At the beginning of this year, I saw a tweet from Ali Yahya about how he meticulously tracks his habits in a spreadsheet. His system took inspiration from Ben Franklin, who described his system in his autobiography.
This idea intrigued me. Instead of setting specific goals this year, I set a few themes that I could plan monthly goals around. Since one of my themes was to practice discipline, I decided to try setting up my own habit tracker to assist.
The idea of this habit tracker is I can use it to log my progress towards making any habit routine. I figured that the daily motion of having to log my actions would serve as a reminder to actually do what I want to do. Once a behavior is in the conscious mind, it’s a lot easier to do.
I fiddled with a few different ideas but ultimately decided to start with a simple approach. I created a basic Google Sheet and started to log sleep, email, and Instagram use on a daily basis. Since I started on January 28, 2019, I’ve added a fair amount of complexity. Below is a screenshot of what it has become since I began tracking habits.
Conditional highlighting and formulas help me understand streaks and trends. I also wrote a Python script to automate the process of updating the sheet each day. It’s agnostic to any specific habit, so I can use it to track anything I want. I have updated the columns a few times as I’ve wanted to focus on other things. It’s great for maintaining foundational habits, or for reaching aspirational ones.
There are a few benefits to this.
- I can actually understand what progress is being made. My memory is not perfect and favors recent events. Without the data, it’s easy to falsely assume things are going well.
- Seeing a streak of successes serves as a strong motivator to keep it going. It feels weird to think that I can improve my life with gamification that I wrote myself. It doesn’t work all the time, but this works a lot.
- I can work on more habits at once. I have to remember to check my sheet, but then everything I want to track is recalled into memory. There’s a limit to the amount I can track within the sheet, but it’s more than without.
Since I started, here are some areas of my life where I’ve noticed remarkable improvements:
- Sleep - Getting at least 7 hours of sleep is way more common
- Reading - Making time to read is naturally part of my day
- Instagram - It’s rare for me to spend more than 10 minutes on it each day
It’s a great system and I have no intention of stopping. I intend to open source both the spreadsheet and my Python script soon. I will detail that in a separate post.