February 5, 2013

Mining the Data of My Life.

photo: [Kaycee Anseth Townsend]

What started out for me as a casual experiment has become a way of life.

A couple of years ago, in a shared cab ride to the airport at the end of a conference, I had a conversation with an executive coach who works with many successful and well-respected business leaders.

When I asked him to pinpoint the place where most of his clients need support, he told me it really comes down to a handful of basics: if you’re not taking care of yourself on the most fundamental of levels and doing the things to support your optimal personal performance, you’re not able to function at the higher levels demanded by conscious executive leadership.

These are simple things we often overlook or take for granted like drinking enough water, getting enough sleep, exercising regularly and eating well.

The conversation stayed with me.

I wondered if the goals I was striving toward in my career and life might be met not by hunkering down and working any harder than I already was, but by hitting the foundational basics more consistently.

While I always imagined that I had those basics buttoned down, I knew that my days often became so full that I neglected to stop to drink that glass of water, or even eat lunch and that I’d skip my morning run or trip to the gym in favor of staying glued to my computer.

I just didn’t know how often.

I decided to try a simple experiment, noticing and tracking a handful of the fundamental things I knew I required for optimal performance.

If the goal was to drink eight glasses of water a day, I’d make a checkmark on a list of how many I actually drank.

If the goal was to hit the gym four or five days a week, I’d track how many days that week I actually got there. If the goal was to sleep for seven or eight hours a night, I’d track how many hours I was actually getting.

I started with an easy spreadsheet with those three categories: sleep, water and exercise. Noticing the patterns that kept me from getting to bed on time, or rising as early as I’d aimed or the excuses that kept me from getting to the gym.

As I did, I began noticing other things.

I started color coding my spreadsheet with the days I traveled for business or when my husband did. I noticed that when I traveled, I was pretty good about hitting the hotel gym but that when he was gone, I allowed the extra family responsibilities at home to knock me off of that commitment.

I started tracking my caffeine intake, whether or not I had a glass of wine with dinner and whether I was menstruating that week, to see if these things had any correlation not only to the basic sleep, water, exercise pattern I was tracking but also on how I was feeling about my career performance and how much I was putting into my bigger picture goals.

I began adding categories related to those goals like financial security, making sure to track my daily bank balances and spending.

I soon realized that if I wasn’t careful my tracking could occupy an inordinate amount of time and space. There seemed to be no end to the things you could pay attention to and monitor!

I experimented to find the sweet spot in which everything I tracked seemed to be tied directly to the things that most impacted my bigger goals.

As the months went on I noticed the more I tracked, the more consistent I was with my practices.

When I looked at my spreadsheet and saw that I’d run or exercised for the last four days in a row, I wanted to make it five. When I fell off because my husband was out of town and my time was compressed, I was easier on myself because I could somehow relax in knowing exactly where I would pick up when he returned.

Over the months, I added some categories that seemed important at the time, only to later let them go when the activity became a habit so ingrained it felt no longer necessary to monitor or if it somehow became less influential as it related to a set goal.

I also started sharing my tracking with an accountability coach – or as I like to call her, my ass-kicker and cheerleader, depending upon what is called for.

I’m nine months into my daily tracking experiment now and I have this incredible collection of data—the real patterns and rhythm of my daily life. I also have the amazing satisfaction of having met and maintained some of the goals most important to my personal fulfillment and success.

I am at my perfect weight.

I know this because I weigh myself each day upon waking and mark it down so I can catch myself if I get off track.

I spend one-on-one time with each of my kids regularly because it was important enough to me to set a goal of doing so and having the accountability on paper helps me make it happen; I send a card to a relative in a nursing home regularly because I know exactly how long it’s been since I sent the last one.

This is how it goes.

What started out for me as a casual experiment has become a way of life. My husband tracks his data now, as do a number of friends.

It’s a simple system of self-accountability that somehow really works for me. Perhaps you might find it to be the thing that helps you to more consciously live your good life too.





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Assistant Ed: Madison Canary
Ed: Bryonie Wise


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