Live and Die by the Calendar


The calendar in the image above is a real calendar, it is not mine but it makes me very envious. This calendar belong to Chris Dancy, known as the most connected (in a technological sense) man in the world. Chris has over 1200 automations setup in Zapier, another things that makes me envious. He collects data from a ton of sources both digital and physical but the most important thing for him is that he doesn't have to think about any of it. Devices automatically feed data to his calendar, he has a motion sensor on his toilet to track how often he uses the bathroom, and he prefers the Beddit sleep tracker which I use as well and doesn't require the user to wear any devices. There are two parts to tracking the things in your life, the first is getting the data, something that is easier every day as technology pervades and improves. The second part, which is often much harder for people, is what to do with the data. How do you interpret it, how do you turn it into actionable steps that can improve your life.

Well I do what Chris does, I put everything in my calendar. My calendar is absolutely essential to my productivity and my sanity. If it's not in the calendar, it doesn't exist or it didn't happen. As I have spoken about many times before, timing is everything when it comes to productivity and deferring things (not procrastinating) means putting them in front of you at the best time that you can deal with them and completely forgetting about them at other times.

So for example, I try my best not to look at the calendar unless I'm actually scheduling an event (which I rarely do myself thanks for ScheduleOnce and Fancy Hands) or if I am looking at what I have for the day ahead. I typically do this around 6 in the morning. Now you might be asking, "What if you have to prepare for a meeting or something?" that's planned as well. If a meeting requires prep I'll have a reminder 15 minutes or more before the meeting with any prep material I might need. You can have virtual assistants prepare a one page prep sheet for most meetings that might include who you are meeting with, what they are working on, what their book is about, etc... working in this manner helps to eliminate surprises, makes you much less reactive, and helps maintain some order that keeps you focused and on task. The obvious question then becomes "What about emergencies?" Well there's a solution for that as well. Even emergencies have some predictability to them. Maybe your child has a cold so they can't go to school, a client didn't get a critical file, a pipe burst in your house. All of these things can be planned for ahead of time in some manner and at a minimum you can make your reactions somewhat automatic so you don't have to waste time and effort stressing about it, trying to decide what to do.

Ok so that's looking forward. What about the tracking and growing I've been referring to. You can route everything to your calendar in one way or another. Many tracking devices have some sort of automatic export feature and several even interact directly with services like IFTTT and Zapier. Both of these services give you the option of creating a calendar event as a result of the trigger that you've chosen. Step on your Withings scale and have it put your weight and body fat in your calendar. Put a Belkin WeMo motion sensor in your fridge and put an event in your calendar every time you open the fridge door. Use Foursquare to checkin to restaurants, the gym, and meetings and you can have location data in your calendar as well. Even services that don't offer a direct connection with IFTTT or Zapier can work. Almost all of them offer a social media sharing component nowadays (because everything wants to know how many french fries you at at 2am right?) but you can use these to share to private twitter accounts and then pull that data into your calendar.

The point is you can amass a bunch of data that can then be placed in a centralized place then the correlations become much more clear. You can peruse the day that you've just had an look for patterns of course but if you become aware of how you feel in different situations you can start to look back try and determine what caused your current state. Find yourself at 3pm feeling agitated and unmotivated, look back three hours and see what you ate, where you went, who you were with, what you spent money on, what your heart rate was like, what your posture was like. It sounds geeky but in most cases you'll be able to make very quick and meaningful improvements. At the very least, you'll be able to give yourself a sense of control over your life when you are feeling most overwhelmed by all of your responsibilities.

If you want to start small, I recommend location tracking. Just setup an IFTTT recipes that takes Foursquare checkins and puts them in your calendar, then use it for a week. Let's see what your data can start to tell you about how to live a more optimal life.