Life Logs and Life Hacks

Live streaming cam 24/7 (Photo:

Live streaming cam 24/7 (Photo:

I should have known there are people out there who attempt to record or track their entire lives. I have been reading up on the Quantified Self movement and “lifelogging.”  You may think I am one of those people. But all of us are closer to that stage than we realize.

I got to thinking about what is considered “normal” tracking of things in one’s life, and what is considered geeky or obsessive. Here’s my list – let’s see if you agree.

I would love to hear how many of these you have used or done in your adult life!

Traditional (in print)

  1. Diaries or Journals – what you did, who you saw, how you felt
  2. Day Books  or Calendars – appointments, meetings, errands
  3. Address Books – friends’ and relatives’ phone numbers and addresses; birthdays and anniversaries
  4. Personal Letters Received – when people used to write and post letters
  5. To Do Lists – keeping past or completed lists
  6. To Read or To Watch Lists – books and movies
  7. Notes to Self – things to look up, see, do or remember
  8. Budget Tracking – could be ledgers, notes, stacks of receipts, envelopes…
  9. Investment Tracking – statements of past performance
  10. Purchases – warranties, values of things owned
  11. Tax Returns – taxes paid, RRSP room for next year
  12. Car Maintenance – schedules and records
  13. House Maintenance – schedules and records
  14. Home Inventories
  15. Photo Albums – selected printed photos from daily life or special occasions
  16. Baby Books – milestones for each child; gifts received
  17. Recipe Files – who the recipe is from, when made, how it turned out
  18. Wine Journals – bottles consumed, labels, ratings
  19. Food Logs – either for dieting or for figuring out food intolerances
  20. Exercise Logs
  21. Weight and Body Measurements
  22. Travel Diaries – details of a trip
  23. Travel Souvenirs – tickets, maps, routes taken, postcards
  24. Weather Records – first snow, days of rain…
  25. Garden Journals – planting, sprouting, blooming and harvesting dates
  26. Birding Diaries – wild birds seen, dates
  27. Resume Files – details on past jobs, courses, workshops, certifications
  28. Prescriptions  Log – names, dosages, reactions
  29. Symptoms Logs – to record levels of pain, frequency of headaches…
  30. Sleep Logs – time slept, number of wakings, level of restedness

The point I want to make is that even before technology, it was considered normal to track any or all of these things manually!

Now, of course, we can log much more than this, and use technology to pick up data or find patterns afterwards. Even for light-duty technology users, we are tracking more than you think.



Light-Duty Tech Tracking

  • Texts sent and received
  • Facebook and Twitter status updates and timelines
  • Your browser history and cookies – websites visited, online behaviour, targeted advertising
  • Location tracking through cell phone, GPS or Foursquare
  • Location through your computer’s IP address, used to define services available to you
  • Recently watched movies on Netflix
  • Date each song was last played in iTunes
  • Recently viewed items or “recommended for you” purchases on shopping sites
  • Notification of price drops – e.g. at Amazon
  • Savings coupons – your store loyalty card tracks what you buy and sends you special offers
  • Prescriptions log – your pharmacy now keeps this for you, e.g. “HealthWatch” system

All of this tracking is done on your behalf by virtue of using these products or having an account with them! In many cases you can’t, or would not want to opt out.

Mint – Budgeting App. Not my data, LOL! Photo:

More Intentional Tech Tracking

Websites or apps for any of the traditional activities:

  • Budget / Spending – such as using Mint
  • Food and Exercise – such as using MyFitnessPal
  • Lists – kept on app like Evernote
  • Calendar – Google, Outlook
  • Contacts List – on your phone
  • Photo Albums – on your phone
  • Resume Details – on LinkedIn
Sleep Monitor. Photo:

Sleep Monitor. Photo:

Health and Medical Tracking

  • Mood – can use app such as Moody Me
  • Habits – can use app such as 43 Things or Lift
  • Sleep – can use app such as Sleep 101
  • Sleep Apnea
  • Glucose
  • Blood Pressure
  • Heart Rate
  • Nike+
  • Pedometers

Productivity tracking or employee monitoring:

  • Time use tracking – such as Toggl or RescueTime apps
  • Microsoft Office/365
  • Keystroke Logging
  • Smart Keycards that show where you’ve been in your office building
  • Video Surveillance
Photo credit:

Photo credit:

And finally, there are those entirely optional things we do to tell the world about ourselves:

  • Blogs
  • Tumblr
  • Facebook and Twitter
  • Flickr and Instagram
  • Photo-a-Day postings
  • Online gaming activity
  • “Liking” products and services
  • Posting our ratings of products
  • Winning contests
  • Joining groups, organizations and committees
  • Participating in public events such as marathons…or riots

I can say these things for sure:

  • You are tracking more than you know
  • You are being tracked
  • It is being shared
  • You can use your info for self-improvement (life hacks)
  • Your info can be used to manipulate you

My only advice is:

Be Conscious of it – Own it – Use it!

What do you track online? Offline?


  1. Excellent post. I like to think that I live my days spontaneously but looking at these lists I find that I still do keep lists. I still keep a list of books I would like to read and carry it with me to the library, I still have to-do lists on some days when I want to get a lot done as it helps me to see the jobs being completed and a few more. I kept all the letters my son sent to me while in boot camp/military fearful that he would not come home from war and these would be his last thoughts. Other than my blog, I don’t use any of the apps or websites for tracking my life so that makes me feel a little better.

    I don’t like how everything I do is tracked by corporations. Everything from Amazon to the local grocer. The only one I know who deletes and doesn’t share my information is the local library who deletes our history as soon as a book is returned. I try to use cash most places to avoid the tracking, but the grocery store card is helpful in saving cash and earns money off your gas (for car) that I still use it even though it bugs me every time I do.

  2. I’m guilty of putting a lot of information out there voluntarily, and yet knowing how companies track our spending/habits etc fills me with fear! It’s the Terminator/Skynet issue – that film freaks me out!

    • I have been pretty deliberate about my public information, but ironically, it is my workplace and volunteer organizations that reveal the most about me – they are always publishing online minutes, summaries of events, schedules and so on that my name appears in! The films that freak me out are Total Recall and Eternal Sunshine…do you think they will have access to our whole brains/memories someday? 🙂

  3. I am much more of a paper person (kept a diary as a kid, kept a paper calendar long after smartphones and Outlook because popular) but now I find that just by keeping this blog and my other blog I pretty much record everything that is going on (kind of interesting to look a year or two back and reminisce sometimes!). But I still love paper and need to physically restrain myself from buying anew notebook every time I am in Barnes and Noble. Im guessing that some of the things you listed will become automatic in the future (like having all of your medical stats at your fingertips on a smartphone or smartwatch or something like that. But I do love how you record so much data on your blog, it makes me want to be more precise in my records too!

    • Reading some of the “Quantified Self” stuff made me think more about collecting data – that I need to pay more attention to finding patterns and acting on it than just collecting it! I have gradually moved over from paper to electronic for most things, but not all.

  4. I have done all the paper ones apart from the wine, bird tracking and prescriptions. I react so badly to prescription drugs that I never take them (only my Thyroxin which I am dependent on) if I had to take anything the side effects would no doubt be so memorable that I would not need to write them down to remember. LOL. Most things like weather tracking are just captured in my daily journal. I don’t really do the techie ones other than my blog and facebook with just my family and close friends. I keep my work friends very separate. I feel I am becoming more and more out of touch with the introduction of these posh phones and tablet things with apps. I am just an old traditional girl – give me paper any day.

    • I don’t have a smartphone but I do have an iPad. It took me a while to remember to use it because I wasn’t used to having a device with me all the time! I am most-of-the-way towards electronic now. Which is maybe why I still like paper crafts the best – I need to get my hands on paper!

  5. PS l loved your post by the way – you always provide some thought provoking entertainment for bedtime!

    • Thank you 🙂 I think there is a 4 hour time difference between here and the UK. I like it when UK bloggers post in the morning because I have some new reading material waiting when I get up!

  6. I kept scrapbooks for a long time, but now the blog has become a digital scrapbook of sorts. I hadn’t really considered all of the other forms of record keeping that are possible.

  7. Fiona

    Another wonderful set of lists (I’ve done all the paper ones except birdwatching.) I also like the point about trying to find patterns in the info to act on it. It’s scary how much “background” data monitoring occurs via technology, isn’t it?

  8. OK… I guess I’m the oddball. I actually feel guilty that I don’t do a better job of tracking things. Periodically I get myself all psyched about it, but inevitably my enthusiasm wanes and I give up after a month or two. I suck at journals, scrapbooks, photo albums, calendars, to do lists, grocery lists, and basically any sort of meaningful record keeping. It’s not that I don’t ever make the lists… I do on occasion. But I promptly misplace them, and they are generally not seen again until I unearth them years later at the bottom of some pile of debris.

    I’ve finally switched most of my bills to paperless, which, although most people would assume was a move made for the sake of green-ness, I actually did it because at least that way there would be some hope that I could actually find the records come tax time. And while I’m grateful to be able to skip the annual “cull the pile” ritual where I delve into the disaster zone that is my office and open the many month’s worth of envelopes that I’ve been dutifully ignoring – I’ve gotta say that I’m sorta dreading having to paw through all those pdf files to get my taxes done.

    I just hate, hate, hate it! What I wouldn’t give to have inherited just a tiny bit of the list-maker/tracker gene.

  9. I don’t use 43 things for habits (I use it for a bucket list I wrote a long while ago). For habits, I use HabitForge. It tracks and helps you get to 21 times. I haven’t succeeded with the ‘no sugar’ for 21 times – probably cause I’m honest with it!!

    My library stores our borrowing data – which I like (tracker that I am) – and Australia doesn’t have a patriot act (though we have some other scary acts).

    I feel it necessary (even as a declutterer/minimalist) to keep my day planners or calendars – I have all four A4 ones from work (each a single sheet) and the A5 ones I kept at uni – even though a lot of the info duplicates, is more detailed and searchable in Google Calendar – which is incredibly useful in my work.

    I’m surprised to hear you bought scrapbooking materials – seems some assumptions are totally wrong! Though you haven’t used it, so perhaps I’m not too far off!

    • I really wanted to like scrapbooking, but all the scrapbooking magazines at that time had really cutesy, sentimental layouts, which I didn’t like. I think at heart I am more of an “art” than a “craft” person.

  10. I don’t like the idea of being tracked by companies, but I must admit I buy into it by using rewards cards and the like. Although if the supermarket uses this data to bring in more of the products I eat, I’m not complaining.

    I keep a paper journal, but most of my recording these days goes into my blog. I kind of like the idea of being able to look back in 10 years and see what I had for dinner 🙂

  11. Goodness it is quite exhausting when looking at your list! I have to do lists (which don’t always get done), shopping lists, things that I must organise so I don’t get anxious about forgetting to do them (sticky notes are good for this), calendar to keep track of family, photo albums, wish lists/goals, special cards and letters, piles of paperwork (eeek), tax files, home maintenance manuals etc, address books. I think I’m more of an old fashioned person and am yet to embrace computer calendars etc. My husband says everything is on his computer but then I don’t get to hear about and am often surprised when he suddenly says he will be out!

    • It is actually quite hard to share computer records, isn’t it? Rom and I did a shared Google calendar for a few months but eventually reverted to a paper one and posted it in the kitchen!

  12. I track our spending. I keep a blog. (Used to keep diaries as a kid). I once tracked my time manually for a week to see where my hours went. But that’s about it.

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