Tracking with purpose

Modern technology enables a lot of really cool tracking possibilities. You can easily keep score of your personal finances with Tink, use one of many phone apps to oversee your nutrition or register for Google Analytics to monitor your website traffic.

Install, activate and you’ll be rewarded with an endless stream of delicious numbers. Self quantifiers rejoice!

But then what? It’s about time you figured out your purpose of tracking.

Relate your numbers

If the first step is to gather numbers, then your second step should be to put them in relation to eachother.

Having 100 people visit your blog one day doesn’t mean anything in and of itself. However, if you normally have just 50 visitors then things start to get interesting — your 100% increase means something has happened!

Most services today have very good dashboards and tools for visualizing your data. To really get something out of your tracking you need to become familiar with these and learn what data is available to you.

I reached out to Tink — a personal finance application which makes sense of the numbers in your bank accounts — to see what they could share on the topic. This is what their Sandra Uddbäck said:

A first step in changing your consumption behaviour is to understand your numbers and what you spend your money on. This information has always been available but the threshold for analyzing it has been too high for most of us. So what Tink does is to lower it by automatically categorize all expenses in different groups. The user can then follow his or her purchases in real time and see where the money goes.

Often a montly spending report doesn’t provide a whole lot more information than where the money went that month. But if you look at it over several months you can start to make out a pattern. For example it’s common that restaurant visits increases over summer, while clothes shopping decreases.

(Disclaimer: I get nothing from promoting Tink. They just happened to be very helpful and are also providing an excellent service.)

Attribute changes

The third and final step of tracking with purpose is to identify changes — through use of your dashboards — and attribute them to a source.

You went from 50 to 100 visitors but what drove that spike? Maybe one of your posts got popular on Facebook. Did you manage to save 10’000 USD last year? Perhaps it was the result of eating more at home.

Food spending and personal economy is closely related, as Sandra Uddbäck notes:

In Tink, the user has the option to follow a certain expense category; lunch for example. He or she is then presented with a graphic picture of his/her spending and automatic cheering or warnings when it changes, which could lead to taking the decision to bring a food box to work.

Another idea is to follow the restaurant category to see if there are any patterns, like when in the month I’m eating out, what months I’m eating out or whether it’s takeaway? Maybe here is a way to mitigate being broke at the end of the month? Or if maybe I should in fact eat out more to enrich my social life?

Attribution makes your data actionable. If you know why and how something happened; chances are you can make good things happen again or avoid bad things from happening again. Repeatability.

Or more plainly: you will never get fit by just looking at the scale!

So let’s take action by looking at what you’re tracking today. Is there something you could relate further to have a better understanding of? What more attribution could you make to gain more insight?

Share with me in the comments or shoot me a tweet!