A personal journey of lifelong learning, sharing resources, creating things, and trying to be better.

Tag: Life Lessons Page 2 of 5

Tracking for Good

Top Left: Total Productive Hours | Top Right: Total Miles Travelled | Bottom Left: Total Blog Posts | Bottom Right: Total Duolingo EXP

What I’ve learned using Beeminder religiously for a month.

For roughly the past thirty days or so, I have been experimenting on myself. I’ve attempted to diligently track aspects of my life. This has been me eating my own dog food, sort to speak — living the sort of quasi-motivational life that is feel-good on an abstract level. This is a case study, and these are my thoughts and results.

This is an update to my previous article:

View at Medium.com

I. Initial Problems of Self-Tracking

While I have been a fan of self-quantification for several years, I haven’t ever taken a deep plunge into it. There are a few reasons for this:

Forewarning: I am not well-versed in data science, theses are just things I’ve discovered — the hard way — by taking a look what has and hasn’t worked for me.

  1. Bad Datasets. It takes a deep understanding of yourself and what tools you actually use throughout your day to know what metrics you should be keeping track of. (Eg. I failed tracking my to-do list on Todoist — only because I realized that I’m the kind of person that can only work well with my tasks on paper.)
  2. Lack of Meaning. Similarly, there has to be good reason to track what you track — there has to be some sort of beneficial help that tracking gives. A strong and value-based purpose will give motivation to keep regularly tracking.
  3. Lack of Deterrent/Encouragement. There should be an inherent penalty for not doing something you want to track, and a reward for doing it.
  4. Lack of Automation. For the most part, my datasets are collected with APIs or IFTTT, or have very simple and fast manual input. Data collection shouldn’t be a chore.
  5. Inconsistent Data. What you track has to be something that produce data on a consistent basis. If it’s too frequent, and you’ll end up too focused on tracking itself. If it’s too infrequent, you’ll end up forgetting about tracking at all.

All of these points are why I’ve discovered Beeminder to work so well for self-quantification. For the most part, the application does all the tracking for you. All you have to do is the work. Beeminder works as a sort of keystone habit, in that if you can get yourself into the habit of checking-in on Beeminder, you can use it as a starting point for any other habit you want to change or begin.

II. The Tao of Bees

  1. Figure out what you want to change in your life. All self-quantification tracking should initially begin with this. A solid purpose is everything.
    Example 1. I want to write more.
    Example 2. I want to be more physically active.
  2. Figure out meaningful quantification of that qualitative goal. Don’t let ambiguity allow you to slip — put an exact number on what you want to accomplish.
    Example 1. I want to write 100,000 words in a year.
    Example 2. I want to run/walk 500 kilometres in a year.
  3. Convert your qualitative goal into a daily system. Those goals above may seem daunting but they’re actually a lot more achievable when you break them down.
    Example 1. 100,000 words / 365 days ≈ 275 words per day
    Example 2. 500 km / 365 days ≈1,800 steps per day
  4. Figure out how to track this new daily system. There are plenty of apps and tools out there for specific metrics, usually with well-established APIs that allow for data to be transferred and charted easily. 
    Example 1. Utilize Draft.in to sync daily word count on Beeminder.
    Example 2. Utilize a multitude of fitness apps and wearables to sync daily step count on Beeminder.

III. What I’m Tracking

Gratitude: I simply write out one thing a day that I’m grateful for, and go through every previous data point to see what I’ve been grateful for in the past. A great benefit from having this be manual input is that it doubles as a daily check-in for me to my other Beeminder goals.

Writing: Another manual input, this being the amount of words I write per day, with each data point specifying what exactly I was mostly writing about. Usually either just daily journal writing or blog posts.

Blog Posts: Tracks the number of posts I upload to Medium. Unlike other activities, I retroactively added all of my older posts from Medium, and having that data in front of me really showed me how I really need to start publishing more.

Productive/Unproductive Time: Both of these are tracked via the time-logger RescueTime. I try to get a certain amount of productive work done each day, whether it’s writing, or programming, or reference/learning. I also try to limit the amount of time I waste on mindless and fruitless activities.

Fitness: Tracks the number of miles I travel, whether it’s walking, running, or biking. I’m using Runkeeper to track this, no fancy wearable. It doesn’t count all of my travelling, only when I specifically log an activity, which also gives me a GPS map of my route so I can see where I’ve gone that day.

Programming: Tracks the number of commits I push to GitHub (and other contributions like issues reported and pull requests). I admit this isn’t the best thing to track, as code shouldn’t be committed until it’s reached a point where it’s suitable to be deployed, but I’m currently working on Flatiron School’s curriculum, which automatically pushes my assignment labs to my GitHub account, which is pretty cool.

Social Media (Twitter/Instagram): This might be counterintuitive to some people, but I seldom use any social media. By tracking the photos I upload and the Tweets I write, I’m encouraged to look for interesting things that happen daily and share them with my friends and family.

Language Learning: Tracks the amount of EXP I earn on Duolingo. I’ve been trying to learn French for the past few years on my own, and it’s hard, but practicing a little bit each day has helped my retention far more than just occasional cram sessions.

IV. Daily System

Here’s an example of what my current day would look like, following the things I track on Beeminder. This is essentially putting the theory into practice, and pen to paper. The truth is that, other than programming, these habits don’t take up much of my day at all, and I actually end up having more time to relax or try something new because of it.

  1. Start the day off by writing what I’m grateful for and check on my progress on my current goals.
  2. Take fifteen or twenty minutes to practice my French on Duolingo and TinyCards.
  3. Go on walk or bike ride throughout my neighbourhood. Photograph anything interesting while out.
  4. Spend an hour or two programming. Learn something new, document it well, and then push it onto GitHub.
  5. Don’t waste time mindlessly scrolling through Facebook or Reddit. Use screen time sparingly, and do something I actually enjoy when I want to take a break. (Watch a documentary, play a video game, etc.)
  6. Take a half hour to write in my journal or drafting a blog post.
  7. At the end of the day, write a Tweet about anything interesting that happened during the day.

V. Final Thoughts

  • Don’t commit to anything that doesn’t make you excited. The psychology of having free-will with your goals is essential. If you don’t feel like you’re doing what you’re doing for just yourself, it’ll feel like another chore. Don’t commit to anything because other people think you should. It’s only you.
  • Hold yourself accountable. I’ve put a a public link to my Beeminder account in my Facebook and Twitter bio, so anybody can see if I fail my goals. I also wrote this article. Use public pressure as motivation and a tool for good.
  • Nothing falls into place by itself. There are a lot of pieces to the puzzle of the self, and it might not all click at once. There is no one-size-fits-all, what works for me might not work for you. What is universal is the importance of good values — if you commit to working hard, the law of serendipity will eventually favour you.
  • Your first try always sucks. Similar to above, don’t expect to nail anything when you first have a go at it. I’ve been using Beeminder for almost two years and just got the hang of it. The first draft of everything — not just writing — is going to be garbage.
  • Go slow. I didn’t try to start tracking everything at once. I started with the smallest and easiest (things I was already doing) and added something new once a week. If I found something wasn’t working after a week of tracking, I’d just delete it. No big deal.
  • The magic bullet of success is realizing there is no magic bullet. It’s just a lot of hard work, and figuring out how to be happy about doing that hard work.

The Way of Work

Untitled | Source

Understanding discipline for doing difficult tasks.

Awhile has past since my last post on Medium, I’ve been contemplating what I think is important, and what’s important to write about. This post is more of a reminder to myself — a reminder of why I do what I do, especially when I don’t feel up to it.

1. Hard Work

First, how do you make hard work starting working? How can essential tasks transition from unlikeable to exciting? Personally, the answer to this question came from the revelation that life is work. There is no way around this. Trying to put things off, in reality, only adds to the amount of work that will need to be done in the future.

Many people enjoy waiting until the last minute to begin — narrowly avoiding a deadline can build pressure and be motivating — but what if there’s a task with no fixed date? What about all the things in life you want to start, on a mental level, but never do because you get so preoccupied with what you need to get done in your day-to-day.

This is where balance is essential.

The neuroplasticity of our minds only diminishes with time. Our ability to learn new things declines with age. Each day we waste is a day we cannot gain back. As cliché as it is, you cannot wait for someday to arrive. You need to begin today.

2. Self-forgiveness

“The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now.” 
— Chinese Proverb

You may have been putting a lot of things off. You may have wasted a lot of time so far. That’s okay. The worst thing that people do is harbor guilt and self-deprecation due to the fact they’ve been neglecting to start what they’ve always wanted to do.

Shake off the dust, and start right now. Time is an arbitrary thing — it’s irrelevant if today is — the important thing is you start today. You figure out what the first step is and you take it.

This doesn’t mean you immediately plunge head-first into something new, as tempting as that might be. We are creatures of habit, and as such, we fall back into our regular routines after the novelty of a particular stimuli diminishes. The faster you try to commit to larger things, the faster you will inevitably burn out and become demotivated once again.

This is where balance is essential.

So begin today, but start small — baby steps. Think of what you can do not just today — but what you can repeat doing tomorrow, and the next day. What’s an activity that would only take fifteen to thirty minutes per day?

The hard part is doing it every day, the task itself gets easier, but you still need to do it every day. That’s what remains difficult.

3. Lack of Purpose

There are many of us alive today that have a radical amount of freedom, the kind that would be unimaginable to most people throughout history. As glorious as this can sound on an idealistic level, the reality is that most people find anxiety with this radical freedom, and will distract themselves from it.

People often create arbitrary restrictions around their life to avoid the lack of comfort there is in having so much choice in navigating it. With this freedom, they are also rarely prescribed any sort of purpose — or in other words, any sort of reason to do hard work in the first place.

We are all Sisyphus — forced to roll an immense boulder up a hill, only for it to roll back down at the end of the day, for us to start our work again tomorrow. With this, I choose happiness, out of spite for the task ahead of me.

Any motivation, or purpose, for doing hard work can be ever-fleeting. You may never get the deserved recognition or money, you may never even become that good at something. But if you find peace with doing a task simply for the sake of doing it, you’ll be unstoppable. No amount of lack of results, or exhaustion, or criticism will be able to deter you, because it’ll all be irrelevant.

The Want of Difficulty

The Ascent of Mont BlancSource

Using Momentum & Mindfulness to Work Harder

THERE’S A BATTLE within all of us. I try to detach for a moment, and recognize the duality — the two distinctive wants that battle for majority attention:

  1. The want of difficulty, and of seeking betterment for ourselves. Doing the right thing for the long-term, no matter how much hard work is needed.
  2. The want of ease, and taking the path of least resistance. Doing the easiest thing no matter how detrimental it might be long-term.

Biologically speaking, human beings have evolved to favor ease over difficulty. Though, our prefrontal cortex — the most complex and cognitive part of our brain — has the ability to want more than just what’s easiest, and tries to combat our more primal and sluggish behavior.

Often times, this is a battle we lose, and a vicious circle is created. When there’s a feeling of guilt after wasting the day away, which only demoralizes and causes further laziness.

In my opinion, the most effective way to defeat laziness within one’s self is by utilizing two different tools: momentum and mindfulness.


I believe there is good reason why ‘morning rituals’ are so largely talked about in the field of self-improvement. (1, 2, 3) When you start the day on a good note, it’s far easier to continue it. An object in motion stays in motion.

But a good day is only a good day — there needs to be a larger picture. That’s where the idea of not breaking the chain comes in. The idea that you must commit to doing something daily without allowing yourself to slip.

The more consecutive days you have going for you, the more momentum you build. The more you’re willing to fight to make sure you don’t break the chain and keep your streak going. But what happens if you fail?


When we find ourselves in the middle of a bad day, it’s easy to similarly continue on with it and dismiss trying to salvage anything good out of it. It’s easy to find excuses or lament after failure.

The best way to move on from this and redeem yourself is to realize that you’re the only one pinning yourself downward — the world does not care.

You’re under no obligation to be the same person you were five minutes ago. — Alan Watts

Do not try to hold onto your shortcomings and regrets, take the lessons you learn from these things then dismiss the rest of the negativity. It helps nobody, particuarly yourself.

It can be rather difficult to understand — let alone control — your emotions if you’ve let them run astray for too long. The stoic act of distancing yourself from the emotional, impulsive part of your mind is one that needs to be practiced.

CONCLUSION: If you want to use your time more effectively, and not waste it, work with improving what you’re already doing right, while also working on not being too hard on yourself. Hold onto the good, and let go of the bad.

Page 2 of 5

Powered by WordPress & Theme by Anders Norén