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Greg Phillips is a Philosophy major turned software developer and tech entrepreneur.

Co-founder of Kwelia

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My Quantified Self Setup

August 31, 2013

A few years ago, I didn’t keep track of any personal metrics, nor did I feel there was any need to. This has changed drastically since then: I now keep track of metrics pertaining to my work habits, career, exercise, diet and sleep. As others have observed before, I found that merely keeping track of these metrics has positively affected my focus, behavior and overall health. However, it didn’t happen overnight–it took a progression of deliberate incremental steps over time.

I started with RescueTime shortly after co-founding my startup, Kwelia. Kwelia is my first venture, and I left a more structured software engineering job at an established company to start it. My initial motivation was that I didn’t want my work ethic to slip when my job became more self-directed. This didn’t happen for a number of reasons, but I think RescueTime’s tracking of all of my behavior on my computer certainly helped me stay focused. (I could really use RescueTime or a RescueTime-like for my iPhone as well–it seems like that’s where I waste the most time now, but I digress.)

After the initial success with RescueTime, I was thinking about how I could measure progress on more of a career and company development level. I came across this blog post by Cal Newport announcing a class that would explore the notion of deliberate practice in a career-development context, and my interest was piqued. I ended up taking the class, and the biggest take-away for me was the isolation of some key career metrics that I wanted to track. I won’t go into too much detail, but they all boiled to down to gaining more traction for Kwelia, as well as for my personal brand via writing and tweeting more. I now periodically track these metrics manually in a small Emacs org-mode document. Just keeping track of a few rough measures of “traction” has inspired me to work harder to promote myself and my company.

The final piece of my current Quantified Self puzzle fell into place when my lovely, fitness-obsessed girlfriend bought me a FitBit. Initially, I thought I would just wear it and track my steps as a rough gauge of how much physical activity I was getting. However, I ended up going whole-hog and tracking my sleep, calories consumed and other fitness activity using their software as well. I’ve been doing this for almost a month now, and I’ve been losing weight and finding it easier to make healthier choices when it comes to my diet and exercise just by keeping track.

If there’s one lesson I’ve learned from all of this, it’s that you can initiate a tremendous amount of personal change just by starting to keep track of metrics in areas where you wish to improve. If you dutifully keep track of your past activity, you will naturally be more mindful of your goals when making decisions in the future. I underestimated the power of this phenomenon going into it, but now I’m slowly but surely becoming a quantified-self addict.

Tagged as: quantified self, data, self-improvement, analytics.

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