Wednesday, 10 April 2013

How data tracking can improve your life


This post is not about StatDiary. It's much deeper into the world of data. I've talked with a lot of people about data tracking and got the surprising feedback that they are not really interested in data. I have a different view on that.


Diary is much more appreciated when we're talking about personal history. That's a ver nice way of capturing our behavior and experience. But it's not strict. Really hard to index and search. Same difficulty happens when you want to categorize it. And in general, it made to be read by human, for joy and reminding them better or worse times.

Data is on the other hand nice and strict. I started tracking my data since I have the web service, even more frequently since the iPhone app is there. It taught me couple of things - apart from the common sense that most people know about.

As one of the most known fact about data is that it helps to improve yourself by presenting accurate information. Our daily routine is full of micro management. We don't even realize how many adjustment we do in order to carry on what we want. To be able to finish the chicken and the salad and the coke and the sauce at the same time you have to find the right amount from each component to eat with the perfect pace. Or when you have many tasks in a given time you slowly adopt your speed to be able to finish. It's natural, and usually works without any help. However a lot of other things is unseen. Like your weight, your time spent on Reddit, or under the shower. Or the calories you consume. Some occurs through days or even weeks. You need to be aware of the change to be able to control it - and most importantly adjust your actions to be able to aim your goals. If you see you weight during your training it's much easier to add some extra minutes to that treadmill.

Another realization was patterns. I could see how frequently I have hard days, headaches, or how my mood is changing. If I know these patterns I can react better the next time. I probably increase my green tea intake in order to avoid my next monthly headache. Or I can get some extra apples whenever I see a drop on my health chart.

A very popular outcome of data is self awareness. You may know your weight or your current mood. But do you know the longest session of your sadness. Or how much does it take to loose one stone? Or maybe that data is the only indicator of your unstable health. You really cannot rely on what you feel.

A lot of action takes time to extract their effect. When you consume any food your body slowly parse it bit by bit. Your blood sugar level, enzymes or blood pressure will change in a minute, or the next day. Only your data can tell you when something happens.

So finally it all leads to one conclusion - data is essential to tell us what to do. Imagine if all these data would be public (and anonymous) - and you could compare it to yours. See what effects on it. What helps and what harms. Suddenly the whole world would become a huge live experience. Purely statistical heaven. Sound cool, right?

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Peter

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