extension.
- Set Extension to "csv" (no dot, without quotation marks)
- Set Path to any desired folder in Dropbox. If you enter nothing, it will put it in the main Dropbox folder
- Set Write Type to "append"
- Set Content to [[body]] (again, with the brackets). This will append everthing from the second line onward to the file
- Click Save in the upper right corner
- Go back to the text sheet
- enter this
2017-11-25, 2017-11-26, time to bed, 20:24
- Click the button in the upper right corner
- Select the action with the name you gave it in step (4)
- Check your Dropbox: you now should have a file called sleeplog.csv that you can open in Excel (or analyse with R, or...)
Once you're done, you now can track anything in the shortest amount of time possible: open drafts, type (or expand) the title of the file you want to append to, separate everything else by comma and boom, there you go. The possibilities are literally endless. One thing you could set up, for example, would be a Shiny dashboard on you computer that automatically reads your files and gives you an overview over whatever you track. I haven't set that up myself yet, but have been playing with the idea. If someone of you does it, please let me know!
If this post was interesting to you and you want to read more of what I'm up to, you can subscribe to Listening to Mimir, my newsletter. You can also always reach me at firstname @ lastname.org.
I've also attached a couple of screenshots for the process described above, maybe they help in setting it up.