Buttontapper Challenge: Day 10

Tools – What kinds of tools do you use to help with your self-improvement goals?

I’ve tried a lot of tools. Everything works for awhile. But none do the work for me.

For tracking my heath, I’ve tried the following:

  • Pedometers and Fitbit for tracking activity related to health goals.
  • Building a 0-5-10-25 spreadsheet using data points based on General Electric’s Health by the Numbers plan. The numbers stand for daily goals: 0 cigarettes, 5 portions of fruits and vegetables, 10,000 steps, body mass index of 25 or less. I added a fifth metric–waist size–because I know fat that builds up on internal organs, around the waist level, can slow down their functioning. The American Medical Association and National Institute of Health recommend women’s waistlines not exceed 35 inches. This Harvard School of Public Health page explains why.
  • Transferring the data to a spreadsheet where I graph out the results so I can see at a glance whether I’m improving or at least not backsliding. And once I attended one of statistician and artist Edward Tufte’s one-day seminars on representing data visually, I figured out a way to consolidate that data to cover years worth of data instead just a month at a time. The chart below illustrates how I kept track of five years’ worth of data from January 2008 through December 2012.

Note, however, that since 2012 I haven’t continued using this system. You can also see the year-long gap in 2009 when I didn’t keep it up. But if I decide the graphic reminders will help me, I’m ready.

For tracking my reading and research for my works-in-progress, I use Goodreads.

  • I include books about subjects I plan to research on separate shelves in addition to their “Want to Read,” “Reading,” and “Read” shelves. Right now I have shelves for Iran and China, two regions I need to read more about for the works-in-progress I’m writing or planning.
  • I add books I know are in the library to the “Want to Read” shelf when I already have too many books out on loan.
  • This year, I plan to refer to my Goodreads shelves before I load up on more used books that will otherwise distract me from the books I want to read.

For general planning, I’ve expanded my use of Google calendar to take advantage of the Goals and Reminders options.

The Goals feature allows me to specify how much time and how often I want to spend on an activity. The Google calendar figures out when to schedule the activity, based on other events I already have on my calendar each day. It reminds me of the goal ahead of time. And it prompts me to record either that I completed it or that I need to reset it for later when the scheduled time has passed. It also shows me how many times out of my goal number I completed the activity for the current week and at least the week before.


I’ve even begun adding Reminders for the expiration date of those $4.00 off coupons from CVS so I don’t just miss using it by a day or two. I don’t expect it will save me a fortune, but sometimes pennies count.



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