Keeping and Losing Track

Self-tracking has become increasingly popular in the past few years. Apps like FourSquare, RunKeeper and Fitocracy have accrued a huge user-base of people tracking, tipping and tagging. In return for all the tracking users get kick-ass stats, badges and achievements. What’s more: you get to share your impressive feats with your friends (although I doubt anyone likes getting their timelines flooded with personal horn-touting).

But although these apps give you a lot in return for tracking your activities, it’s actually a lot of work to do so.

Fitocracy running on iPhone


I go to the gym three times a week, doing my routine work-out. Although I mainly keep track of my progress in my head, it’s useful to have this data logged somewhere. At first I used the good ol’ pen-and-paper approach. But soon I switched to Google Docs after washing my track record in the washing machine along with my sporting gear.

When Fitocracy saw the light of day I jumped on it. Tracking my progress with Fitocracy seemed obvious to me. Earning achievements could give me that extra bit of power just when I need it! But it feels weird to first do an exercise and then spend time logging that very exercise. Also, the touch screen doesn’t always play nice with sweaty hands, making punching in the data a pain in the ass.

There should be a smarter, automatic, way.

Be There, or Be FourSquare

FourSquare is another example. I’m a sucker for gamification and my heart lights up with joy every time I get a new badge. The tips are handy, (especially those wifi passwords) and several times I’ve met up with friends after seeing them check-in at a location near me.

But despite all these advantages I actually forget to check in every one out of two times. It’s simply not natural to me to immediately grab my mobile phone and check in on FourSquare whenever I walk into a bar. Again, there should be a smarter way.

Amnesia and meta-tasking on Toggl

And to top it of, the perfect example is Toggl. Toggl works fine for logging bigger chunks of time. Let’s say, at a one-hour granularity. But go below that number, and you will find yourself spending a considerable amount of time meta-tasking. My working style is simply too dynamic to accurately keep track of everything without going insane.

When I spend half an hour sending out 10 e-mails to 10 different clients, I should log that separately. But doing so I will end up spending another three minutes (10%!) to actually do so (should I track that as well?). And forget to properly track time for a couple of hours, and you’ll wind up playing the what-the-hell-did-i-do-this-morning game.

The Future and Beyond

Simply put, manually tracking after the fact doesn’t work. At least, not for me. It’s too cumbersome, too easy to mess up and generally too expensive (time-wise). On the opposite, an example of tracking that works very well for me is RunKeeper. It automatically tracks my progess while I’m running and provides me with real-time updates. Talking about actionable data collection. It’s seamless, and it’s automatic.

Tracking activities should happen seamlessly and automatically, while performing the very activity. As soon as it requires any manual operation it’s doomed to be inaccurate. Fortunately, the future is bright. Already back in 2011 we saw Google demo’ing a smartphone-connected fitness machine. Then there are the start-ups approaching time tracking in a novel way, such as RescueTime (although this particular app didn’t work for me). And launching APIs has become an essential part for tech start-up success. So as soon as e-wallets get more common, it’ll be a matter of time until FourSquare connects and automatically checks you in when ordering your double-whipped Double Chocolaty Chip Frappuccino.

And what I would like to have after that? I know I’m asking a lot, but metrics on life would be great. Show me my weekly coffee intake, the amount of words I read, time spent arguing which browser is the best, the amount of groceries I carry in kilograms, the liters of water used in the shower, and on and on. Track it seamlessly and make it actionable.

I believe you should always aim to be your best you. Data makes it possible. We’ll get there. Eventually.

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