Self Tracking: My Growing Obsession

by Dan Walsh

I’ve spent the better part of the last two years professionally immersed in tests. These were all with the aim of squeezing out profit, or otherwise optimizing business practices for my employer. I enjoy this kind of work very much, so I guess it was only a matter of time before this type of recording, analyzing, tinkering and testing crept into my personal life.

I have begun tracking my life in various ways, and I suddenly realized that the scope of this tracking has steadily grown over the last year or so. My collection of tools, techniques, and gadgets has also grown.

What and How I Track Myself

  1. I weigh myself, every morning, right after my morning urination with the Eatsmart Precision Plus Digital Bathroom Scale.
  2. I measure and record my heart rate upwards of 3 times a day with Cardiio app for iPhone.
  3. I check and record my blood oxygenation upon rising or immediately after morning workout with the SantaMedical Pulse Oximeter.
  4. I measure the circumference of my waist once a week with a MyoTape.
  5. I’ve begun checking my blood glucose multiple times per day using the quick and relatively cheap Bayer Contour blood glucose meter.
  6. I record my blood glucose numbers with the iBGStar app for iPhone.
  7. I record my memories every night with the Little Memory app for iPhone.
  8. I measure the quality and quantity of my sleep with ZEO. Though this has been with less frequency as the GF has commandeered my little device.
  9. I record my dreams upon waking with the default iPhone Notes app.
  10. I manually record my time usage in 15 minute increments at work on a simple excel print out.
  11. I manually record every dollar spent with Balance app.
  12. I check daily for the presence of ketones in my urine with Ketostix.
  13. I check my blood pressure once or twice a month using the handy (and free) blood pressure machine at my local Safeway.
  14. I record type and duration of exercise: yoga, swimming, weightlifting in Google Calendar.
  15. I record notable thoughts, insights and memories in a running stream of consciousness on Google Docs / Drive, inspired by this post about keeping a “Spark File”.
  16. I record books read along with start and finish date in a blog post on this site.
  17. Lastly, I use the TactioHealth iPhone app to record and track weight, blood pressure, and waist circumference.


The majority of my tracking is focused on personal health. I am immensely interested in this topic, but I also think the availability of data and tools to track this data make it an easy target. It is also possible that I am able to be interested in the topics I am because there is data there. Bit of a chicken or egg situation.

What I Don’t Track – But Maybe Should

  1. Food intake – Not calories, but type of food and quantity. More of a macro nutrient breakdown. I used to keep a food log by snapping pictures of what I ate with my iPhone. It was simple to record the data, but it took up too much room on the HD and was cumbersome to gain insights.
  2. Allergy symptoms. I think I can start tracking these using the app in a similar way to the  MyMee app which isn’t out yet.
  3. Change in reading speed. The new Kindle software has some features that approach this, but don’t quite get there. I may just have to track with pencil and paper. The Spread Chrome Extension doesn’t track speed either, but it approaching useful and worth checking out.
  4. Time spent outside of office. I really want to know how my time outside of the office breaks down. Sleeping, chores, goofing off. I want to know where my time goes. I would need to tie all kinds of sensors together, but otherwise it would be too cumbersome.
  5. Frequency of social interactions: who, what, where. Little Memory captures this somewhat with the new graph features, which are awesome. Could potentially do something with Facebook, based on the frequency of which I’m tagged in photos and with whom.
  6. I don’t record any set/rep/weight information when I weightlift. I know this is common practice, and I used to be religious about this but I have noticed better gains, and more enthusiasm for my lifts after abandoning this practice.
  7. Travel. I would LOVE to have an always-on gps tracker that results in a heat map of my comings and goings. I think great insight could be gained from this information, as well as enable the ability to increase discovery by seeing which blocks of SF I have yet to explore.
  8. Days sick. Easy to track. Low amount of data might make it less useful.
  9. Mood. Also easy. Best served with a dedicated app? A more complicated tracking mechanism could be created in the future using the API and Google Glass.
  10. Posture. The Lumo Back sensor made a big splash recently. I stand all day at my desk, so I don’t know how useful this would be to me, but you never know.
  11. Cortisol levels. Don’t know an easy way to test this, but it would be useful to correlate with other items like sleep and mood.
  12. Insulin levels. Again, not sure how to measure this, but probably a better stat than blood glucose.
  13. Changes to my face / hair. Easy to track with a self portrait every day. Might yield a neat project with enough pics, but probably not much data.
  14. My temperature will most likely be tracked with the upcoming Scanadu project. No word yet on release date though.
  15. Body fat percentages. It boggles my mind how difficult and prohibitively expensive it is to get accurate numbers on body fat percentages.
  16. Histamine levels would give me great insights into my allergy problems. I don’t think there is currently an economical way to track this.

What Else Can Be Tracked

Anything that yields data can be tracked, though the production of “data” is not always obvious. Tracking health makes sense because there are all kinds of tools that can measure the data produced by a body. Other areas that produce data but might not have  good tracking tools include: data usage and consumption (phone, internet, reading), carbon footprint, trash production, water usage, electrical usage, regional brain activity. This is kind of wacky, but it might be possible to track phenotypic changes over time.

What I’ve Learned

In a general sense, everything I track breaks down into three categories: health, time, and money.  The majority of my tracking is focused on personal health, and while I am immensely interested in this topic, I also think the availability of data and tools to track this data make it an easy target. Other insights include:

  • I sleep like shit when I drink alcohol.
  • I sleep like shit when my allergies are acting up.
  • I retain a lot of extra weight when I drink alcohol.
  • Low REM sleep results in mental tiredness.
  • Low deep sleep results in physical tiredness.
  • My resting heart rate gets lower as I lose weight.
  • An average carb filled dinner results in high blood sugar until the morning.
  • I am less productive at work when I don’t have my personal life in order (laundry, grocery shopping, emails, etc).
  • I might be able to double my deep, restorative sleep by breaking up my 8 hours into two, 4-hour chunks.
  • A high fat, low carb diet has resulted in 12 lbs weight loss.
  • Weight loss doesn’t always correlate to stomach circumference  shrinking.
  • I dream a lot about vampires…
  • My whole perspective of time has been altered by recording my memories.
  • I spend too much money of food that goes to waste.
  • High fat diet has not resulted in blood pressure increase.

The insights from the latest Little Memory release are interesting points of reflection:

Little Memory App: Word Usage Over Time
Little Memory App: Emotions Over Time

I need to get more consistent with people and topic naming. Angelica didn’t make the chart even though a text analysis has her in first place.

Interesting Projects:

Wandering Stan’s LifeSlice

Tools I’m Excited About

  1. Alpha HR Monitor – This will hopefully enable always on, always tracking, 24/7 heart rate monitoring. This is a major data set that I’ve been wanting to get my hands on for years. Correlating this data with changes in mood, cortisol levels, sleep data, body weight, and a host of other points of information is really exciting for me. I hope this is available out of the box, but it may require the creation of a custom app. I thought the Pulse Sensor would fill this void, but it did not.
  2. Remee Lucid Dreaming Mask – This won’t actually track anything, but the ability to better record my dreams, I think, will be a  a great insight into the workings of my subconscious mind.
  3. The potential for breath scanning, as outlined by the New York Times article What Your Breath Reveals would reveal a whole slew of new data and insights.