I’ve tracked data on my daily life since I was seven years old, fiddling with the tiny gold-tone lock on my first daily diary. Later, when I discovered the “quantified self” movement, some larger lock in my brain would release: I didn’t only want data, I wanted meaning.
I’ve been searching for this meaning by tracking fitness (daily step counts and workouts), as well as the following:
- Sleep (hours and quality)
- Vitals (weight and heart rate)
- Food (calories and nutrients)
- Media (books read, music listened to, films watched, etc.)
But tracking alone is not meaningful. In fact, it can be the opposite. Those of us with fitness trackers often have a goal of taking 10,000 steps a day, and we are rewarded with brightly-colored graphics when we’ve met that goal. But what about getting 10,000 steps a day while sleeping fewer hours than we need each night? And how do sugar and caffeine consumption impact activity, sleep, productivity, mood, or all four?
Not long ago, I discovered an app called Exist which promised a way to pull all of the data I tracked together to find meaningful correlations. I was skeptical, but game. And Exist turned out to be a marvelous way for me to stop focusing on hitting a step count each day and start thinking about my physical and mental health in a more comprehensive way.
I could get side-tracked by all the weird correlations that Exist has uncovered — like how I get fewer steps when I listen to Blood Orange — but instead I will share the ones that are most important to me right now: how sleep impacts other important aspects of my life.
On the dashboard, I get an overview of my sleep over the past seven days. The white checkmarks indicate that I met my sleep goal for that day, a goal that Exist determines for me based on past averages and trends. Ah, sleeping in on Saturdays!
Trends are all well and good, but the correlations are where Exist gets interesting. This one is an obvious one: my mood is higher when I get more sleep.
Aha, and sugar intake … well, that’s also obvious.
I get more work done when I sleep less. Yeah, well.
The confidence on this correlation isn’t very high, but I’m still curious about an earlier bedtime impacting my step count.
Exist’s new “Optimize” feature suggests that my mood might improve if I try to get more than seven and a half hours of sleep.
These are just a few of the insights that Exist has provided me for the data I track. Here is where I blow your mind: look at the full list of services that Exist integrates with (see their FAQs for more info):
- Jawbone UP: steps, sleep, weight, workouts, food, water
- Fitbit: steps, sleep, weight, workouts, food, water
- Misfit: steps, sleep, workouts
- Moves: steps, location
- Apple Health: steps, sleep, workouts, heart rate, food, water
- Google Fit: steps, workouts, weight
- Withings: steps, sleep, weight
- Runkeeper: steps, weight, workouts
- Strava: workouts
- Mood: mood rating and note (this is built-in to Exist, not an external service—you can use our daily email service or our mobile apps to rate your mood each day)
- RescueTime: time spent productively, neutral time, distracting time
- Todoist: tasks completed
- GitHub: commits
- Google, iCloud, iCal Calendars: events, time spent in events
- Dark Sky: weather conditions (requires Swarm, Moves, or Exist for Android to get location)
- Swarm: check-ins, location
- Instagram: posts, comments, likes
- last.fm: tracks played
- Twitter: tweets, mentions
- Spotify, Deezer, iTunes, and more: via last.fm
That’s enough of me blathering on about it. Sign up now for a free 30-day trial of Exist, plus another month free! If this isn’t your bag but you know someone with a fitness tracker who is motivated by more than step counts, share this post with them.