Looking for (Meta) Data


This morning, Seth Godin inspired me again. His post got me to thinking about all the data I’m collecting and what I’ll be able to do with it at some point in the future. Maybe something will come to me while I’m on vacation, but I’ve already gotten at least one improvement from trying to go back to sleep. Here is what happened.

I got up for my morning biology break and came back to bed. Laid down, pulled the covers over me (it’s 65 and damp here today) and pulled my sleeping hat over my head. Made sure my digital voice recorder was nearby and let my mind wander. Sometimes this results in another half hour of sleep. Today there were two or three very good insights. Less than a minute each, but very insightful.

An hour later, I’m wide awake and there is no reason to avoid the inevitable. I get up, get dressed and come into the office to do my morning routine. Only I discover I didn’t finish things last night. I go through closing out all that stuff and start planning today. Added 116 things to my agenda. Five more are habits that carried over from yesterday. After building the desired agenda, I realize I am missing something HUGE that I haven’t seen in the past five weeks of using this new tool.

I don’t look back at the end of the day and evaluate how it went in general. I have several tasks to summarize some data, but there is no habit for just looking at what happened. Maybe this one finally emerged from the ooze because one of the ideas Seth inspired was a new field I think I want to add. This one is the Deming-ness of each Habit. Is it Planning, Doing, Checking or Acting? The opportunity to understand the data is there because the Habits are there, but I never thought of habits as having a Deming-ness to them. I added a Pareto-ness a few weeks ago, and an Ugliness a few days ago, and a Six Hat Thinking-ness in the beginning. But it never occurred to me to quantify the Deming-ness of what I was trying to habituate.

How much do you look at the data you collect about your day? Do you collect any data? None at all? Your calendar doesn’t have things you planned to do? Or do you have checkmarks next to the things you completed? That’s data, though it isn’t very useful. But it is a start.

Try this idea for a week.

  1. When you plan your day, count how many things there are
  2. When you get to the end of the day, count how many things you got done
  3. If you carry things over to the next day, count those as well
  4. If a thing gets carried over a second or third time, keep that count with the thing you aren’t getting around to doing
  5. At the end of the week, look at your data

Covey and Allen have great ideas about this stuff. I’ve read parts of both their books and my daily reflections come from Covey. But none of those make any difference if I don’t look at the data at the end of the day, at the end of the week, at the end of the month, and so forth. My behavior isn’t going to change if I don’t look at my own data and understand how that reflects the way I do things now. If I want the future to be different, I need to use MY data to help me change MY behaviors so that something changes. I track lots of things. How many of them are actually changing over time.

Okay, I only have five weeks of data thus far. But in that time, I’ve added an average of 90 agenda items to my “calendar” each day. Today was the biggest number yet, but I’m discounting that because I give up using my tool tomorrow night. But I’ll be carrying on the discipline I’ve accumulated in an analog version of my tool. The behaviors are what I’m trying to change. The data is what will help me fix that.

So why would someone who has innovative characteristics (high KAI, innovative MBTI) be so obsessed with data? Don’t low KAI and adaptive MBTI people usually get dragged into the ditch by data? I think the difference is that I want to use my data to understand where I am so that I can change the destination I reach. I don’t want to get to 90 and realize there were so many things I could have done if I had just (fill in the blank). If I don’t know where I am, how will I get to the place I want to go.

In one of Watts Humphreys books, he has a couple of sayings, with a Zen flavor to them:

  • If you don’t know where you’re going, any road will do
    Chinese Proverb
  • If you don’t know where you are, a map won’t help
    Watts S. Humphrey

How many of us pay any attention to where we are? What good is a significant dream if we don’t have a map for getting there?

That is what is so wonderful about retirement. I’ve been at it nearly four years and it gets better every day, because now I’m looking at my data about the previous day, week, and shortly month. I can see where I am and change where I’m going to be going.

Is there a plan? You bet there is. The tool I’ve built for myself is something other people might want to use if they have a significant dream of their own. But it won’t come cheap. I see no point in giving people something that only does 10% of the solution they need, especially when they only know 1% of the problem. That’s why I’m making myself the first lab rat. If this idea doesn’t work for me, why would I think anyone else could use it.

Whoops, I’ve gone over 1000 words. Better stop or the blog police will come after me.

Go look for your own data. See what it tells you. Figure out where you are, so you can build your own map to your significant dream.

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