Tag Archives: Work

What We Are Reading

Enjoy this week’s list!

Doctors voice concerns over plan for greater patient access to medical records by Dennis Campbell. England’s National Health Service is planning giving patients access to medical records by 2018. Additionally, they’re creating means to for patients to read and add to their doctor’s notes. Of course, some physicians are saying this might not be the best idea.

Counting the Miles: Thomas Jefferson’s Quest for an Odometer by Jennifer Harbster. Thomas Jefferson was well known for his interest in measuring and keeping track of important information. This fun article details his near obsession with being able to track how far his carriages traveled.

Helping Teachers and Schools Run Experiments by Tom Vander Ark.

Teachers are scientists, they’ve always experimented. Most of the time it’s informal, “Let’s try a new behavior management routine.” Or, “Watch this video tonight and we’ll discuss it in the morning.” Or, “Let’s try a really hard problem.”

What if we gave teachers, and whole schools, the chance to run experiments of their own or to join larger trials? What if they had access to better measures and powerful analytics?

Transform Your Eating: A Start-to-Finish Guide to Tracking Your Food by Stephanie Lee. Great overview by Stephanie here, who has covered some QS topics in the past, on how to get started with tracking your food. Lots of good tips in this article.

iMore survey shows ultra-high levels of Apple Watch usage by Rene Ritchie. iMore collected survey responses from over 8,000 Apple Watch users and compiled the results. Some interesting stats in here! For instance, according to their data over 70% of the sample stood up after receiving a “stand up” alert.

tumblr_inline_nu0byhQvc61szhymg_1280 Quantifying & Hacking Focus – 2 Months In by Justin Lawler. Justin has been exploring how to better understand focus and concentration for the last few months. In this update, he talks about his Quantified Mind data and what he’s learned so far. (Note: Justin will be giving a show&tell talk at our QS Europe Conference on September 18th and 19th. Tickets are still available. Register today!)

Screen Shot 2015-09-05 at 10.58.01 AM My Working Pulse by Victor Pascual Cid. Victor used a simple open source keylogger to track how he was using his computer.


Screen Shot 2015-09-05 at 11.01.08 AM The Data of Long Distance Lovers. A fantastic analysis of text messaging data between to individuals.

This Week on QuantifiedSelf.com
QSEU15 Preview: Putting Physiological Signals into Pictures
QSEU15 Preview: Why Should I Share My Data?
QS Europe Preview: Using Genetic Data for Recovery from Injury
QS Europe Preview: Where does your time go?

And now for a bit of fun:
Consider filling out this fun survey from the Internet’s favorite geek comic artist - The XKCD Survey!

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Tracking Fight or Flight at the Office

Today’s guest post comes to us from our longtime friend and QS community member, Paul LaFontaine. Paul will be joining us at the QS15 Conference & Expo to share his expertise on tracking and making sense of heart rate variability. Read below, and then join us on June 18th through the 20th for three amazing days of talks, sessions, and meeting amazing innovators like Paul. 

uhappy-big-bossHave you every had to give a briefing to the Big Boss, the Boss above the person you report to? And in that have you ever gotten this look?

And when you got that look your brain just froze? You could not think of what to say? The start point for my work in Quantified Self was to try and understand that “freeze” phenomenon and how to train myself to experience it less. I negotiate a lot for business and my hypothesis was that control of physiological reactions in meetings could make me a more effective negotiator.

I had an excellent opportunity to see how I was doing this week as I briefed not one, but SIX Big Bosses. Nine people total were in the room. One Boss had showed up uninvited because he opposed the concepts being discussed. And to make matters even more fun, I was told I was the primary presenter thirty minutes before the meeting. After hearing that I thought, “This will be a great HRV reading.”

The meeting was on a controversial topic and several of the Big Bosses did not agree on how to resolve it. I had been asked a few weeks earlier to help create a resolution. We were scheduled for an hour. There were two points in meeting I remember feeling the “brain freeze” moment and had to push on by looking at the slide and restarting my mental engine. Because of the late notice that I was the presenter I could not use my standard practice of memorizing the material prior to a high intensity presentation. Here is my reading for the session:


This reading recalls the shape of the meeting very well. At the start each of Big Bosses tried to steer the meeting toward a resolution they thought was best. Big Bosses can’t help it, they get paid to steer. The Biggest Boss kept coming back to “let’s let him go through the material.” The dark blue from interval 426 to 2996 was me trying to get a word in edgewise.

In the middle of the meeting I had made my points and the Big Bosses began debating the merits of the resolution. As the spotlight moved from me I did deep breathing, listened and took notes. My memory of that period was that my brain was turned back on and I could feel a lighter feeling in my chest and head. The reading shows that I dropped from Fight/Flight as indicated by the white spaces from interval 2996 to around 6000.

Then the Biggest Boss said something to the effect that the resolution I had presented was incomplete. You can see around interval 6000 I go back into Fight/Flight as I was trying to explain how the missing part he was concerned with actually was completed. This lasted for a good period because other Big Bosses saw this as an opportunity to re-introduce their specific personal points and we were off and running. It was in this period I recall a specific “freeze” moment regarding a question on a detail that I resolved by having the group look at a different slide.

Finally I was able to get the Big Bosses to turn to the last slide where there was a collective “Oh, here it is” and you can see around interval 8900 my physiology begins to relax. The part of the resolution they were looking for was there. To my recollection the room relaxed as well. Some jokes where shared and people began to prepare to summarize and end the meeting.

During this hour long meeting I was in Fight/Flight 46% of the time, a full 27 minutes. I can’t reveal any details of the meeting, but I can believe that quality of my answers was more reactive and less thought out during those two periods. My personal variability training did make an important contribution as I was able to break up the 27 minutes into two periods that each had a specific topic I was “fighting” to make. In the first period I was concentrating on getting my main points across. Once done I was able to use my breathing and get myself to a relaxed state where I had ticked the box of “points made.” When the second period started I was only “fighting” to show the one completion point. I believe that if I had not allowed myself a completion state in the middle I would not have been as focussed on a single point which I was able to make in the end.

To see how much the environment like a meeting can change very rapidly, I had the opportunity to measure a meeting immediately after the meeting recorded above. As in I walked from the conference room for that meeting to the office for the meeting in a period of five minutes. I already had the kit ready so I just hit “record” for the second meeting.

In this second meeting I was brainstorming with a colleague on how to handle a problem that would play out over several months. There was no urgency, the colleague and I get on well and we were coming up with good ideas. Here is the reading:


That means I came from a pretty intense Big Boss meeting where there was a lot of Fight/Flight, did a BreatheSync session for two minutes and entered the second meeting. In this one there was very little Fight/Flight at all and it was a very productive 35 minutes.

Breathing tools, understanding how the physiology reacts when meeting with the Big Bosses and finding the balance between Fight/Flight and relaxation can improve both how you prepare, and how you ramp yourself down when in an intense situation. And these same tools allow a fast transition to a new environment where you can be productive as appropriate for the situation.

I will be presenting more about how I use heart rate variability at the Quantifed Self Conference and Expo in San Francisco June 18 – 20. I look forward to it and I look forward to meeting many of you there.

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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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What We Are Reading

Philosophy, bicycles and brains, opinions on tracking sleep, learning from actually tracking sleep, and visualizing work through vigilant self-report – all these and more in our reading list below. Enjoy!

Sleep apps and the quantified self: blessing or curse? by Jan Van den Bulck. Here at QS Labs, we’re very interested in how the academic and research world is colliding with those of us using tools of measurement previously restricted to science. In this Letter to the Editor, published in the Journal of Sleep Research, the author lays out an interesting set of opinions about the increasing availability and use of commercial sleep tracking devices. (You can access the full pdf here.)


Measuring Brainwaves to Make a New Kind of Bike Map for NYC by Alex Davies. Readers of the QS website may remember a great show&tell talk we featured back in May of 2014. In that talk, Arlene Ducao discussed her MindRider Project, an EEG tracking bicycle helmet. In this short piece, we learn that Arlene has continued this awesome work and has produced MindRider Maps Manhattan, exposing the brain data of 10 cyclists as they transversed New York City.

Big Data and Human Rights, a New and Sometimes Awkward Relationship by Kathy Wren. Earlier this year the AAAS Science and Human Rights Coalition held a meeting to discuss the intersection of personal data collection and human rights. This short article describing some of the key discussion points is a great place to start if you’re exploring what “big” and personal data means to you and your use of the tools and services that collect it. (Videos of the meeting are also available.)

How Theory Matters: Benjamin, Foucault, and Quantified Self—Oh My! by Jamie Sherman. A very interesting and thought-provoking essay here on the nature of self-tracking and data collection framed against the works of Michel Foucault and Walter Benjamin. We count ourselves lucky to have Jamie as an active member and observer of our QS community.

But taken together, Foucault and Benjamin suggest that the penetration of data into daily life is part of a larger shift underway, and that changes we can already see in social life, politics, and labor are not unrelated, but rather intimately linked.

Compulsory Quantified Self by Gwyneth Olwyn. I think it’s good practice to try and expose ourselves to all sides of the conversation around self-tracking, the positive and the negative. In this blog post Gwyneth describes a few ideas about the purpose and outcomes of self-tracking, especially when the self is superseded by the demands of others (such as in a workplace wellness program).

Sleep Data Analysis with R by Ryan Quan. Ryan has been tracking his sleep with the Sleep Cycle app for the last two years. In this excellent post he explores and plots his data (yay export!) to see when he goes to sleep, how long he sleeps, and what really makes up “quality sleep.” Love the fact that he included his R code and sample data. Go Ryan!

Quantifying Goals Using Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) by Bob Troia. No data in this post, but I found it particularly inspiring to see how Bob was planning on keeping track of his goals for this year. If you’re looking for ideas for tracking your 2015 goals and Key Performance Indicators this is a great place to start.


The Resume Of The Future by Eric Boam. The above is one of the two beautiful visualizations created by Eric to explore his daily work activity and interactions. This visualization shows what he was actually spending his time on. How did he collect the data? Well, he used the Reporter App to ask himself three questions: “where are you, what are you doing, and who are you with?” Make sure to read his post, he developed very interesting insights through collecting this data.

Weight Loss: What Really Works? by Emi Nomura and Laura Borel. Another fascinating data analysis project here by the Jawbone data science team. They examined the behaviors of a group of users who lost at least 10% of their starting weight vs users with no weight loss and found that the biggest difference in behavior was tracking meals.

Mapping my Last Two Years of Runs and Rides
While browsing the r/dataisbeautiful subreddit I stumbled upon this interesting tool/company that visualizes the maps of your runs and bike rides by connecting to your Runkeeper or Strava account. Above I’ve included my 2013 and 2014 maps. Clearly I need to find some new running routes in my neighborhood. (click through to enlarge)

QS Access Links
As part of our new work highlighting stories, issues, and innovations related to personal data access we’re going to start publishing a short collections links in this space. As this works grows be on the lookout for a new Access Newsletter from QS Labs.

Who Should Have Access to Your DNA?
What FDA developments in Diabetes mean for FDA approval in Digital Health
Open consent, biobanking and data protection law: can open consent be ‘informed’ under the forthcoming data protection regulation?
WTF! It Should Not Be Illegal to Hack Your Own Car’s Computer
Unique in the shopping mall: On the reidentifiability of credit card metadata
Majority of Consumers Want to Own the Personal Data Collected from their Smart Devices
Who Owns Patient Data
Los Angeles County Supervisors OK Creation of Open-Data Website

From the Forum
Jawbone Up
How to find all major volunteer bioscience projects I can partake in?
Bluetooth pulse oximeters…
Best Heart Rate Monitor that syncs with Withings Ecosystem

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Debbie Chaves: A Librarian in Numbers

Debbie Chaves is a science and research librarian at Wilfred Laurier University and was interested in understanding her job and the various demands placed on her time. Using methods she’d employed previously she set about tracking different aspects of her work. The data she gathered allowed her to advocate for new changes and policies within her library. In this video, presented at the 2014 Quantified Self Europe Conference, Debbie explains her tracking, what she found, and what she was able to accomplish.

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Enrico Bertini on Tracking Focused Work

We’ve all come face to face with tracking some aspect of our life only to realize that we’re not quite sure how to get started. Enrico Bertini encountered this roadblock when he began thinking about tracking the amount of time he spends engaging in “focused work.” As an information visualization researcher at NYU he decided on a simple rule that would give him the most accurate data that represented his interests: if it wasn’t tracked then it wasn’t focused work. In this talk, given at the New York QS meetup group, Enrico explains his process and shares his findings (including some great visualizations).

Slides available here.

(Editor’s Note: Enrico also co-hosts a great podcast on data visualization and information design called Data Stories. I highly recommend listening. If you’re looking for a place to start try Episode 17: Data Sculptures.)

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QS Gallery: Nick Winter

Nick Winter is a tracker, self-experimenter, and builder of popular tools (like Quantified Mind). Nick sent us this amazing visualization of his percentile feedback system he uses to keep track of his work efficiency.

My percentile feedback graph of my development productivity helps my motivation
-Nick Winter

Continue reading

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On Minimalism and Sustainability

Here is another peek behind-the-scenes at Quantified Self Labs, explaining how we work and why we have so much fun.

There are two basic principles we follow in a pretty hard-core way as we grow and nurture our community. They are tied tightly together, and make it really stress-free to do this QS work. These are minimalism and sustainability.

Contrary to common perception, minimalism is not about having and doing as little as possible of everything. It’s about having as much as you need of things you value, and not spending money on one thing extra. It’s only doing your highest value work that feels good and is needed, and not using up time on anything that’s not necessary or fun.

So for instance, we don’t have office space, because we’re happy working from home and libraries and coffee shops. That’s how I get my five miles of walking in every day, by having a coffee shop just far enough from my house that it gives me a good, regular workout. But we do have really good computers, because they’re our tools for making all this possible, and we need to work with the best tools (otherwise it’s a waste of time and productivity.)

Obviously, minimalism requires knowing what it is that you value, and learning how to recognize opportunities that fit your values. So for example, sitting on a conference call is neither enjoyable nor an effective way to get things done, compared to our other methods. We therefore say no to anything that requires us to participate in conference calls. But long one-on-one walks are both connecting and inspiring, so even if they’re not strictly necessary to get work done, we do them because we value them.

Does it seem too foolish to use conference calls as a filter for involvement in a project? Isn’t this letting a minor detail get in the way of bigger issues? Surprisingly, no. A request to submit to conference calls is a great clue that we won’t be able to use our best minimalist methods. We will have to substitute process for true organization, and waste precious time. Using simple assays like “no conference calls” to inspect opportunities for minimalism is itself a great tool of minimalism.

Minimalism is related to another principle that means a lot to us: sustainability. If you only spend time and money on essential things, and get really good at saying NO to everything else, you can keep your project going pretty much indefinitely.

All three of us here at QS labs: me, Gary, and Kevin, have watched many venture funded companies come and go over the years. We understand why people take this route, and we always root for people in our community to succeed with their startups. But for ourselves, we’ve decided that this method is not the best. A truism of the startup culture is that investors only expect one in ten of their companies to succeed. While it’s good that people have a chance to fail, and failure isn’t held against people who take risks, we don’t particularly want to fail. It hurts us to see friends rush headlong towards failure, afraid to be honest with themselves because of the burden of the financial obligations they’ve accrued. We’d like better odds for ourselves, and for our community members and collaborators.

One way to improve the odds is to be able to start small, take time, listen, experiment, and learn. Not taking any investment funding allows us to do this. We considered making QS Labs a nonprofit, but when we looked into it we found that even this approach involved more overhead (paperwork, board of directors, meetings) than we felt was necessary. In the end, we decided just to articulate our social vision and get to work.

Also, though it isn’t talked about very much, emotional sustainability is as important as financial sustainability. If you consistently do things you don’t like because you feel like they need to be done for some reason, you are likely to burn out. Why not think about other ways to get the same results, that are also enjoyable for you? For us, focusing on being gentle with ourselves and taking good care of our emotional and physical well-being is a priority. This has many good effects, including allowing us to imagine continuing to do this work for a long time.

I hope this inspires you to consider what you value in your work, and find ways to bring more of that into your daily routine in a simple, sustainable way.

(Thanks to lisbotk for the great photo!)

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Why you are not gonna reach our telephone

This is the first of a series of posts to give you a sneak peek behind the scenes at Quantified Self Labs, for a bit of flavor on how we work.

In case you’re thinking about it, it’s best not to try to reach us by phone or ask us to schedule a call. It’s nothing personal, and we’d love to hear from you! We just don’t use phones unless absolutely necessary (and I don’t use phones even then).

So how do we get things done? First of all, email and Google Docs can go a long way, and are usually sufficient to make progress on most things.

If a real-time conversation really needs to happen, Google chat works surprisingly well for 2-, 3-, or 4- person chats. It’s fast and clear, everyone can talk and think at the same time, and you have a helpful transcript of the chat when you’re done.

Phone calls are low-bandwidth, often hard to understand because of poor reception, and if there are more than 2 people involved, you can be pretty sure the others are checking Twitter instead of listening.

Chatting takes a bit of getting used to for some people, but they usually get the hang of it pretty quickly and are surprised to learn how much smoother it is. We’ve even converted some die-hard phone people to chatters! And we feel much more peaceful and happy working without phones. So if you ever send us a note and ask us when we can schedule a phone call, please don’t be upset or confused when we say: “we don’t use phones.” Consider yourself part of an experiment in making collaboration more effective and pleasurable.

(Thanks to Craigslist for partially inspiring this idea, and thanks to h_k_d for the beautiful picture.)

In future Lab Notes posts, I’ll write about how and why we minimize meetings and presentations, how we keep our finances super lean, and why we’re very gentle with ourselves. Anything else you want to know about QS Labs? Feel free to ask in the comments below.

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Percentile Feedback and Productivity

In January, after talking with Matthew Cornell, I decided to measure my work habits. I typically work for a while (10-100 minutes), take a break (10-100 minutes), resume work, take another break, and so on. The breaks had many functions: lunch, dinner, walk, exercise, nap. I wanted to do experiments related to quasi-reinforcement.

I wrote R programs to record when I worked.  They provided simple feedback, including how much I had worked that day (e.g., “121 minutes worked so far”) and how long the current bout of work had lasted (e.g., “20 minutes of email” — meaning the current bout of work, which was answering email , had so far lasted 20 minutes).

I collected data for two months before I wrote programs to graph the data. The first display I made (example above) showed efficiency (time spent working/time available to work) as a function of time of day. Available time started when I woke up. If I woke up at 5 am, and by 10 am had worked 3 hours, the efficiency at 10 am would be 60%. The display showed the current day as a line and previous days as points. During the day the line got longer and longer.

The blue and red points are from before the display started; the green and black points are from after the display started. The red and black points are the final points of their days — they sum up the days. A week or so after I made the display I added the big number in the upper-right corner (in the example, 65). It gives the percentile of the current efficiency compared to all the efficiency measurements within one hour of the time of day (e.g., if it is 2 p.m., the current efficiency is compared to efficiency measurements between 1 p.m. and 3 p.m. on previous days).

I started looking at the progress display often. To my great surprise, it helped a lot. It made me more efficient. You can see this in the example above because most of the green points (after the display started) are above most of the blue points (before the display). You can also see the improvement in the graph below, which shows the final efficiency of each day.

My efficiency jumped up when the display started.

Why did the display help? I call it percentile feedback because that name sums up a big reason I think it helped. The number in the corner makes the percentile explicit but simply seeing where the end of the line falls relative to the points gives an indication of the percentile. I think the graphical display helped for four reasons:

1. All improvement rewarded, no matter how small or from what level. Whenever I worked, the line went up and the percentile score improved. Many feedback schemes reward only a small range of changes of behavior. For example, suppose the feedback scheme is A+, A, A-, etc. If you go from low B- to high B-, your grade won’t change. A score of 100 was nearly impossible, so there was almost always room for improvement.

2. Overall performance judged. I could compare my percentile score to my score earlier in the day (e.g., 1 pm versus 10 am) but the score itself was a comparison to all previous days, in the sense that a score above 50 meant I was doing better than average. Thus there were two sources of reward: (a) doing better than a few hours ago and (b) doing better than previous days.

3. Attractive. I liked looking at the graphs, partly due to graphic design.

4.  Likeable. You pay more attention to someone you like than someone you don’t like. The displays were curiously likable. They usually praised me, in the sense that the percentile score was usually well above 50. Except early in morning, they were calm, in the sense that they did not change quickly. If the score was 80 and I took a 2-hour break, the score might go down to 70 — still good. And, as I said earlier, every improvement was noticed and rewarded — and every non-improvement was also gently noted. It was as if the display cared.

Now that I’ve seen how helpful and pleasant feedback can be, I miss similar feedback in other areas of life. When I’m walking/running on my treadmill, I want percentile feedback comparing this workout to previous ones. When I’m studying Chinese, I want some sort of gentle comparison to the past.

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