How a Simple Tracking Method Changed My Life & Why I Decided to Build “Momentum”
My hypothesis on how to improve your life. By increasing your self-awareness through data-driven approaches, and taking action.
- I’m a productivity freak, and I wish an amazing life analytics platform existed. I couldn’t find one I was happy with, so I’ve decided to build it. (Momentum)
- I broke this article into 3 sections, so you can read the parts you find most relevant. Hopefully, you read all of it 😉
- Section 1: My Story & How Productivity Helped Me
- Section 2: The Tracking System That Changed Everything
- Section 3: The Why & What Is “Momentum”
My Life & How I Got Obsessed with Productivity
When I was 12 years old, I was a small quiet brown kid who resented the world for giving me a shit life. I hated that my family was poor. I hated that I had almost no friends. I hated the fact I felt so unhappy all the time, and in most ways I kind of hated myself. Many times I wished I was never born.
Thankfully I was a big reader. After reading “The Last Lecture” by Randy Pausch, this line changed everything for me:
It led me to have a pivotal realization that changed the trajectory of my life. The book was the catalyst that led me to think about concepts like “self-actualization” as a kid, and sparked a burning fire in me.
It seemed so obvious, but I finally realized at the ripe age of 12: “Yeah I hate my life, but I can work hard to change it. I have shitty cards, but I can make it so I play the ultimate hand.”
That became my mission: work hard and play the cards I was dealt.
The night I finished reading “The Last Lecture”, I went on Reddit and read everything I could find about the book. I discovered new forums on productivity and self-improvement, but more importantly, met my first love: goal setting.
I made a Google Doc titled “Goals” and filled it with my life plan (because a 12-year-old obviously knows what he wants). I aimed big like making my first million dollars by 20, owning a Maserati GranTurismo, and marrying a supermodel. Then I started using Wunderlist to work backwards from those and start tracking my tasks.
Now as an 18-year old, I don’t think I’ve done too bad for myself:
- I’ve helped scale a company from 2–15+ employees and over $1MM in ARR, in under 12 months.
- I’ve worked on projects that attempted to change the world and even had a documentary made about me.
- I’ve spoken at a few conferences around North America, the biggest being CES in Las Vegas.
- I’ve travelled to over 15+ cities around the world (mostly hustled for free 😤)
- + lots more
Over the years, I’ve had many productivity systems fail. The constant among the most successful systems has been making sure to track my failures and output.
Tracking these failures and outputs to be more data-driven, and using them to make more informed decisions with personal progress changed the game.
I’ve also realized that there’s a lot of stuff about success in life I can’t control, but what I can control is: how hard I work & how smart I work.
The Productivity System I Adopted from Jim Collins & Bill Walsh
A Formula for A Good Life:
In order to live a happy and fulfilled life there’s a simple formula:
- Life = The Years You Live
- The Years You Live = The Days You Live
- The Days You Live = Life
John Lennon says it well:
BOOM. It’s so simple yet we get so busy we forget this: To live a happy life, we need to live happy days. The hard part about life is actually figuring out how to live happy days, or as I like to call them “optimal days.”
To find your optimal days you need self-awareness to know what you enjoy, experimentation to find what you enjoy, and you need to work hard while you experiment.
The System & Jim Collin’s Approach:
I discovered my current productivity system after listening to a podcast with Tim Ferris & Jim Collins. On the podcast, Jim talks about his experience leaving his role as a Stanford Professor to work on his own writing.
When he became a full-time writer, he created a simple system to track his personal productivity and get more done. At the end of each day, he would fill in a spreadsheet with 3 questions.
Jim’s three-column life spreadsheet (Read this article here to learn more):
How many hours did I spend today on creative work?
- A number | He aims to do 1,000 creative hours for 12 months
What was the day’s quality? (+2, +1, 0, -1, -2)
- Basically 1–5 | -2 is a terrible day and +2 is an amazing day.
What happened today?
- A list of all the major events that happened to him during the day in chronological order.
This system started off with the goal of making himself more productive, but it turned into a tool to figure out what made him happy.
Most importantly Jim could start to answer questions like “what actually created his optimal days.”
I decided to experiment with Jim Collins’ system and created a tracker for myself. Instead of just 3 columns, I created a spreadsheet with the following:
I started this system in November, and 60+ days in it’s insane how much I’ve changed using the data I’ve collected. I started running experiments each week and varying different factors to see what would increase my day quality.
Avoiding Going in Circles & Adding Bill Walsh’s Approach:
In December I read the book “The Score Takes Care of Itself.
In short: the book is about an NFL coach named Bill Walsh who became the head coach for the worst team in the NFL. It seemed like a lost cause, but in just a few short years he turned the team into one of the best in the league and went on to win multiple Super Bowls.
He didn’t do it through a silver bullet like getting the best QB in the NFL or finding a perfect training regiment.
Bill did it by enforcing a high standard of performance across the entire organization. He did the little things like telling every player to treat their equipment with respect and getting the secretary to answer the phone with excellence.
By creating an organization where processes were done with a standard of high performance, he created one of the highest performing teams in the NFL. Making sure to constantly repeat the positives and avoid the negatives.
I wanted to institute similar methods in my own life, after looking at data from my spreadsheet each week I would map out what inputs/outputs were good and bad. Then I simplified them into the “Do’s & Don’ts” I would read every morning.
It was a slow process, but my 5th week in I started having incrementally better weeks and started avoiding the mistakes I kept on making.
Things I learned about myself:
- I finally cracked the perfect amount of sleep to make myself productive and could adjust it based on what tasks I needed to do.
I learned that when I get more than 7.5 hours of sleep or less than 6 I would be tired.
To be able to do hard, intensive tasks like learning or coding I would need about 6.5 to learn, but if I had meetings or misc tasks like product research and emails I could do 6.
- I started to pinpoint specific people in my life who made my days better and worse. When I would hang around certain people during the day, my day would be measurably better or worse.
It seems pretty simple but people I thought I really liked turned out to make me feel worse and I had to reflect on why.
- I started to figure out what kind of work made me happier during the day/week/month.
Using this data I started crafting my days to be more optimal, and each week/month I’ve seen consistent improvement.
I started being more data-driven and wanted to collect more insights about my life. So I started tracking calories in MyFitnessPal and paying more attention to Rescuetime, I even bought a Fitbit to track my sleep, exercise, and heart rate.
This system led me to my next realization and was the seed of what I wanted to build for myself:
How I got the idea for & why I’m building Momentum:
After being obsessive about collecting personal data and being more data-driven, I realized this is only the tip of the iceberg. I was able to collect these insights by manually reflecting, but what if there was more?
How fucking crazy is it that we have all this technology that collects a ton of data about ourselves, and we learn so much through the day. Yet, the only thing the average person tracks or looks at is their footsteps…
I’m now obsessed with the problem of personal goal setting and improving life through data. There are so many problems that exist:
- Goal setting, productivity, and tracking is a huge problem overall. People suck at it.
- There’s no good way to visualize or track progress on your goals.
- We don’t leverage data to make decisions from all the apps and services that have important data about us.
Here’s a crazy vision for something I wish existed in the world: A Google Analytics or Segment for your life. An easy to implement tool that aggregates multiple different sources of data, and gives you insights to help you make better decisions for personal growth.
After a ton of research in this space and personal development psychology, I’ve realized I have to build this.
Now, I’m working on Momentum — a life analytics platform to supercharge your personal growth.
I have no idea where this will go, but there are a few questions and ideas I want to explore:
- How hard would it be to extract useful and actionable insights through observational data?
- What’s the best approach to put in metrics and track productivity in our life? Why don’t people use more data?
- Why do all productivity apps and platforms fundamentally suffer from churn? Are we just creatures that need change?
- Can you make self-improvement in real-life addicting as improvement in a video game?
- Can you take an average person, give them instant feedback and insights, and 10x their human potential?
Momentum is going to be a life analytics platform, letting you track daily habits & progress. It’ll include integrations with Rescuetime, Fitbit/Oura/Smartwatch, MyFitnessPal, and other tools in the future. The goal will be to see what insights can be extracted to 10x someone’s productivity.
If you’d like to stay updated or be an early user of Momentum, you can subscribe here to follow along my journey.
Imagine a world where we can elevate everyone’s productivity, and each person is able to accomplish even just 20% more. The amount of value that would unlock for the world is insane, and that’s a world I want to start building towards.
If you enjoyed this article or are interested in Momentum: