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Lifelogging: A Socratic Experiment

“An unexamined life is not worth living,” said famously Socrates — and I’m summoning that spirit into my life to get a somewhat accurate picture of what I’m doing wrong. (Or right.)

For a long time I’ve been interested in the concept of a ‘lifelogging’ (or ‘quantified self’, whatever you want to call it). I’m curious by nature, but also I recognize that my life is a mess — on a good day — and improvement is sorely needed.

I first came across the concept when I started following Joel and Leo, the founders of Buffer. They’re smart people whose approach to life was appealing to me. (I also like to fiddle with apps and gadgets. I'm a nerd.)

There have been some attempts in the last few years to get into the habit of lifelogging, but it always died out after a short while.

Now I’m again making a go at it.

Digitally Intelligent Neohuman

One of the goals that I started tackling in 2018 was to establish a number of content channels. I wanted to get back into blogging, and I’ve got fascinated by creating podcasts around a few topics. (I have other ideas as well, but they're in the conceptualizing phase right now. Stay tuned. 😎) I also got a new job, one that - hopefully - will bring structure into my life.

Long story short, this time looks as good as any to implement (or at least attempt to implement) changes that are long overdue.

Photo by Eddie Kopp / Unsplash

The main theme and common element of most, if not all, of my interests is… Transhumanism, for lack of a better term. Not the Transhumanism that you’ll find googling the term (there are reasons for that) but my own version: one that I’m still largely formulating. It does have a framework, though, summed up in the above subheading.

At times, I like to think of the concept in cool cyberpunk-ish imagery, but the reality of it is not that different from anybody's life. I do think - in fact, it's one of the reasons why I'm so fascinated by the idea - that we're already "cyborgs". We're already living half our lives outside of our bodies and in between bits and bytes. But to illustrate that isn't my aim at this moment. (It is, however, my aim with this particular series. Click on the tag to see what else I have to say on it.)

But I digress*: back to the topic at hand. To improve anything, you need to evaluate the current version of it. Enter digital lifelogging.

*: incidentally, "I digress" is a phrase I use a lot. I need more focus, and the constraints of lifelogging provides a useful side-effect of reducing the chaotic nature of how I operate. Focus, yay!

Gif via Giphy

Bringing the "digital"

I’ve set up a host of different apps, to keep myself accountable and provide “control groups” — I knew Todoist could remind me to do stuff, but it’s better that I’m logging my time, activities, food, and so on in different platforms.

A quick list for reference, in no particular order:

  • Todoist
  • Productive
  • Hours
  • RescueTime
  • Day One
  • Apple Health
  • MyFitnessPal

Not listed here are a couple of fitness apps I’m also using, but my aim is to separate fitness activities from the lifelogging stuff. Reason for that is that fitness is a different commitment I’m making (again, hopefully) and I don’t want one to sabotage the other.

All these apps, together with my gadgets, are somewhat cross-linked. But the aim isn’t perfecting workflows, but to gather as much data as possible. The more data the merrier - plus the difference in how the different platforms calculate presents a more accurate cross-section that can be regarded reliable.

Refining the processes can come later.

At first, I want to establish a good baseline of data collection, so that activating timers and recording my activities can become second nature. Evaluating comes after that’s done. I've given myself 30 days to get there.

30 days (and beyond)

Last year yielded a lot of lessons in a lot of areas, but one that’s perhaps the most prominent is how I tend to overthink and overdo new things, and how I need to take it slow.

I could go “all in” on lifelogging and invest significant amounts of money and effort, but if the past is any indication I’ll burn out quickly. I don’t want to do that. I tried it before, it didn’t work. I also tried it in other areas, such as blogging daily, and it went south real fast — no matter how enjoyable it was.

Thus, one of the guiding principles of 2018 is “take it slow, one step at a time”. If things work out, they will work out. If they don’t, it’ll be apparent, but I’ll also have a chance to adjust if needed, before abandoning it. Fast decisions and jumping into the thick of it can often help; but it can, when combined with a personality like mine, often lead to quitting equally quickly.

Yes, there's value in just building out the habit of collecting data. There are decisions to be made in the short term as well, but the aim isn't to focus on those. They're welcome, but I'd rather play the long game.

The goal today is to maintain consistent lifelogging practices for the next 30 days. After that, if I'm sticking to it, I'll evaluate the data and the apps, and start documenting (publicly) the refinement process.

(Bro,) Do U Even Lift... lifelog?

As part of this experiment I’m also recording my experiences and thoughts on these apps and lifelogging in general, which will probably turn into blog posts and other content.

But, not surprisingly, I’m always on the lookout for best practices and tips. Do let me know if you’re into lifelogging (to whatever degree) or not, and what were your experiences or thoughts on it!