One of the keys to personal behavior change is understanding what you’re actually doing. In order to understand what you’re doing, you have to track those specific behaviors or facets of your behavior that you’re interested in changing. (Benjamin Franklin is often hailed as a pioneer in this area.)
Tracking your behavior helps in two key ways: by creating awareness of your actions, which can help you further adjust them, and by giving you concrete evidence of the success or failure of your choices. Without some form of tracking, most people find it difficult to remember day to day actions with any clarity or specificity.
For example, if my goal were to eat more vegetables, tracking what I eat over a span of a few days or weeks would help me discover how many different vegetables I’m actually eating, and where I might easily make some changes. Keeping a food log has been shown to be a very effective intervention for weight loss or other health changes because it helps you see patterns in your behavior. If you eat lunch every day, it can be very difficult to accurately remember what you ate two days ago for lunch, never mind four days ago. The same is true for the work tasks you accomplished.
We’ve written before about web-based habit tracking software, like Joe’s Goals and GoalHappy and mobile apps, like Good Habits, Habit List, or Daily Deeds. Most of these tools allow you to define particular activities you want to track, and then check them off a list or spreadsheet grid for a particular day.
For the past few weeks, I’ve been using a web-based tool called iDoneThis, which works on a different set of principles. Each day, you receive an email that asks you “What’d you get done today?” You simply reply to the email with a list of things you did, in whatever language you choose to use, with separate items on new lines. The email prompt arrives at 6:00 pm by default, but you can reset that to another time.
Logging into the web interface allows you to see a calendar view of the entries you’ve made, a graph of how many items you listed over time, and a word cloud of what you’ve listed.
With groups, the tool is designed to assist members of teams of any size to communicate what they’ve been working on: an email digest is sent the following morning to share with other team members what each person wrote. Comments and feedback can be quickly entered by clicking on the digest email.
iDoneThis is free for individual users, and pricing for groups is $5 per person, per month.
I’ve found that receiving the daily prompt to reflect on my day’s activity is very valuable, especially since responding to it is quick and easy. Being able to write about my day’s activity in whatever language I choose gives me the chance to record qualitative impressions or experiences along with the major tasks accomplished. Using this tool definitely has increased my awareness of my actions, and has helped me discover areas of my behavior that I’d like to explore more fully, perhaps with this tool or with another one. Rather than pre-defining categories or specific behaviors you want to track, iDoneThis lets you develop those categories organically by collecting information on what you’re actually doing.
Although the prompt’s question is about “getting things done,” you can certainly use the tool to record other kinds of behavior, such as diet or medical symptoms, which often benefit from qualitative recording, in freely written language, rather than simply numerical tickboxes.
I haven’t yet had the opportunity to try out iDoneThis with a team, but I think it would be very valuable for teams working closely together on a project. Everyone gets to see everyone else’s daily check in, saving time at meetings for making decisions rather than making reports.
Of course, if your email inbox is overloaded or you have the tendency to put off responding, then this tool probably won’t work well for you. If you already have very clearly defined behaviors you want to track over time, then one of the habit trackers mentioned above might better suit your needs.
For me, one of the great benefits of using iDoneThis has been the opportunity it affords me each evening to take stock of what I’ve actually been spending my time on, and thus to recalibrate my goals and expectations for the next day. Because it’s email-based, iDoneThis integrates that moment of reflection into my regular workflow, which makes it easier to keep up with and learn from.
What are your favorite tools for tracking behavior or habits? Let us know in the comments!
[Creative Commons licensed image by flickr user stevendepolo]