Reflection, powered by technology
It is often more powerful to look backward at what has been accomplished, in times of doubt and struggle, than to look at the forthcoming mountain yet to summit.
WE have a huge problem with technology. We love it, and it brings us so much value in terms of giving us access to information, learning new skills, finding new entertainment. It is what we rely on to connect with friends and family, for work, for money, to write, to research and to develop projects.
But my god, when I sit down to work in the morning now that I am freelancing and not in an office environment with the physical onus to focus, it can be so distracting. Useless emails. Nonstop notifications. Incessant clickbait.
To start tackling this problem, I deleted the Facebook, Instagram, Linkedin, and any other superfluous social media apps from my phone. I still have access to my accounts, but it’s a longer process of having to search it up via a web browser. Because of this, I barely check them anymore. As they say: out of sight, out of mind.
This cleared up invaluable thinking space, and while I still get distracted, especially by news, my work sessions have become my own again. But it still wasn’t enough. It felt like forcibly taking away my sugar-high, but there was no positive reinforcement to replace it with good habits.
Instead of browsing Facebook, I turned to my favourite Tech news website and browsed that instead. If not that, it’d be Reddit.
I’d simply replaced my bad habits for other bad habits.
In times where you are falling into a rut, when you ‘lack motivation’ or keep hitting distraction roadblock after roadblock: Look back at the books read, miles walked, metaphorical dragons you’ve come up against and vanquished — and take heart from this. Use the visible indicators to present your strength and progress, and from it progress to success in the future.
In Letters From A Stoic, Ancient Roman Stoic philosopher Seneca says:
If one does not know to which port one is sailing, no wind is favorable.
In other words, it’s important to have a goal.
And it is important to keep reminding yourself of that goal. Having reminders in place (say, on your fridge door) will ensure that when you see the chocolate mousse, you’ll expend your willpower to say ‘no’ and continue to progress to your weight goal.
In the same way that seeing the weights rack up week after week when you’re deadlifting or benching provides a rush, soon improvement itself becomes a huge motivating factor. It’s a virtuous circle.
However the issue here is that without rigorous note-keeping, soon we will hit plateaus and difficult moments which threaten to tear down all of our hard work. Imagine hitting your stride in the gym, going regularly and seeing the gains — and then work keeps you late one week and suddenly you’re out of sync again.
Without tracking improvements, it’s easy to rationalise to ourselves that there’s nothing to be lost if you “skip one workout” or “don’t medidate for a month”. But really, there is a lot to be lost. In fact, everything is at stake.
Every day you miss certain key habits, say eating heathily or don’t utilise critical thinking skills — you contribute to a backslide into mediocrity. Over enough time, repeating these actions “just today” will lead to a bad place. Even Einstein recognised the power of Compound interest.
Compound your work
If we look at the top 5% of performers, the CEOs and Presidents of the world — it’s often touted that they attribute their success to reading 50 books a year like Warren Buffet or Bill Gates.
This is terrible advice if you want to be successful.
A year is simply too broad a timestamp to put on any activity, particularly for the human mind whose neutrological makeup is wrapped up in dopamine-urges and the immediate here-and-now.
If you wanted to read 50 books a year, you would need to read at least 4 books a month. That’s 41.6 pages a day, assuming you’re reading 300-page books.
The point is you need to read everyday. The more consistent you can be with reading, and for that matter working out, meditating and studying and writing and all manner of goals — the more focused and intentional you can be in pursuit of them.
And that is the underlying lesson: to achieve your goals, you need to be consistent.
And guess what? One of the most desirable skills in CEOs is just that: reliability. According to a study by the Harvard Business Review, CEO candidates who scored high on reliability were twice as likely to be picked for the role and 15 times more likely to succeed in it.
Take that, Bill Gates.
Now that you’ve established you need to have goals and be reliable in your pursuit of them, you will need metrics to keep track of your habits.
The practical elements of how to power your reflection using technology
I used the same logic as above to first identify my goals, and then decided to leverage technology to do something useful and track my progress toward them. The point of using technology instead of a diary was that often if I used a notebook, I missed a day. Or three, and at this point it became a useless activity.
Another missing element is if you try to re-write a journal entry for yesterday today, it’s likely you will miss the nuance that comes with a same-day review. And even if you do jot something down on paper, what are the chances you’ll ever look at it again?
Journalling or note-keeping is only a useful activity if it can be compounded and if the data you are meticulously curating will be useful to future you. Using technology means that the information is logged easily, with a few taps of your fingers.
It also utilises the one item constantly in your possession no matter day or night: your phone.
- I wrote goals, medium term (6-month) goals. I wrote a financial, health, educational, travel, writing and developer goal for myself to have accomplished by June 30th 2018.
2. I made a simple Google Form to track my daily activity. For me, that happened to be whether I ate healthily, read, meditated and details on any workouts.
3. Using a simple Google Script, I emailed myself the Google Form every night at 10:30PM. The email contained a link to the Form I made earlier, so I just click it and fill out the form in my browser window.
An added benefit of sending the form to myself at night was a perfect signal for me to wind down my work and settle into my night-time routine.
So after a while of tracking, something cool happened.
After you submit enough of these forms over a certain period of time, there’s a tab at the top of the Form that says “Responses”. This is the log of your responses that Forms automatically collates and groups, then creates appropriate charts based on this information.
Now you can see the patterns of your habits and whether you’ve been doing what you set out out to do, or not.
Here are my results after doing tracking my day for 32 days so far.
Okay, so I’m not perfect here but on over 65% of the month, I ate at least mostly healthily. I can live with that, but at the same time shows me that I have room for improvement. The less orange there is on this chart, the better — and the more efficiently I can achieve my health goals.
This chart makes sense, in the past month I got injured playing football on a muddy field — so I’ve not been going to the gym recently to let it heal. But aside from whether I went or not, I also logged what workout I completed, so that breakdown is also available to me. Clearly my favourite workout is Leg day or Cardio, which probably contributed to my injury.
This is clearly a big win and something I’m quite happy about. It also makes sense because in the past month I’ve written more lines of codes, more articles, networked more and studied more than in whole of the last quarter of 2017. Things are definitively headed in the right direction.
Ouch. I need to upgrade my meditation game. Also every day that I don’t meditate, I still have to declare it in my reflection for that day — in the same way you have to declare that funky scented candles you brought back from that trip to Antigua and Barbuda upon re-entry through Immigration — which is even more reinforcement that I should really be sticking to my target. This element of self-accountability is sorely missed if you didn’t catch yourself in the moment, and it aids your future self to be more accountable.
Of the last 32 days, I read on 18 of them. That’s not bad, but I think Bill is going to win this one.
Aside from all those graphs, I also wrote in what I read, what I studied and a few other tidbits of data. All in all, I can see that things are going well and I’m demonstrating good progress toward my goals.
It’s amazing the insights you can curate gather about yourself with just a few taps of your fingers answering binary questions
Now, if I fell into a rut of a few days without reading or meditating, I have the self-awareness to notice it because I have been continuously tracking it on a regular basis. With a strong grasp on where I am, I can easily target where I want to be and concentrate all my effort on that.
And because I leveraged technology, it meant that I had to write the form once, and write the script once; the rest is history.
Unless I want to update the questions or add some new funky habit in, I really never have to mess with that form again. As long as I keep filling it in, my reflection will continue to grow endlessly.
Welcome to the Information Age.
Looking backward on the past 30 days, I could have guessed that I had made decent progress and had pushed various projects forward. But now I’ve harnessed the power of compounding a 2-minute habit everyday and given myself the gift that any statistician or data scientist dreams of for Christmas: data.
With data, I can concretely see where I’ve excelled, and where I need to put in more effort.
My reflection is powered by technology.
Ready to Upgrade?
I’ve created both the Google form and Google script that will power your daily reflection. If you take just 2 minutes to reflect, everything will change for you.