Everyday we learn and experiment. Sometimes it’s done by reading or taking a class, other times it occurs through life experiences or conversations with others.
We then take what we learn and implement into into our everyday lives.
At a basic level, this is relatively easy.
You learn the Rule of Thirds in photography, and the quality of your pictures takes a leap forward. You learn how to actively listen, and suddenly people are more excited to talk to you.
However, becoming exceptional in a subject area requires a lot more work. Practice alone doesn’t lead to perfection. You must continually evaluate your performance and deliberately striving to improve – that’s what makes you the best.
A great example of this is Tiger Woods. After he had already become one of the best golfers in the world, he discovered a flaw in his technique and re-learned an entirely new way to swing a club! And it paid off – he became even better.
Had Tiger spent that time practicing the same way he had always practiced, he may have improved, but not nearly as much.
Productivity hacking like Tim Ferris
What Tiger Woods does in golf, Tim Ferris strives to do in nearly every aspect of life.
From running businesses, to writing books, to cooking, to working out, Tim Ferris views his life as a perpetual experiment – constantly striving to find life’s “best practices”.
Ferris continually experiments on himself. He tries something new, records data, analyzes it, creates a new hypothesis, and then starts testing that new idea.
It takes a crazy amount of work effort, willpower and time to consistently try out new theories and make data correlations manually.
Both Ferris and Woods have two things going for them. First, they are very disciplined and hard working individuals. Second, however, they are both fortunate enough to have the available time necessary to invest in this process of constant improvement.
As a pro-golfer, Tiger Wood’s entire career is about perfecting his ability to play golf. Meanwhile, thanks to a few early successes, Tim Ferris
has made enough money that he doesn’t need to worry about “working” anymore – and these perpetual experiments have essentially become his livelihood.
But how can you and I productivity hack like these experts? When you have a job to do or business to run, social engagements and a never-ending to-do list, how can you maximize your personal productivity?
A productivity lesson from the world’s largest organizations
Despite how much we like to complain about the inefficiencies of large organizations – from the US government, to healthcare, to corporations and nonprofits alike – they are able to get a tremendous amount done.
These organizations develop complex systems and processes that track, monitor, optimize, and interact with billions of data points on a regular basis – with the use of big data.
Despite big data getting a bad wrap – particularly for the government’s use of it in cases like Snowden – big data has assisted thousands of massive organizations with improving their productivity, efficiency, and ability to respond to situations in a timely manner.
But, what does this have to do with personal productivity?
Although big data has quickly swept through the corporate world, it has barely touched the surface in regards to personal productivity.
Using big data to optimize your life
You may not have the time necessary to A/B test your life like Tim Ferris or Tiger Woods – but your smartphone can solve this problem for you.
With the rise of smart devices, it has become easier than ever to gather and track big data on a personal level. From your caloric intake to the miles you run; from your sleep patterns to your social media activity; from your computer useage to your time spent interacting with others – we have the ability to track nearly everything we do.
Although all of this data has been available for several years now, it hasn’t been put to good use. In fact, studies have shown that simply gathering data (such as exercise activity with a fitbit), doesn’t seem to improve individual productivity.
Why? Probably because this data is gathered, and maybe even graphed, but that’s it. There are no suggestions made. There are no correlations developed. In short, you’re left with a lot of information and no way to use it.
These smart devices are “dumb” in the sense that they don’t make any correlations or recommendations for us.
Fortunately, things are changing.
We are on the verge of a revolution in personal productivity!
Now that big data gathering and tracking has become easier, more and more apps are being developed to actually aggregate and analyze this information.
Apps like Exist.io (which I currently use), Gyrosco, and InstantApp give users the ability to link hundreds of apps together and attempt to analyze the data in order to form trends.
Suddenly, you no longer have to open your jogging app, eating app, sleeping app, time tracking app, social media accounts, etc., separately – you can now view the data from these sites in one place.
What does this mean for individuals like you and me?
It is now possible for you and me to track our personal productivity data and optimize our lives for success – just like Tim Ferris – in just a few minutes a day.
My experiment using Exist.io to track and optimize my life
In an effort to continually optimize my life, I was excited when I recently came across Exist.io.
Exist.io is a service that attempts to find correlations between different data sets in your life, from weight, quality of sleep, social media use, productivity scores and even the weather – to see if it can find consistent matches between different points in the data it pulls into the app.
Currently, I have it mapped to a range of different gadgets that record a variety of stats for me. My goal is to find correlations between different life variables so I can continually seek to improve my daily habits and routines.
Among the devices I use include an iWatch, Withings Scale/BP monitor, myfitnesspal for food intake and Todoist/RescueTime for productivity measuring.
Of course, the hard part of this process is looking at various correlations and coming up with habits or things I can change in my environment to test that correlation in an effort to achieve a more desirable outcome.
I’m still experimenting with it and haven’t made any major breakthroughs, but I think this highlights the possibility of “big data” – and how it can be used to improve our lives.
The thing I like most about Exist is that I can see where my life data stands and how it compares to where I thought or hoped I would be. For example, even if I’m laying in bed for 8 hours a night, I may only be getting 6 hours of sleep – with 3 hours of restless sleep. By tracking metrics like this, I can develop a richer understanding of where I am and what I need to do to improve.
Recently I’ve been able to discover a variety of simply correlations – like I am more distracted when I wake up earlier, and I gain weight on days I am less productive. There are also a few things that I find surprising – such as my productivity increases when I have less sleep. I have no idea what that occurs.
While I haven’t made any life-altering discoveries through Exist, the data is continually being recorded – and as I gather more data over time the easier it will be to track correlations.
The future of personal productivity and big data
Up to this point in human history, to achieve more productivity we were limited to reading books or finding a teacher capable of giving us better tools and mental models to maximize our productivity. We then end up with new habits or cues that we hope will make us happier and more productive.
The problem with this method of analysis and improvement is that we have to be our own objective judge regarding our thought processes. As I’ve recently read in Mindwise, there have been studies using an fMRI that suggest we aren’t always capable of objectively analyzing our own thought patterns. This means that the activities we conclude are best for our happiness and well-being, may not actually be so.
It’s very easy for us to get ourselves into bad habits and fail to think about them until symptoms appear. Perhaps you look in the mirror one day and ask, “When did I put on all this extra weight?”. Or maybe you gradually go to bed later and later, resulting in an addiction to drinking caffeine every morning just to survive the day.
It’s often only when we notice the long-term consequences of our actions do we say to ourselves that we need to find a new theory – whether that’s from a book, podcast, article, or coach to give us deeper insights into the problem at hand.
With big data and software used to find correlations, you can theoretically receive notification of any problem area in your life before evening noticing the symptoms. Essentially, you are given the opportunity to catch and combat negative habits and behaviors in their infancy.
What does this all mean? You don’t have to be Tim Ferris to discover how to become “Superhuman”. No longer are our two options to either invest countless hours in tracking our personal data or trying to make all of life’s decisions off of “gut feelings”. We are approaching a point where we will be able to gain invaluable insights about our health, productivity, and many other aspects of life – at the tip of our fingers.
Although personal motivation and discipline will always be crucial to productivity, weight loss, and other life activities, it’s becoming easier for us to measure these metrics, and know when we might be slipping, on our own.
No more surprises when our pants barely fit because we’ve been drinking sugary coffee every morning to wake us up after a poor night’s sleep due to nervousness around recent conference calls. With tools like Exist.io we can track all of these activities – giving us the ability to look back and (hopefully) find the root cause of the problem. Have this “big brother” level of data available on our personal lives could really be a godsend to freelancers, entrepreneurs, students and anybody else trying to get ahead in this world.
I imagine a day where software such as this not only makes advanced correlations between various data sets based on an algorithm it’s perfected from sentiment analysis (i.e. machine learning), but it can even provide recommendations for our diet intake, exercise habits, and other activities. These tools will literally give you a 1, 2, 3 step process to becoming a better version of yourself.
Now imagine this in the form of a chatbot that quietly absorbs all your data and pairs it with sporadic questions throughout the week to actively monitor you and recommend changes in every part of your life. The app would be able to help you realize that your job is too stressful and you should try something else, you’re overweight because you snack every afternoon, and maybe even let you know that your relationship is struggling because you haven’t gone on a date in a few months.
Such a bot could simply be another Facebook-type app able to replace your therapist and doctor Google when it comes to monitoring and recommending improvements for your mental and physical health.
The future will be exciting – especially for those of us who are productivity hacking enthusiasts. In no time at all we will each have the capabilities and tools necessary to optimize our lives.