The Quantified Self: January's Results

Lots of people put their stock in the “quantified self” phenomenon — which, in brief, is the idea that tracking and analyzing various personal measures helps achieve goals.
In late December I developed a template in OneNote that serves as a daily journal. One sheet, one day, no other apps or spreadsheets or tracking tools. The sheet contains a one-sentence, high-level goal for the day, then it includes my unified calendar, a list of tasks, a diet log, an exercise log, a record of financial activity, a “health metrics” section and a place for recording accomplishments or reflections. Each type of information has a specific OneNote tag formatted with a regular comma-delimited pattern; OneNote 2013 lets you pull together a summary page that includes all tags, so I can just cut-and-paste tag sections into Excel for quick-and-easy trend analysis. Pivot tables are your friend.
Upside: Between a Windows 8 desktop, a Windows 8 laptop, a Windows Phone 8, and OneNote for my Android tablet — I can keep the daily list updated from any screen, no problem.
I’ve been supremely diligent throughout January of tracking this information. Some of it will fall into the “interesting but not all that useful” category — e.g., task histories. Others prove much more useful; the appointment section lets me make free-form notes under each tagged calendar item, making it easier to find information later.
The five parts that have proven most illuminating are the daily records for calories, exercise, spending, weight and blood pressure. Here’s what I’ve learned so far:

  • I lost exactly 10 lbs. in the month. Woohoo.
  • I consumed roughly 61,138 calories. Of these, 9.6 percent were enjoyed at breakfast, 41 percent at lunch, 28.4 percent at dinner and 11.8 percent as snacks. Alas, a whopping 9.2 percent of January’s calories came from adult beverages.
  • It appears that 3,100 daily calories marks my “break even” rate — more than that, and I pork up; less than that, and I slim down. This number is consistent with online calculators.
  • My average daily calorie count was 1,972, with a high of 3,215 and a low of 960. Population standard deviation of 609.
  • As I spent more time in the month performing aerobic exercise, my blood pressure — especially the systolic value — improved. I have shifted from consistently measuring as low pre-hypertensive to consistently measuring in the high normal category.
  • Between 12:01 a.m. on January 1 and 11:59 p.m. on January 31, I spent about $80 less than I earned. However, the month was unusual — I had extra income but paid down my credit card and replaced a few big-ticket things, so January’s pattern feels unusual.
  • My spending fell along somewhat surprising categories. I shelled out less on dining out than I would have guessed, but I did incur a whopping $250 just at the gas pump (thank you, GMC Jimmy 4×4). For February, I’m refining my category list, whittling it down to just 12 different buckets of spending.

So. I’m going to keep up with the daily tracking. I’ve found it to be a useful mechanism for keeping front-and-center the stuff I need to do and to prod forethought about my patterns of consumption.
Cuz hey — 10 lbs. in a month isn’t anything to sneeze at.

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  1. You and your quantified self may have just given me a challenge. To count the calories that I consume and break it down this way for the next couple months. After all, anyone that can have (on average) one glass of scotch/bourbon a day and still lose 10 pounds must be doing something right. 🙂

  2. Every year Nicholas Feltron creates a personal annual report of his activities and behaviors. They’re quite beautiful and interesting. So, if you keep it up, you could have something like this:

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