Data you collect about yourself and your life can help you make better decisions. What type of data? Well, if you:
- Want to be more in charge of your life, track your goals and habits
- Need to be more in charge of your money, track your finances
- Desire to change your body & fitness level, track your exercise
- Want to take charge of your nutrition and health, track what you eat
Tracking any of these things daily for at least three weeks to a month will provide you with information to make better decisions going forward. Yes, I said a month, it’s really not hard. You don’t have to track things daily forever, but you do need to give it some time initially.
Could you get enough information tracking for a shorter period? Perhaps, but I don’t recommend that. The longer you track, the more credible the information. And to make better decisions, you need more reliable information.
“You can’t really know where you are going until you know where you have been.” ~ Maya Angelou (unable to determine the true originator of this quote)
As time goes on, revisiting the data will tell you how far you’ve come and continued documenting of information, whether it be weekly, monthly, or annually, will help you stay on track.
For this to work, however, you must be completely honest with yourself and your tracking. No one will be grading your tracking document. Well, no one but you. So don’t be dishonest with yourself. Not listing all the foods you ate while trying to determine a food sensitivity or to lose weight, or the $25.00 you spent on books will only cheat you in the end. Trust me, I know from experience. Be accurate.
I still track some habits daily as I like to ‘check the box.’ My finances are tracked almost daily and my goals at least monthly to ensure I’m heading in the right direction. I’ve dialed in my nutrition pretty well now, so I no longer track it but if I started to feel less than optimally healthy or low energy wise, I know that tracking could be a place to start to find answers.
How Will This Help Me Make Better Decisions?
You’ll notice things about the data. Things like:
- Your spending more money on eating out than you realized
- Your hungry mid-morning because you didn’t eat enough protein and fat for breakfast
- You saved $100 already by automating a $25 transfer to your savings account
- You get a headache after eating foods high in histamines
- On the days you brown-bagged your lunch at work, you felt better in the evenings
- You accomplished your exercise habits when you made appointments with yourself to do it, but not so much when you didn’t schedule time for your workouts
- You’ve stuck with the habit of doing push-ups every morning, and now you are doing 20 when you didn’t think you’d ever reach 10
- Getting to work 30 minutes earlier so you can leave 30 minutes earlier has helped you stick to your running program after work
- That $30 you spent on lunch with your son was well worth it for the time and conversation you shared
Information such as this can help you make better decisions when it comes to saving and spending, eating and exercise activity, your daily or weekly schedule, and what makes you rock and what helps you roll.
What To Track and Where To Track It
Below are some suggestions for what to track. These lists are not exhaustive, and there may be other things you wish to track. You also don’t have to document all these things. The information is only as valuable as you make it though.
I’ve used a paper desktop calendar, Google Calendar, Outlook Calendar, Evernote, Goal tracking apps and good old fashion paper and pencil methods. My favorite way of tracking, however, is in spreadsheets. I use different tabs to track various items. Spreadsheets are versatile and easily duplicatable. Any method that works for you though is a good system.
Click for Instant Access to a Sample Tracking Sheet – Save a Copy to Edit
The more details you track, the more you’ll be able to decipher some patterns and find hidden gems of data. Remember the saying, what you put in is what you get out. So make it golden information by keeping it precise and authentic.
Aim to track for at least one month. While I don’t want you to be a slave to it, this is one time more is probably better. However, this is about you so find what works and what doesn’t for you. Trial and error are definitely okay.
Daily Spending/Savings Tracking
- How much was spent and by whom?
- What or whom was the money spent on?
- Why was the money spent?
- Was it planned spending or spending on a whim?
- Were you alone or with others when you spent?
- Was it on a need or a want?
- Could you have prevented the spending?
- What if any emotions were elicited due to the spending?
- Did you save money?
- How much was saved?
- Was it savings on a purchase or instead of spending?
- Was this automated savings?
- How did the savings make you feel?
Daily Food Tracking
- What and how much did you eat specifically?
- When did you eat?
- Where did you eat?
- Who were you with?
- Were you hungry when you ate?
- How did you feel before eating?
- How did you feel immediately after eating?
- And one hour after eating?
- Did you eat until you were full or did you overeat?
- Were any emotions involved with the eating?
- Were you mindful of what you ate?
- Was this a planned meal or snack?
- Did you prepare the meal or snack?
- What did you drink with your food?
- What did you notice about the food?
- What activity did you perform?
- How long did you perform it?
- Was it scheduled activity?
- Who were you with?
- Where did you exercise?
- When did you exercise?
- Did you enjoy it or did it feel like a chore?
- How did you feel before and immediately after the activity?
- How did you feel a few hours after the activity?
- What did you notice about your thoughts on the activity?
- Is it getting easier, harder, or more or less enjoyable?
Inspecting the Information
Analyze the data. Ask for help from someone you trust if you find it difficult to grasp any information from the tracking.
Be on the look out for patterns – spending, eating, skipping of exercise, emotions, etc. Some examples:
- You feel low on energy on the days you skip breakfast or on the days you eat fast food for lunch
- Going out for drinks every Thursday after work ends up costing you $25 because you get hungry and order an appetizer or 2
- When you go shopping with Jill, you spend more money
- When you don’t go shopping with a list at the grocery store, you spend more money
- You enjoy running with Frank but not with Beth
- Automating a transfer of $50 every paycheck to your savings was a brilliant idea because you didn’t miss it and your savings balance has grown
- All those check marks next to your daily walking habit tracking – Yes!
- You slept better at night on the days you exercised
- Drinking water every morning when you wake up seems to be helping you curb headaches
- When you allow yourself to skip spinning class and go golfing with your husband instead, you feel happier
Notice any anomalies too. Such as; you felt better every day you brown-bagged it except the day you tried a new brand of yogurt. Your spouse spends roughly the same amount every day on lunches but last Wednesday they spent twice as much. You enjoy lifting weights at the gym except when you go on your lunch hour, then you feel too rushed, and the place is packed.
Using the Information to Make Better Decisions
All this information can tell you something if you let it. Then you need to do something with it if you want to elicit change. I tracked my food intake and determined my food sensitivities. Tracking our finances got us on the right path. I document my exercise to make sure I’m making progress on my obstacle course race training.
Knowledge is power, right? So now that you know you enjoy running with Frank and not Beth, don’t run with Beth. Or, make sure you always go to the grocery store with a list.
To make better decisions tomorrow, you have to know where you are and where you’ve been. The best way to do that is to start tracking the data. First daily, then at whatever interval feels right for you. Once you establish your baseline, you can then set your goals for change and desired transformation and fully engage in the process.
Thoughts, questions, suggestions for others? Please share in the comments or send me a note.
Thanks for reading!