What’s the oddest thing you’ve tracked?

We see a lot of cool things here that people are experimenting with, such as health (sleep, water intake, mood) or productivity (interruptions, hours/day, attention), but we are also trying odder things. My interest is in widening the definition of what could be considered an experiment, so I thought I’d ask, what off-the-wall things have you tracked? I’m also curious to know what kind of support or push back you got from those around you, if they were social experiments. While maybe not terribly odd, here are some of the things I’ve tried:

  • Experimented with ways to keep my feet warm while mountain biking in winter (tracked left/right foot comfort).
  • Tried changing my thinking around positive events (tracked the event and whether it helped me feel happier to relive it later).
  • Played with different ways to prevent “wintry mix” ice buildup on sidewalks (tracked likelihood of falling – with careful testing). (Are you detecting a northern climate?)
  • Tested different kinds of one-day contact lenses (tracked ease of insertion, visibility, and comfort).
  • Dressed better in public (normally I’m very casual), including wearing a hat (tracked psychological and physical comfort, reactions of others, including – surprise! – special treatment at businesses).


[Image: Office Board by John F. Peto

About Matthew Cornell

Matt is a terminally-curious ex-NASA engineer and avid self-experimenter. His projects include developing the Think, Try, Learn philosophy, creating the Edison experimenter's journal, and writing at his blog, The Experiment-Driven Life. Give him a holler at matt@matthewcornell.org
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8 Responses to What’s the oddest thing you’ve tracked?

  1. Alexandra Carmichael says:

    One odd thing my husband and I tracked was what times of day our kids were most hyper/loud. We found a consistently pronounced peak at 4 pm, which resulted in an easy behavior change of planning to be out at the beach at 4pm every day (while we were in Hawaii). This made life much easier, and we wondered how we could have missed it before!

    • Mary says:

      My three-year old twin’s noisiness peaks at the same time on days when they don’t nap. The transition from nap to no nap has been loud!

  2. Martin Sona says:

    Funny you’re asking: We are getting a dog in a few days and I’ve been working hard on an activity meter for her. Also, I’ve bought a large scale with a data port so I can measure daily weight.
    I will log 3-axis accelerometer values summed over epochs (to analyse activity) as well as an average direction cosine (for body position estimate), weight of the dog, and food intake as well as the sort of food she gets and when she gets it.
    She’s from a large shelter, so she will likely be a bit malnourished when she comes in and I hope that these tools will help to be more aware of my dog’s physiology & daily activity. With time, I want to add features to give me nice feedback on the data, but first I’ll concentrate on getting good measurements for nice baseline data.

  3. Gary Wolf says:

    I’ve been using “irritation episodes” as a proxy for mood. Never heard of anybody else doing this, but it answers a problem I have with conventional mood tracking: I am always unsure whether I consistently apply the scale. What makes a “4″ today the same as a “4″ yesterday? Variation in my overall emotion well being is what I’m curious about. Some days, minor irritations don’t bother me very much. Other days, I may get angry. A day of no anger at minor irritations = 0 in the column. One episode gets a 1, etc. The nice thing about this metric is that all I had to do was train myself to notice when I was angry over something small. Since this is somewhat rare for me, it wasn’t hard to catch it when it happened. Note the “over something small.” That means: having to wait on hold; logistical snafus; something breaking, etc. These slightly embarrassing lapses in equanimity have the virtue of being easy to notice!

  4. @Alex – Nice parenting work, there. Like you said, your data collection led to straightforward ideas about behavior changes.

    @Martin – Wow! It sounds like your dog is getting incredible attention. I’m sure she’ll prosper. In fact, your project reminds me of the telemetry NASA uses to ensure the health of our astronauts.

    @Gary – I like your idea of using a mood proxy for something that’s hard to identify. I’m wondering if there is a general class of these, a sort of keep-it-simple metrics that are akin to heuristics in programming. I.e., measures that, while maybe not perfect, go a long ways to capturing information that’s useful to self improvement. That will be fun to write up…

  5. I’ve been tracking my temperature and cervical fluid daily in order to practice natural birth control using the Fertility Awareness Method. I’ve been using this method for 2 years and have had no unplanned pregnancies. It’s totally changed my life, now birth control is a healthy, empowering activity for me.

  6. Amy Robinson says:

    I am just getting started with qs and have about 1 weeks worth of data so far. My curiosity is exploring possible correlations between heath and creative output. I’m tracking things like: most interesting thing I learned today; what ratio of food I eat over the entire day [vegetable:fruit:nut:oil:grain:animal protein]; how many times I stretch for more than 1 minute and less than 30 minutes + level of intensity 1-5; etc etc. Here’s my spreadsheet (evolving draft) if you’re interested. 100% public domain.


    I’d love to hear thoughts, experience, suggestions, ideas, etc – collective learning is most efficient!


  7. Theo Armour says:

    When we lived in Mill Valley, the bathtub was a ways from the sink. After showering, I would squeeze my washcloth into a ball and toss it over to the basin. The result was scored according to the following system:

    If the cloth entirely covers the drain and is still a tight ball that scores a ten. If a little bit of the drain shows or if the cloth has come unfurled that is a nine. And so on. The score drops all the way down to zero if the washcloth lands on the floor.

    Nothing like a bit of excitement in the morning!

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