Collecting data without using it seems sort of like composting without putting the compost on your garden. It’s kind of a hassle, and you’re not getting anything out of it. If you’re like Gordon Bell, you’ll disagree. Sure, you don’t use the compost every day, but when your tomato leaves start yellowing, you’ve got that nutrient-rich stuff to put on it. Same with the data. If you’ve got a big repository of info, you’ll be able to use it when you need it. I’ll buy that. But not for me.
Mark Wilson started quantifying for a specific purpose. His knees hurt when he ran. Physical therapy didn’t help, nor did temporarily giving up running and gradually working back up to his old distance. He wanted to find out why, and he turned to self quantification. Here’s what he looked at:
- Step count
- Sleep time
- Daily activities
This gave him a good idea of what his body was going through, and he also says that data hording is fun to geek out over. Again, not for me. Wilson uses a spreadsheet to track his data and talks about Unix timestamps. I don’t know what those are. I use spreadsheets to track project data, and they’re basically just big tables. That’s the extent of my spreadsheet knowledge. So if I were to follow his tracking methods, I’d be playing from the back tees. Actually, I’d be playing from the parking lot. Facing the wrong way.
Once Wilson had a fair amount of data and took a look at his spreadsheet, he found that he had the power to talk in detail about his condition, and he could take a PDF showing his data to his doc. These two things have already helped him reduce his knee pain. He doesn’t know the cause of the pain at this point, but he is running again, and with less pain.
I think this is exactly how I would use tracked data. If I were to track, I mean. Have a purpose in mind, monitor the situation, and synthesize the data to discover a reason for/solution to a problem. I would find this much more beneficial than simply collecting the data.
I actually had a similar problem. I started running because I wanted to try a fitness app, plus my doc said I should exercise in a way that gets my heart pumping, I wanted to lose five pounds, and I have a seven-year-old I need to keep up with. I had recently read the fabulous Born to Run, and based on the info in that book, I decided to run in flat shoes like Chucks. The author didn’t specifically recommend Chucks, but I figured they were the closest thing in my closet to the homemade sandals the ultramarathoners he studied wore.
A couple of weeks in, my knees started hurting, just like Wilson, though I was running shorter distances. My knees only hurt when I ran. Nothing else bothered them. I bought some gel insoles. My knees stopped hurting. For a short time. I went to my chiropractor for some advice. He told me to ride my bike. Now I ride my bike and my knees don’t hurt. Problem solved. I’m not in pain, I’m exercising, losing weight, and I’ve found myself smiling on occasion as I ride. It’s not the best solution if you enjoy running, but I don’t, so it worked well for me, and I didn’t need to learn any database skills to track anything.
I’m happy with my solution, and I’m sure Wilson is happy with his. He might be a good candidate for the smart sock, though. Might help.