How can you use data to improve your life?

Specifically, how can you collect data from your own life and use it to benefit yourself?

Anyone who knows me knows I have quite a bit of experience tracking personal data to improve my life in various ways.

Here’s what I would do:

Decide which areas of your life you’d like to improve, find a way to measure specific goals tied to these areas, define metrics, and start tracking them.

I suggest only working on two or three areas at a time because trying to improve too many things at once becomes difficult to manage.

There are a few ways I want to improve my life right now. I want to eat healthier, workout regularly, and write more.

The problem is that these goals are too broad. I can’t tell if I am actually improving in these areas until I define ways to measure them.

So, I came up with more specific, measurable goals for 2017 that I can actually track.

My three goals for 2017 are to eat 1,100 servings of fruits and vegetables, complete 100 workouts and post 350 answers/blog posts on Quora.

So in the case of my goals, my metrics are:

  • Servings of fruits and vegetables
  • Workouts
  • Piece of content published on Quora

The more specific you can get with your metrics, the better.

For example, I don’t count a serving of fruit or vegetables unless it is palm-sized. I also don’t count things like raisins, fruit juice, or a lettuce leaf on a burger because these don’t contribute to what I consider “healthy eating.”

When it comes to workouts, my criteria is a minimum of 5 sets. If I do one or two sets, I don’t count it.

For writing, a piece of content should be at least 200 words. I wouldn’t consider a one-sentence answer to be sufficient because I’m trying to practice becoming a better writer.

It’s up to you to define your own goals in a specific, measurable way where you can record and track actual data, preferably on a daily basis to help you build the habits that will actually improve your data.

Next, you need a tracking system.

This doesn’t have to be fancy. In my case, I use a simple Excel spreadsheet to record all of these metrics on a daily basis.

This way, I can easily sum the totals by week, month, etc. to see when I have periods when I don’t perform so well and need to get back on track.

The reason this works is that it gives you feedback.

When I only eat one or two servings of vegetables in a day for a week, I know my daily average isn’t where it needs to be to achieve my yearly goal. Same thing when I’ve only completed 5 or 6 workouts in a month.

Without a feedback system, you will never get better.

Always remember this: What gets measured gets managed.

If you really want to improve your life, you need to find some way to measure your goals. This is critical.

Good luck!

Featured image by Wilfred Iven.

First published on Quora.

I’ve transformed my life by using systems and spreadsheets to track personal data.

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