Track it!

I’ve never been a spreadsheet guy. I’ve always associated them with money, math, and monotony.

But lately I’ve been making charts, entering equations, creating columns, and actually enjoying it. What’s changed?

It all started with a comment made by Kevin Kelly, the co-founder of Quantified Self.

He said that in spite of all the apps out there, many people just use a simple spreadsheet to measure and evaluate the things they care about. I’d been wanting to become more involved in QS but had struggled to find the right tool.

The more I thought about it, the more it made sense. Spreadsheets are free, easy to use, and powerful. They essentially let you build your own app without needing to know programming or acquire funding.

So I’ve begun tracking my health with a spreadsheet that shows me everything at a glance. I have point values associated with different behaviors, bar graphs for quick comparisons, monthly summaries, and notes for motivation. Here’s a screenshot:

I built it with the help of Google, my wife, and my sister-in-law. I knew next to nothing going in and it only took me a couple hours to get up and running.

The thing I love about this is that it’s mine. I’m not trying to make someone else’s system work for me. I’m making my system work for me. And it’s helping me get better results.

But no matter what tool you use, I’ve found that there’s incredible power in monitoring your behavior and quantifying your goals.

1. What gets measured gets managed.

Tracking has accountability baked in: you see the numbers, you know how you’re doing, you know when you’re succeeding and when you’re failing. You can easily share your progress with others. And you get a ton of clarity by moving a goal out of your head and into writing. After all, You can’t manage a concept but you can manage specific behaviors related to a concept.

2. What gets rewarded gets repeated.

Spreadsheets allow you to define your own rules, track your results, and easily set rewards for specific behaviors. While my rewards usually involve chocolate, I’ve found that reaching a high score each day is a pleasure in and of itself. The better I do, the better I want to do. When you track something you care about it’s easy to find both intrinsic and extrinsic motivation.

3. Tracking creates traction.

Tracking helps you stay motivated. Imagine running a race without knowing how long it was or how much progress you’d made. You’d get discouraged quickly. Tracking provides a clear finish line with helpful checkpoints along the way.

4. Tracking keeps you on track.

To continue the running analogy, tracking is like the orange cones, blocked roads, and volunteers who help you stay on course so you don’t waste time running the wrong way or inadvertently disqualify yourself. When you track something, you’re making boundaries work for you instead of against you.

5. Tracking reminds you of what matters.

One of the biggest benefits I’ve received from tracking has had nothing to do with the numbers, charts, or rewards. It’s been the repeated act of remembering my goals. I check in with my spreadsheet multiple times a day because I want to keep the main things the main things. With so many distractions out there it’s easy to get knocked around. Tracking is like putting an anchor down in the storm.

Ready to begin?

  1. Watch an overview of using a spreadsheet.
  2. Check out some templates.
  3. Ask a friend or colleague for help if you get stuck.
  4. Keep improving your system until it fits like a glove.
  5. Get better results.

If you try this I’d love to hear about it!


Originally published at davemierau.com on July 18, 2015.