Tag Archives: productivity

What We Are Reading



DNA Got a Kid Kicked Out of School—And It’ll Happen Again by Sarah Zhang. This a potent example of the unexpected ways that genetic information can be used against someone. We’ve already seen how 23andMe data can be used for nefarious ends. In this case, it’s a child who was transferred from his school as if he has cystic fibrosis, but only has the genetic markers for the disease. A set of norms or rights around personal data (and genetic information, in particular) has barely been established, so it will be interesting to see how many similar incidents we will see. What’s tricky is that neither side is acting irrationally. At heart is this question: How do you manage risk when a person’s DNA is part of the equation? -Steven

When Wearable Makers Shut Down, Getting Your Data Isn’t Always Easy by Stephanie M. Lee. San Francisco QS Show&Tell co-organizer Greg Schwartz is quoted in this Buzzfeed story about the recent shutdown of BodyMedia servers and bricking of the devices. In January Greg posted a how-to video users who still wanted to get their data, but this only worked until the servers were taken offline on January 31, 2016 Article author Stephanie M. Lee talked a bit about the defunct QS companies Lark, and Zeo. The Zeo shutdown sparked a record thread on the QS Forum where users still trade tips to keep instances of this late, lamented sleep tracker in action. -Gary

Working memory training could help beat anxiety by Christian Jarrett. Dual n-back tests have been championed as a brain game that actually works since a 2008 study showed that the exercise improved fluid intelligence (i.e., IQ). Those results have since been in dispute, but a new study cautiously supports the idea that dual n-back, by improving working memory, may also lessen anxiety symptoms. -Steven

Graphing When Your Facebook Friends Are Awake by Alex. There are at least five reasons to love this post about building graphs of Facebook Friends’ awake/asleep time: a surprising revelation of hidden system, uh, features; a “procedural” on hacking them that is basically comprehensible even if – like me – you don’t understand all the details; a useful general lesson about public exposure of personal data from seemingly friendly and low level status tracking; a hilarious stream-of-consciousness narrative that tries, half-successfully, to answer the question “why;” and, for all of us who have ever tried to do something meaningful with our own data, the comforting admission that the real trouble started when it came time to make a graph. Really a great post that this preview doesn’t do justice, so go read it. -Gary

This Canadian Lab Spent 20 Years Ruining Lives by Tess Owen. As much as it’s claimed that there’s a fair amount of skepticism of science, especially in the United States, there is no doubt that it carries authority in legal matters. This article shows the damage that can happen when seemingly rigorous test procedures and results are accepted without scrutiny. It’s especially galling to see how sloppy commercial testing procedures can become, and how dangerous it is to assume that professional measurement is more reliable than personal measurement, human dialog, and common sense. -Steven

Give Up Your Data to Cure Disease by David B. Agus. Another article on the opportunities and pitfalls of making medical records available for health research. While this opinion piece argues for the value of the opportunities, it makes clear that we need better data security practices to ensure that health information is used for the greater good, rather than used against individual patients. However, nowhere is the point made that research subjects can play an active role in investigating disease and making new discoveries. -Steven





Three Years of Logging my Inbox by Mark Wilson. The number of emails in Mark’s inbox correlates very well with his stress level. After passively tracking his email for three years, Mark explores how his inbox count reflects his stress level and influences his sense of self. -Steven



Measuring My Indoor Environment: Indoor Quality and Water Quality by Bob Troia. The first two parts in a multi-part series, Bob shows the tools and measurements he’s using to understand the quality of his living space. -Steven




Maniac Weeks for Extreme Productivity by Bethany Soule. A “maniac week” (coined by Nick Winter) is spent doing nothing but working and sleeping while documenting your face and screen with a time-lapse video. Bethany talks about her successes, failures, and side effects of this level of extremism. -Steven



Data Visualizations



This Chart Shows Who Marries CEOs, Doctors, Chefs and Janitors by Adam Pearce and Dorothy Gambrell. With data from the U.S. Census Bureau, this interactive chart allows you to select a profession and see the five most likeliest occupations of the partner. It will also show whether if the partner is more likely a member of one sex or the other. Refreshing to see that it represents same-sex partnerships as well. -Steven


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How China’s economic slowdown could weigh on the rest of the world by Carlo Zapponi, Seán Clarke, Helena Bengtsson, Troy Griggs and Phillip Inman. The interconnectedness of global economies can be difficult to wrap your head around, but this series of visualizations from the Guardian do a good job of illustrating which economies’ rely on exports to China, and how much they are exposed to a downturn in the world’s second biggest economy. -Steven



Música hecha con el corazon. A website where you tap your current heart rate and it finds a song that matches the beat. The site is in Spanish but is easy enough to figure out. Just put one finger on the artery in your neck and click in the circle in time with your pulse. -Steven

The Chart Book: An Overview of Standard Celeration Chart Conventions and Practices. Owen R. White, Malcolm D. Neely. This pdf covers how to use a Celeration chart. Used for the assessment of students by teachers, this chart template aspires to be flexible enough to chart data clearly no matter the scale. It would be interesting to see this used for personal data. Thanks to Ryan O’Donnell. -Steven

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Bethany Soule: Extreme Productivity

“That’s insane! I want to try it.”

Bethany Soule is the co-found of Beeminder, a commitment tool which she characterizes as “goal-tracking with teeth.” Her and Daniel Reeves, the other founder, have spoken on how they tracked the development of the tool and integrating it with other QS tools.

In this talk from QS15, Bethany tells of how she was inspired by Nick Winter’s “Maniac Week“, to focus solely on working for an entire week. She shares what she learned from doing this multiple times, from tools for reducing distractions to tracking accomplishments and ensuring accountability. You’ll also find out how many hours she was actually able to work.

Here is the time-lapse of Bethany’s Maniac Week, as well as, her blog post on the experience:

Tools mentioned:
Telepath Logger
etc/HOST editing
Final Version

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Daniel Reeves on Frictionless Tracking with Beeminder

It’s  been an honor to have Beeminder founders Daniel Reeves and Bethany Soule participating in Quantified Self meetings, giving us a chance to watch the evolution of their very useful tool for setting and achieving personal goals. These days they are working on the forefront of device and service integration. In this talk Daniel gives a brief explanation of how to bring data into Beeminder with minimal hassle.

(Note Daniel’s generous shout-out to another great QS toolmaker, Rescue Time.)


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QS Europe Preview: Where does your time go?


Time is the finite resource that we all share. We share, too, the befuddlement in how it’s spent. It seems that we are equally terrible at remembering what happened in the past and estimating how long something will take in the future.

EmmanuelPontHaving worked in project management for years, Emmanuel Pont knows full well everything hinges on time: how you use it, where it goes, why you never have enough. Emmanuel will be contributing two sessions at QS Europe related to the topic. He will facilitate a breakout discussion exploring productivity. What does it mean to be productive? How do you know if you are being productive? Emmanuel will also give a 5 minute ignite talk on his tool that helped him get a comprehensive sense of how his time was spent: from the websites he visited, to the rooms that he spent time in.

We program our QS conferences to support the exchange of ideas, and we’re always inspired by what we learn. Our next one is coming soon. QS Europe, September 18th and 19th in Amsterdam. We’ll see you there.

Register for QS Europe

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What We Are Reading



The validity of consumer-level, activity monitors in healthy adults worn in free- living conditions: a cross-sectional study by Ty Ferguson, Alex Rowland, Tim Olds, and Carol Maher. A very interesting research study examining the accuracy of different consumer activity trackers when compared to “research-grade devices.” Free living only lasted a few days, but it’s a great start to what I hope to see more of in the research – actual use out in the wild.

The Healing Power of Your Own Medical Records by Steve Lohr. Steven Keating has a brain tumor. He also has over 70GB of his medical data, much of which is open and available for anyone to peruse. Is he showing us our future? One can hope.

Mr. Keating has no doubts. “Data can heal,” he said. “There is a huge healing power to patients understanding and seeing the effects of treatments and medications.”

Why the DIY part of OpenAPS is important by Dana Lewis. Always great to read Dana’s thoughts on the ever evolving ecosystem of data and data-systems for people living with diabetes.

Why I Don’t Worry About a Super AI by Kevin Kelly. I, for one, am super excited for advancements in artificial intelligence. There are some that aren’t that excited. In this short post our QS co-founder, Kevin Kelly, lays out four reasons why he, and maybe why all of us, shouldn’t be fearful of AI now or into the future.

Responding to Mark Cuban: More is not always better by Aaron Carroll. Earlier this week Mark Cuban started a bit of an kerfuffle by tweeting out, “1) If you can afford to have your blood tested for everything available, do it quarterly so you have a baseline of your own personal health.” What followed, and is still ongoing, is a great discussion about the usefulness of longitudinal medical testing. I’m not sure I agree with the argument made here in this piece, but interesting nonetheless.


My Quantified Email Self Experiment: A failure by Paul Ford. Paul takes a look at his over 450,000 email messages dating back 18 years. He find out a lot, but states that he doesn’t learn anything. I disagree, but then again, I’m not Paul. Still fascinating regardless of the outcome.

Filling up your productivity graph by Belle Beth Cooper. Want to understand your productivity, but not sure where to start? This is a great post by Belle about how she uses Exist and RescueTime to track and understand her productive time.


2014: An Interactive Year In New Music by Eric Boam. We’ve featured some of Eric’s visualization work here before, but this one just blew me away. So interesting to see visualization of personal data, in this case music listening information, turned into something touchable and engaging.

“Women and Children First” by Alice Corona. A fascinating deep data dive into the Titanic disaster. Was the common refrain, “Women and children first!” followed? Read on to find out.

Access Links

HHS Expands Its Approach to Making Research Results Freely Available For the Public
European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) Grants Public Access to Data through Scientific “Data Warehouse”
FDA ‘Taking a Very Light Touch’ on Regulating the Apple Watch
Selling your right of privacy at $5 a pop

From the Forum

Survey on Self-tracking for weight-related purposes
Aging Biomarker Test


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QS15 Sponsor Highlight: RescueTime

In the lead up to our QS15 Global Conference and Expo, we’re going to highlight our partners and sponsors that help us produce our events. If you’re interested in sponsoring our work or events, please get in touch. 
QS15_RescueTimeMost of us spend a large percentage of our time at work. Next to sleeping, it’s likely the activity we do the most. Just like tracking sleep or exercise, there are a lot of things to be learned from tools that help an individual examine their time at work. RescueTime is such a tool.

RescueTime was co-founded by Robby Macdonell, a long time contributor to the QS community. Robby and his co-founders developed RescueTime to answer questions like: How much time do I spend on Twitter each day? Is Outlook my main time sink? Am I coding or daydreaming?

My 2014 RescueTime data. Yes, I spend way too much time in email – 314 hours in 2014. 

We’ve collected a few of our favorite examples of individuals using RescueTime to understand themselves and their work, starting with Robby’s own show&tell talk from our 2013 Quantified Self Global conference.

Robby Macdonnell: Tracking 8,300 Screen Hours
Robby works on product at RescueTime and has been tracking how he uses his computer and even his phone for over six years. In the fall of 2013 he presented his data and what he learned from tracking over 8,000 hours of screen time including how to do what we all only dream about  - spending less time in email.

Robby also wrote up a fantastic blog post detailing a few different ways you can use RescueTime for interesting self-tracking projects: Getting the most out of RescueTime for your Quantified Self Projects

Buster Benson: How I use RescueTime
In 2011 Buster presented his “no input required” data capture using RescuTime. In this talk he describes how he used the data to better understand how he worked, what constitutes good and bad weeks, and how this data has become “a meaningful reflection of what I’m actually doing.”

Jamie Todd Rubin: How I Used RescueTime to Baseline My Activity in 2014 and Set Goals for 2015
In this excellent blog post, Jamie writes about his methods for using RescueTime to understand how he spent his time while working on his various computers. He describes how he used RescueTime data to better understand his time spent writing and how that data is helping him plan for the future. Jamie is a great resource for ideas related to exploring RescueTime data. Make sure to check out how he used it to find out what time of day he was actually writing.

Bob Tabor: Productivity, the Quantified Self and Getting an Office
Bob used RescueTime to analyze his productivity after becoming curious about the quantity and quality of his work while working at home. The ability to measure meaningful and productive work prompted him to find an office after he realized that he wasn’t as productive at home as he assumed.

Tamara Hala: On Using RescueTime to Monitor Activity and Increase Productivity
Tamara has been using RescueTime since 2012, sometimes even forgetting it was running in the background while she worked! In this excellent post she describes what she found out on a year-by-year basis and how it has impacted her work and productivity.

We hope to see you at the upcoming QS15 Conference and Activate Expo where you can meet with members of the RescueTime team and learn more about their tool in person.

There are excellent opportunities for getting involved in the QS15 Global Conference and the QS Activate exposition as a sponsor, including very affordable sponsor tickets, sponsored demos, and exhibit activations produced in collaboration with QS Labs and our production partner e2k Events. For more info, please get in touch.

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Greg Kroleski: Six Years of Tracking My Time

Greg Kroleski has been tracking his time for the past six years, starting when he was 20-years old. Using a spreadsheet he designed himself he collects how much time he spends in eight different categories: Survival, Labor, Social, Spiritual, Mind, Expression, Body, and Distraction. In this talk, presented at the San Francisco QS meetup group, Greg describes the data he’s collected and what he’s learned about where his time goes. If you’re interested in applying his tracking methodology he’s graciously put his spreadsheet template online here.

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Ian Billett: Tracking My Time, My Life

The days I use my time wisely are the days when I feel most fuliflled and therefore happy.

Ian Billett stumbled upon our Quantified Self website here and instantly became fascinated by our community of individuals who were learning about themselves through different technology. With his interest piqued, he began to investigate how he could understand himself. He started with a self-designed Excel spreadsheet where he manually tracked every five minutes using his own tagging system. He’s since switched to even more fine-grained tracking, tagging every minute of his life to describe what he was doing and who he was with. In this talk, presented at the London QS meetup group, Ian describes his process and some of his recent findings.

Slides are also available here.

Special thank you to Ken Snyder for his valuable work documenting the talks at QS London.

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Tracking the Recovery Process: Learn from Maggie Delano at QS15

Join us at our upcoming QS15 Global Conference and Exposition on June 18-20 in San Francisco to learn how to use self-tracking tools to aid in recovery and get back into a productive lifestyle without overdoing it.


Maggie Delano was diagosed with Post Concussion Syndrome (PCS) after hitting her head over Labor Day Weekend. To recover, she had to give her brain a break from anything too cognitively stimulating, such as using screens, reading, intense physical exercise, and loud music. Maggie was able to return to work after several weeks off. She has developed strategies that balance getting work done with giving her brain a rest and preventing burnout. She’s been using apps such as Awareness to keep her mindful of how much time she’s spending on her computer, HabitRPG to slowly build back up her prior habits and self-tracking, and Beddit to help figure out what allows her to sleep best.


Maggie’s session is just one of the many hands-on, up-to-date, expertly moderated sessions we’re planning for the QS15 Global Conference and Exposition. This year, QS15 is going to be two full days of self-tracking talks, demos, and in depth discussion, followed by a third day for a grand public exposition of the latest self-tracking tools. Join us at the Fort Mason Center on the San Francisco Waterfront. We’ve made some early bird tickets available for readers of the Quantified Self blog (for a limited time): Register here!

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QSEU14 Breakout: What is Productivity and Why Are We Tracking It?

Today’s post comes to us from Brian Crain. Brian has been testing different productivity methods for over three years. After his great show&tell talk desrcribing how he tracks his own productivity he led a breakout session on the topic. This led to interesting dicussion around how people tracked themselves and what they wish they could track better. You’re invited to read Brian’s description of the session below and then join the discussion on the QS Forum.

Productivity Breakout Session
By Brian Crain

The idea of the productivity breakout session was to discuss three questions that I thought were central to tracking productivity in a systematic way:

  • How do you define productivity?
  • What metrics represent productivity best?
  • How can you use those metrics to track what you actually care about?

These were difficult questions to answer for me and the same turned out to be true for the other participants in the session. It seems, while many people are interested in productivity tracking, few have clearly defined what they mean with the term in the first place. And even when there is a definition, upon closer inspection it is only loosely related to the thing we track.

After the session a participant made the following comment to me, “It’s fascinating to dive into this big unknown.” This was a great summary of our session, but also astonishing in a way. When compared to those new, exciting Quantified Self pursuits be it lifelogging or tracking hormones, productivity tracking seems like a quaint discipline with a long history. Yet, we seem far away from any definite answers.

There was, however, one topic that kept coming up during the discussion: many participants mentioned that, for them, being in a flow state or a state of high cognitive performance was productivity. Strictly speaking, this is nonsensical. Cognitive state might be what makes productivity possible, but surely it is not productivity itself?

Admittedly, since many methods of ‘productivity tracking’ are indirect, focusing on cognitive state might not be so unreasonable. Unfortunately, it seemed that no one had been tracking his cognitive state, so we’ll have to wait for a show&tell to see the promise of this approach. At least, based on my small unscientific sample, tracking flow states might be a great self-tracking project for those hoping to make a big splash at QSEU15.

If someone has ideas about how best to approach a project like that, please get in touch on our forum discussion!

For those who are interested in reading more about the topic, here are some books and resources mentioned during the session:

If you’re interested in discussing productivity tracking we invite you to continue the conversation on the QS Forum.



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