Over the last few months, I have made a conscious effort to learn a little more about myself. Whether it’s what I spend time doing or who I spend time with, I wanted a lightweight, unobtrusive method for collecting small snippets of data throughout my day.
I tried lot’s of different methods—jotting down notes in small moleskin notebook, pecking away in the iOS notes app—the list goes on and on. None of these methods became ubiquitous in my daily routine and I tended to fade between several at a time.
The worst part was that all the data was consciously collected.
For this experiment to be effective, I had to find a method that randomly sampled, minimized complexity, and was accessible all the time.
I settled with my iPhone 4s.
Money is circulated. Time is spent.
One evening, my friend, Tulio, was scrolling through one of Nicholas Felton’s Personal Annual Reports and asked me if I had heard of Reporter.
I said no.
The next few minutes, I learned about how Reporter performs a few random surveys every day. Each survey, called a report, collects user-inputted data as well as data from the phone’s sensors. Not only are the survey questions customizable, but the data is also conveniently stored in exportable JSON.
If not completely sold on the idea, I was at least intrigued.
The lightweight, random, mobile-first experience was exactly where my other attempted methods fell short. So I fired up the App Store and was disappointed to see that it cost $3.99.
I almost balked at the purchase, but I realized something:
If Reporter can help me understand things I care about, perhaps saving me a few minutes each day, then it would definitely prove valuable.
The $3.99 I circulated on Reporter is definitely worth the time I spend everyday.
What I report every day
Time to Report! is the push notification I see about five times a day. It prompts me to quickly avert my attention to capturing my current circumstances.
Reporter has a few has default questions that I originally used—Are you working? How did you sleep? Who are you with?—but after a while I added my own and discarded a few of the defaults.
My reports almost always comprise four questions: Who are you with? What are you doing? Where are you? Are you in front of a screen?
The exception is right before I go to bed. I put Reporter to sleep and am asked: How many pages did you read tonight? And when I wake up, Reporter wakes and asks: How did you sleep? (Multiple choice: Great, Ok, Poorly, Not at all)
Besides Reporter latently recording other things—temperature, battery level, speed, steps—these six questions encompass the only active data I need to capture on my own.
Most reports take only a few seconds and the power comes when the reports start to add up, allowing me to look for answers to my questions:
- Where do I spend most of my time?
- Is sleep quality correlated to how often I am in front of a screen?
- What are my more social activities?
There are many other trends you start to notice that were unrecognizable, or at least unquantifiable, before.
Reporter can illuminate aspects of your life that might be otherwise unmeasurable.
For me, the power of collecting all this data is simply having all of it.
I have yet to do anything significant yet, like one of Felton’s Annual Reports, but I am able to hold myself accountable based on my past behavior. For example, I started my nightly reading habit around the same time that I began reporting.
Every night when I do not want to read and would rather browse aimlessly on my phone, I remember that I have to report at the end of the night.
If I have not read, then a 0 goes into the data set, which irks me a little. It’s satisfying to see the visualizations track your progress.
Data ~= Understanding
After only superficial exploration, I’m hoping to do something significant with the data at some point so I can really see how my life causally fits together.
Until then, I’m content with building habits through the app and reflecting on the last 107 days and 500 reports.
Let me know if you try it out @tomfme and what your thoughts are.
Originally published on Medium under the same name. Updated on April 20, 2016.