What if you could track everything you do in life? That is the idea behind self-tracking, a new method of tracking daily tasks, whether by using a health monitoring product, gauging employee productivity, or just finding out if your workers are happy.
Charlie Belmer spends anywhere from 15 minutes to several hours each day tracking everything he does in his job. His goal: to figure out how to be more productive.
Importing data from Google Analytics into Excel spreadsheets, San Francisco-based Belmer, who is CEO of cloud-based security company Golem Technologies, says he keeps track of his productivity by logging how much time he spends completing programming tasks and resolving issues. He has also tracked time spent in meetings, cooking, eating, exercising and sleeping. In a former relationship he even admits to keeping track of who did what chores and which behaviors caused fights.
"Those who are motivated by continual self improvement tend to use metrics to help achieve that. If my goal is to increase productivity 50 percent this year, I need a way to measure my productivity," he says.
Belmer is part of a growing movement called "The Quantified Self" that was originally developed by Kevin Kelly, a co-founder of Wired magazine, and Wired Contributing Editor Gary Wolf. Adherents to the QS tend to believe that by using the plethora of gadgets, smartphones, and applications available, they can quantify their lives and make adjustments in behavior, if needed, resulting in a higher quality of life.
"You have all these tools [that can perform] non-invasive monitoring or spreadsheets that allow you to track things, [and] wireless connectivity which allows you to transfer things without a lot of work. And so suddenly it's very easy to do an experiment and track it, and that, I think, is the main thing behind it, why people are doing experiments on themselves now," Kelly says.
Personal self-tracking is just the start. The field could easily expand into employee productivity tracking and even tracking whether workers are truly happy on the job. And, self-tracking has spawned some new start-ups meant to help people track their behavior and daily health.
Health sector, social networking
An abundance of products are now available that help people track their health, which is a smart new business idea. One example is the Withings WiFi Scale, which can automatically send weigh-ins to Twitter or Facebook. Or the Zeo, which senses brainwaves and coaches users online to improve sleep quality.
A beta version of the Basis watch is getting some buzz in QS circles because it measures the typical health variables but also tracks Galvanic skin response, an indication of exercise intensity. Users can share metrics collected by the watch on social media platforms like Facebook.
Speaking of social media, slef-tracking is also becoming a big part of that market. Users on Quantter, a self-tracking site, broadcast things like how far they've run using simple hashtags on Twitter (e.g., they look like this: #run:3 miles).
Another example is Health Month, an online game in which you choose rules to follow for a month, such as limiting alcohol consumption or exercising a certain number of days a week. You can play on teams with people you know, or with the thousands of strangers who participate in the game. If you lose "life points" for not following the rules you can "plea for fruit" from other players and get them back.
Alex Rainert, whose title is "head of product" at Foursquare, the popular location-based service based in New York City, plays Health Month with 25 of his coworkers.
He says that since getting enough sleep can be a problem when you work at a start-up, he has a rule about getting seven hours of sleep, which sometimes conflicts with a different rule to exercise.
"I could get the seven-hour sleep rule and go back to sleep or I could get up, go to the gym and knock the gym off the list," he says. "That's what makes these apps interesting, that they are very directly influencing the decisions that you make."
With bulging email accounts that demand purging and alluring social media sites that tempt employees with reprieves from work, it's no wonder many of us sit down at the computer and end up in a time-suck, avoiding real tasks. For those who lack the willpower to resist Facebook or for people frustrated with uncompleted to-do lists, self-tracking productivity tools can add time back into the work day.
For instance, StayFocusd is a free extension for Google Chrome that restricts the amount of time you spend browsing websites. When you've used up your Facebook time, for example, a screen pops up that says, "Shouldn't you be working?"
"In this business, when clients don't ‘see' anything they think we aren't working on their project. With BaseCamp they can log in any time and see what tasks were completed, and they can comment on any of the tasks. It also allows us to upload larger client files," she says.
On a simpler level, WorkTime is a Windows app that tracks time spent on projects, documents and applications using a small window that sits on the corner of your computer screen. To start timing an activity, you just pick one a task from those you've defined and push the start button. To switch tasks, it's just a matter of choosing a different one from a drop-down menu.
Let's face it, happy employees do the best work. Some interesting tools are popping up to help people gauge mood and determine which factors influence behavior.
British entrepreneur Jon Cousins created Moodscope, a social networking tool that tracks your mood, after he was diagnosed with Cyclothymia, a form of bipolar disorder.
"The usual treatments would be medication or psychotherapy, but I'd experienced the latter with little effect, and didn't want to take medication as it would likely dampen my highs -- the times when I do my best work," he said. Instead, he adapted a psychological mood test called PANAS into an online card game that asks players to rate themselves each day on 20 measures such as irritability, pride, and attentiveness.
In the workplace, an employee could use a tool like Moodscope (of their own choice) to see if they are happy in their job and to track their attentiveness level to work tasks. The employee then could report back to a boss and find out if the company can make any changes to help.
Ben Lopatin, a partner at Wellfire Interactive, a Web application and design firm based outside of Washington, D.C., says he has been experimenting with LifeUp!, an iPhone app for tracking daily tasks and moods.
"By tracking a correlation between certain tasks I define, like drinking at least two liters of water throughout the day or going for a run, and my general happiness level at the end of the day, I get a gentle but consistent reminder that those things affect my mood, which affects my productivity and focus," he said.
One thing is certain -- those who do self-tracking are hyper-focused on self-improvement, and that can only be a good thing for their overall health, work productivity, well-being.