Make Your Own Mobile Self Tracker with Google Docs

Today we’re going to learn how to build your own multi-purpose mobile self-tracking application. The origin of this simple tracking method lies in the second QS Show&Tell when I outlined my dream self-tracking system and expressed a wish that somebody would build it. Among other things, I wanted an easy way to capture any kind of simple self-tracking data on my phone and automatically upload into a spreadsheet, where it could be easily graphed. Somebody mentioned that this could be done using Google docs. At first it struck me as too complicated. But it wasn’t. Here’s how it’s done.

First, open Google docs, go to the “New” menu in the upper left corner and select “Spreadsheet.” In the spreadsheet, name your columns with the types of things you are tracking: for this example I’ve used weight, alcohol, and systolic and diastolic blood pressure. You do not have to name a separate column for date or time. That will be automatically added by Google.

Self Tracker_1.jpeg

Now that you have your spreadsheet, go to the “Form” menu and choose “Create form.” A form will immediately appear. You can name it, as I did, “all about me.” Here is what you will see:

Self Tracker_2.jpeg

Now that you have made your form, go to the Form menu and select “Go to live form.” You will see the form as a web page. Enter some sample data. After you click submit and return to the Google spreadsheet page, you will see that the data has been entered into your spreadsheet, and given a time stamp.

Now it is time to start entering data on your mobile phone. Go back to the “Form” menu, select “Send form” and email it to yourself. Open the link with the Web browser of your mobile phone. Now you are connected to a Web page that will accept self-tracking data and automatically place it on your spreadsheet. Here is an example of how the form looks on my iPhone.

iPhoneTracker.jpgAdd a shortcut to this page, if you can, in a convenient place, such as your phone’s home screen. (On the iPhone, you can click the + sign at the bottom of the browser window and select “Add to Home Screen”)

You are done. Now you can transmit your data from a simple form on your mobile to a spreadsheet, where it is automatically time-stamped, and awaits your charting and analysis.

In a future entry I’ll show some simple ways to extend these methods.

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16 Responses to Make Your Own Mobile Self Tracker with Google Docs

  1. Alexandra Carmichael says:

    A custom-tracking iPhone app hack! Very cool. Once the data is in Google spreadsheets, do the charts have enough functionality for your analysis, or do you export to another program? Maybe a topic for mobile self-tracker post part 2…
    Thanks for posting!

  2. Bill Hunt says:

    Awesome! Thanks; I’ve been wondering since the meetup how this was done.

  3. Gary Wolf says:

    Kind of amazing that it is so easy, eh? Alexandra, yes, the charting function is pretty good. Joe says he’s going to do another post about it when he has a few minutes to spare. Also, of course, you can export the data if you want, which means that this could be an optional front end to any web-based self-tracking community!

  4. David Wallace says:

    I started doing this just over a week ago. I’m numerically rating my mood, alertness, etc about once an hour, prompted by the timer on my iPhone.
    Here’s the analysis so far:
    http://spreadsheets.google.com/pub?key=rguKdLO9d_JiVOhGYnZdkhA
    With Google Spreadsheets it’s easy to make this “good enough”, but hard to make anything sophisticated, so I’ve started work an yet another web-based self-tracking app. Details soon.
    Issues and tips with Google Spreadsheets:
    * As new rows are added via the web form, you’ll need to visit the spreadsheet from time to time and make sure your formulas and secondary sheets extend down to the new rows. This is a major pain, and the spreadsheets will become unwieldy with more than a few hundred rows. There doesn’t seem to be an efficient way to add a large number of rows to a sheet while extending the formulas down.
    * If you’re using a second sheet for formulas and analysis, bring the data over using the SORT or FILTER function instead of referencing it directly. This way you can add or delete rows in the form’s sheet without messing up your formulas in the analysis sheet. I had to use a series of several sheets to process, sort, filter, and analyze my data.

  5. Gary Wolf says:

    Wow. David could you explain the charts a bit more? I want to know more. Also, is your timer set to certain intervals? How often do you enter data?

  6. David Wallace says:

    Gary:
    I set up a form allowing me to rate various preset attributes — happy? alert? hungry? etc — from 1-7, with 1 being bad, 4 neutral, and 7 good. I would rather have used -3 to 3, but the form-builder made it easier to use 1-7.
    In the morning I set the countdown timer on my iPod Touch (not an iPhone as I inaccurately said below) to 1h:20m or so. When it goes off, I reset it and enter data into the form. I use a slightly different timer duration every day to keep my samples from lining up. If I’m away from the internet when the timer goes off, I record my numbers in the Notepad app and enter it online later when I find a computer.
    As for the charts:
    * The first shows what percentage of ratings are 1, what percentage are 2, etc for each attribute I’m tracking. Sadly, the chart colors cannot be changed.
    * The big one is raw rating-vs-hour-of-day data, so I can see if my time samples are evenly distributed.
    * The next shows my alertness and awakeness for an average day. Check out that post-lunch slump– looks like I should do my coding in the morning and my email in the afternoon. :)
    * The last shows how many data points I have for each 2-hour segment of the day.
    This setup is not robust or flexible enough for me:
    * Too hard to add new attributes to track: I’d have to adjust things everywhere.
    * More serious analysis would require way too many sheets.
    * Too hard to adjust formulas when the sheet is too tall. I’m always afraid there’s a bad formula in there somewhere.
    * The form is not well formatted for iPhone or iPod Touch use.
    It was good enough to get this far, though, and doesn’t require coding skills. I like your idea of using the spreadsheet just for data entry and passing it to some other website for analysis.

  7. pgayed says:

    Excellent. I’m looking forward to your next post, Joe, since I’ve found both Daytum and Mycrocosm too simplifying for useful analysis. (Who wants to track without really analyzing?)
    I’ll watch for the next post.

  8. Tommy says:

    This is a great idea for anything I might want to log. This could replace the paper mileage log I keep in my car, for example.

  9. Garfield says:

    I so love this topic. This is something I have been doing myself for a long time. I have looked to expand the use of Google Spreadsheets myself for Tracking. I created a Twitter variation I affectionately call Tweet Sheet and also a Don’t Break the chain that is brain dead simple and even has an auto-updating calendar complete with red fills.
    I run a blog were I share some of these tricks and others at http://garfield2.com

  10. Brian says:

    I do the same thing and post my stats on my web page http://www.brianstaats.com. The web page updates ~30sec after I enter in my data from my iphone. Using all google tech is sweet and simple: google docs, google app engine, google chart API, and a little custom python code to glue it all together

  11. Alex Belanger says:

    Thanks for sharing this cool google spreadsheets tip with us. It helps me track my gym sessions.

  12. Hugo Campos says:

    I found this extremely useful. I now use a custom Google Spreadsheet to track my cardiac arrhythmias. Thanks for this post.

  13. Charis says:

    This is fantastic, I am trying to set up a group that tracks biomarkers in a challenge type setting, any idea if this concept would work for more than one person tracking? I would love to have the cummulative of the team and then how each team was doing in repsect to the other – any ideas?

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  16. Adam Menz says:

    I thought this was really nice, but I wanted all my forms in one place. So I wrote a quick iOS app that let you access all your forms from one place. You can read more and get it here: http://blog.adammenz.com/?p=5

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