A quantified, incentivized life

Hit and Miss #40

Hello there!

It’s a sunny Sunday morning, and I’ve already been out and about. I spent about an hour and a half buying groceries, on two separate trips. (There’s only so much I can carry at a time.) Yesterday, I spent about half an hour doing laundry, and another hour running errands.

These figures come from my time tracking app, Cushion. I’ve written previously about using time tracking as a motivator, for school and domestic duties. Today, I want to dive deeper into the idea of tracking more generally—of not just time, but also of spending and reading.

I view tracking and measurement as an empowering tool, if applied to things which I find important. I incentivize certain behaviour in myself by tracking it. I do what I measure.

I track my finances through You Need a Budget (YNAB). It’s a neat budgeting app that doesn’t assume a regular income—useful for me, as a student and sometimes freelancer. Key to my success with YNAB has been the mental model it encourages. Tracking implies a certain view of the world; YNAB’s is one that works well for me.

A benefit of tracking is that it increases my awareness of what’s going on, making me conscious of life instead of letting it pass by. I realize there are other ways to accomplish this, but tracking works well for me. For example, setting up YNAB years ago spurred me to set up a regular saving program. Getting a handle on how much money I had and how much I spent allowed me to carve out a slice for the future.

I track my reading through Goodreads, noting my progress through books and providing star reviews once done. Goodreads is different than YNAB, because it’s public tracking. In a way, that’s an incentive: it’s cool to have a progress update liked by a friend, or to see what your friends are reading. But it also has drawbacks. I’ve previously written about this; the gist is that my quantifications (star reviews or page counts) shouldn’t be directly compared against yours, because we have different models for the world, yet Goodreads encourages us to do so.

I’m skeptical of attempts to overquantify. Numbers can be quite reductive; they rarely tell the whole story. But sometimes, to encourage some behaviours or to increase awareness, I find measuring to be a good first step.

All the best for the week ahead!