Habit Tracking February

This post is to document the tracking of my habits for the month of February 2020 according to my habit tracking system.

Here the overview of how I tracked against the habits I aimed to follow this month:

  • Exercise and Stretching: Similarly to January, I was again able to exercise quite regularly. This included both running and playing RingFit. However, I found that I still became very stiff when exercising a few days in a row. I also got back pain which I attribute to my scooter – which does not have suspension and solid rubber wheels and which I have been driving quite extensively to get to and from work. I got my back checked out and in an x-ray they found some mild form of osteoarthritis. My doctor told me there is no cure for this but I suspect that exercise and stretching may help control the condition. I will need to find out in the next few months what exercises to do for this.
  • Emails: I managed to stay on top of my inbox quite well throughout the month.
  • Meditation: While I was getting back into meditation at the end of January, I didn’t follow through with this in February.

Overall I think I need a effective system to help my stick to my habits. Interestingly, I believed I successfully adopted a new habit all without the help of my fancy paper and pen tracking system. Namely I went to the dentist and as usual got a telling off for not using an electric toothbrush and not flossing. This time I went straight to JB Hifi and bought an electric toothbrush and started flossing, which I did every day since. I wonder what made it easy for me to adopt this habit, yet I haven’t succeeded with any of the other habits, I struggle to follow for the previous eight months.

One element might be habit chaining. Before I go to bed (and after I wake up), I brush my teeth, and after brushing my teeth (in the evening), I floss. It is also very clear what needs to be done. Whereas for my other habits, I often have different options; what exercise do I want to do; what meditation will I do. Maybe I should strive to reduce variability here and follow the exact same pattern every day. For instance, mediate right after I wake up, then exercise, then check my email and then practice touch typing; finally apply upright go before I go to work. Let’s see how I go.

I also continued my journey to having all my quotes organised. I got all the quotes into a database but now work on how I can easily view and edit these; specifically assigning tags to the quotes I have imported from Kindle.

Habit Tracking January

I found the system for habit tracking I adopted in July last year overall quite insightful and useful for keeping me on track for simple habits. I thus decided to continue following this system in the new year.

Due to travel around Christmas and New Years it took me a while to get back into following my habits regularly. Here the overview of all habits for January:

Habit Tracking January

And some comments on the individual habits:

  • Exercise and Stretching: I exercised a total of 13 times in January. Overall I am quite happy with this. We got the Nintendo Switch RingFit Adventures game, which provides a nice alternative way to my normal exercises.
Playing RingFit Adventures
  • Emails: During our travels my email inbox got quite out of control. I regularly worked on reducing the number of emails in my inbox but it took me until the 11th until I had reached my target of less than five emails.
  • Meditation and Learn: Since I had to get straight back to work after our return from travels and was not overly successful at waking up early, I did not follow my usual morning routine and thus failed to do my regular five minute meditation and touch typing practice.
  • Posture: In January I tried a few times to take my Upright Go to work but more often than not forgot to take it in the morning rush.

Here my results for my touch typing practice this month. I think it is fair to say that my efforts are plateauing. The following inspirational quote keeps me going in my endeavours.

Whether you like it or not, there will be plateaus, which in my experience tend to occur right before a breakthrough. Weight lifting teaches you to embrace them, or at the very least accept them. This is an important outcome, with consequences extending far beyond the gym. “In the land of the quick fix it may seem radical,” writes George Leonard, a pioneer of the human potential movement in the 1960s, “but to learn anything significant, to make any lasting change in yourself, you must be willing to spend most of your time on the plateau, to keep practicing even when it seems you are getting nowhere.”

from The Zen of Weight Lifting in the NY Times

Learning January

I also did not write quite as regularly as I used to. I think writing is very important since it fosters clear thinking. I think in January and December I was not quite as successful since a lot of my free time was take up by another project: To move my collection of quotes from unstructured word documents into a structured database. This involved a lot of copy and pasting. But I am happy to say that I finished going through all the quotes I had haphazardly put into Word documents and moved them to Airtable.

Collection of quotes moved to Airtable

Unfortunately the quotes I collected in Word documents are only the tip of the iceberg. I have many more I collected on my Kindle as ‘clippings’. I am now in the process of moving these into a database, so that I can categorise and tag them. I started with writing a small tool that can extract the information from Kindle clippings files: kindle-citation-extractor. However, there is a long way still to go and this might keep me occupied for another one or two months.

Habit Tracking November: Getting There

After having done very poorly on keeping to my habits in October, things have greatly improved in November. Here the overview for November:

Habit Tracking November

Some things to note:

  • Exercise: While in October, I was only able to do exercise twice due to being injured, I exercised eleven times in November. For some time, I thought that I would be able to go running every day. Unfortunately my muscles got too stiff and I needed to take a break (that would be between 21/11 and 25/11). We went on a short trip to Brisbane around the 7/11 and I am especially pleased I was able to exercise notwithstanding the travel. I went running on the beach which is nice in itself as well.
  • Meditation: I still was not too successful with meditating. To some degree this was due to me not being able to find a bit of quite time in the morning.
  • Emails: I was quite successful at keeping my email inbox empty. I like spending a little bit of time every day rather than having to ‘clean up’ the inbox in one go on the weekend, which feels more like a chore. Sometimes I still get frustrated though if I find 15-20 emails in my inbox after having cleared it the previous day (this excludes work emails). Most of these are not spam emails and require me to do one or the other thing.
  • Posture: I feel like my back pain is getting worse. I was able to use the Upright Go quite frequently but I think I need to take further action, such as doing specific stretches and exercises.
  • Learn: My speed for doing my current touch typing exercise (lots of special characters, see below) was between 43 and 50 words per minute in October; in November, it was between 43 and 53 words per minute with a higher average as well. I also did a touch typing test for typing more common words (typingtest.com/); my speed was around 50 to 55 – still not as fast as my wife, who gets 60 plus.
Touch Typing and Writing

This is the text I am currently practice to touch type. I upload this to speedcoder.net as custom code.

(a, b)
(a, b)
(a, b)
(a, b)
(x, y)
(x, y)
(x, y)
(x, y)
a => b
a => b
a => b
a => b
{ al }
{ al }
{ al }
{ al }
(a) => { b };
(a) => { b };
(a) => { b };
(a) => { b };
(a) => { b(p1); };
(a) => { b(p1); };
(a) => { b(p1); };
(a) => { b(p1); };
const f1 = (p) => { b(); };
const f1 = (p) => { b(); };
const f1 = (p) => { b(); };
const f1 = (p) => { b(); };

Apart from this, I started a larger project in November about organising the quotes I have collected. I had collected them in multiple Word documents (organised by topic). I realised this was a very poor way to organise them and are now working on bringing all quotes into a database using airtable.

For the next months, I again want to focus on exercising as much as possible and also to work on my posture.

Habit Tracking October: Injured and Distracted

Following my new system for tracking habits I have again kept track of various habits I try to follow. Here the overview for October.

Habit Tracking October

Overall, I didn’t do very well, just like in September. Here my notes on the individual habits:

  • Exercise and Stretching: Since I injured my rib at the end of September, I was not able to do much exercise. The two times I managed to do so I went on strenuous walks, first to the Werribee Gorge and then to the 1000 Steps.

  • Emails: I have adopted a new habit where I aim to have less than five emails in my personal inbox (certainly not possible with my work one). I managed to do so quite consistently. I think it stresses me when too many emails pile up in my personal inbox so I think keeping things managed day by day is a good habit to adopt.

  • Meditation: While I was not being very good at meditating regularly in October, I improved somewhat from September. I also developed for myself a little meditation map that I followed:

Meditation Map
  • Learn: For the latter half of the month I was not very diligent in continuing my touch typing practice. I think this was due to me being involved in a small programming project; I taught myself how to develop 3D graphics using JavaScript. So, in a way I did some learning during most of these days just not the kind I planned for.
3D Application
  • Posture: I was able to use my Upright go for around half of the days in the months. Should definitely try to do better.

For the next month my main goal will definitely be to pick up exercising again. For me, it is the most important habit but one I often fail to adhere to.

Habit Tracking September: Technological Enhancement

As written before, I have adopted a new system for tracking my habits. This primarily involves keeping track of whether or not I am getting to do certain activities in a day or not and recording this in a simple table. I have already reported my success in tracking my habits for July and August.

While things were going very well in July, August saw me struggling to stick to any of the habits; chiefly I think, since I struggled with a winter cold (living in Australia, yes, we have winter in August).

Here the overview for September:

Habit Tracking September

Overall I did not very terribly, and here my notes for the individual habits:

  • Exercise & Stretching: While I only managed to exercise (and stretch four times in August), I increased this to six times in September. I think I could have done even better if I hadn’t been very busy at work at the end of September and thus wasn’t able to come back home in time to exercise in the evening. Also I had a little accident on my scooter on the 26th of September where I injured my rib. I can still barely walk without pain, so I don’t think I will be able to exercise until this is healed.
  • Wake Up: We changed our morning routine to wake up a bit later and thus the 5:30 am wake up time wasn’t really practical to pursue.
  • Meditation: No excuse why I didn’t do my meditation. Have to do better next month.
  • Learn: I was able to practice touch typing quite consistently. I am still learning to type special characters such as []{}()=><. Also, my wife gave me the book Visual Thinking as a birthday present and I have been practising to draw with the help of this book.
  • Posture: Finally coming to the subtitle of the book, I have at long last found a way to work on my posture in an effective way. As another birthday present from my wife I received an Upright Go, that I have been using to train my posture. Unfortunately this is also at present hindered by my injury.

For the next month, I will try to continue working on the same habits but will replace Wake Up with Emails, where I set myself the goal to have less than five emails in my personal inbox at any point in the day.

Habit Tracking August: A Complete Failure

I have previously posted about a new system I have adopted for tracking my habits. In the month of July, I think I did reasonably well in sticking to the habits I have set out to adopt. My system is designed to make it easy to enter data (simply use a marker pen) and to provide an immediate visual overview of how well things are going.

For July, it is easy to see that there is a lot more green than there is red or yellow. I didn’t do perfectly but I managed to exercise, mediate and learn quite regularly as can be seen in the below image.

Alas in the last month, things seemed to have gone horribly wrong:

  • I only managed to exercise four times in the entire month
  • I didn’t manage to wake up at my desired time (5:30 am) even once
  • I only meditated five times and not at all in the second half of the months
  • I didn’t follow through with my learning (a small touch typing exercise) in the last 1.5 weeks of the months.

I think the success in sticking to my habits is a good reflection of how well I felt in the past month. I was struggling with a cold for most of the month and for the past week my wife and I went to New Zealand for business travel which complicated realising my habits.

I think it is very interesting that my ability to stick to habits correlates with my well-being. I wonder what is the cause and effect relationship here; I would assume that it would go both ways; that I am better at sticking to my habits when I am feeling well but also that sticking to the particular habits I choose makes me feel better.

I think I especially need to find a better way for struggling with a cold; maybe do some very light exercise rather than none at all. But I am also conscious that, when feeling unwell, one of the best things to do is to rest and not to stress out about all the things we ought to do.

Interestingly I think I also gained some weight in the past month. I weighed myself at the gym of the hotel were we were staying and I weighed 76 kg, which is I think a few kilograms more than I usually weigh. I am thinking if I should start tracking my weight as well as an additional metric to track how well I am doing overall.

Image credit: The Digital Artist

Simple Habit Tracking System

I have long been looking for a system that helps me stick to good habits. I used a time tracking application on my iPhone and also created various spreadsheets. Unfortunately the solutions I found so far turned out to be too cumbersome to enter data (spreadsheets) or too difficult to run reports on (time tracking apps).

I’ve recently read the book Joy, Inc. by Richard Sheridan and one of the interesting points discussed was that the profiled company uses pen, paper and cardboard cards to plan, design and track their work. This gave me the idea that I could try to create a paper-based system to track my success in sticking to a number of habits.

This is the system that I came up with:

  • Create a table where the columns are the days in a month and the rows represent different habits
  • If a habit was successfully practised in a day, mark the corresponding cell as green.
  • If a habit has not been practised in three days, mark the cell corresponding to the third day yellow.
  • If a habit has not been practices for four days or longer, mark all days after the third as red.

For the first month, July 2019, I decided to track the following habits:

  • Exercise: Any form of exercise done during the day (just being active, such as walking or taking the bike does not count)
  • Stretching: Any form of stretching
  • Posture: Any attempt made by me during the day to correct and improve my posture
  • Meditation: Mediate for at least five minutes
  • Create: Work on some form of artifact, such as a piece of writing or code
  • Learn: Spend some time learning to touch type and/or to draw

This is how I tracked for each one of them:

It seems that I have some way to go until I practise all the habits I have set out to do daily. However I have also not completely failed at any of the habits and were able to practice them in 30-50% of the days of the last month. I am particularly pleased at my progress for the Learn habit. I was able to improve my proficiency for typing some tricky constructs required for programming quite significantly. Unfortunately I don’t think I have gotten any better at drawing.

Overall I quite liked this system, it was easy to follow and provided me with a good overview of how I was tracking day by day as well as for the month overall. For the next month, I will follow a slightly modified version with a changed set of habits.

Picture credit: Free-Photos