Month: July 2013

Fitbit: Why I Don’t Leave Home Without It

Readers and honored readers, it is with great excitement and much anticipation that I present to you my favorite tracking habit….

(Insert obligatory drum roll here)

The Fitbit One has arrived! I promise I am not getting paid by these companies. So why am I such a big fan? Because my Fitbit works entirely in the background. In other words… “Look Ma, no hands!”

Allow me to elaborate…

I attach it to my belt during the day, and wrap it around my wrist at night (to monitor my sleep…but more on that in the next post). The only maintenance I have to do is charge the battery once a week (not bad at all if you ask me).

Also, every morning I plug in a USB receiver to sync my data. I think the Fitbit can store something like 5 days of data, but why risk losing anything when I can make a daily habit of it and never have to spend energy remembering? If you’ve been reading this blog, you know how much I hate that.

So what does this thing measure?

First and foremost, how many steps you take. You can even customize the distance of each of your steps but I’m going with the default based on my height. From the number of steps it also calculates the distance traveled, and the calories burned.

Somehow, and don’t ask me how, it also measures how many flights of stairs you climb. I’ve tested this before while walking straight and then comparing that to climbing stairs and it’s actually been accurate every time. This little guy is at the top of his game. I call him ShirFit3…because there were 2 before him that fell off and got lost forever.

Side note: If you ever lose your Fitbit you can contact customer service and request a new one. They’ll send it to you free of charge!

Now that’s what I call fantastic customer service. Actually, I see that as the bare minimum way to serve customers, but the bar is so low these days. *Sigh*

Either way, the trick to NOT losing your Fitbit is to attach it to your belt (or other item of clothing that’s comfortable for you) facing inwardly, not facing out. That way if you carry your groceries in a green bag (save the environment, and enter the weekly contest at Trader Joe’s to win a $25 gift card…bam!), it won’t knock the fitbit right out of its holster. Not that this happened to anyone in particular…. O:-)

But enough about me, let’s get down to the data

As of yet, I haven’t downloaded the Fitbit data or analyzed it in Excel.

Pretty anti-climactic right?

Hey, I’ve got a lot on my plate! In good time though, don’t worry.

Unfortunately I think you have to be a paid member in order to gain access to your data. This is really annoying, especially since I think this kind of data should be freely accessible. After all, it is all about me, isn’t it?

Once I download the data and create an Excel tool to analyze it, I’ll be sure to make it freely available to all of you so you can use it for yourself. Cool beans?

Other goodies

What I like about the Fitbit is that it doesn’t just measure the steps, but it also measures when you were active. It paints a picture of your day to see how active you were throughout.

Fitbit Activity Screenshot

I also like the fact that you can set budgets for each of the metrics. Here are mine:

  • Steps: 8,000
  • Distance: 3 miles
  • Calories: 2694
  • Stairs: 10

On days that I walk all over NYC, I rack up about 11,000 – 15,000 steps which always brings a smile to my face.

So far my best day spilled over the 20,000 mark. Lots of walking, and lots of dancing. Actually, I’m pretty sure that was the day I joined the Flash Mob marriage proposal in Central Park. Awesome experience by the way!

How has this affected my behavior?

One noticeable change is that I used to take the elevator in my building to my 5th floor apartment, but ever since I got my Fitbit I’ve been taking the stairs every single time. The only exceptions are if I’m carrying 30 lbs of groceries or am in some kind of physical pain.

“I’m being measured so why not rack up the points right?” – Shir’s Brain

I’m curious for all you Fitbiters out there, how has it changed your behavior?

Next week we’ll take a look at the sleep tracking feature, accomplished by the same device.

P.S. Bonus points for getting your own Fitbit and commenting below 🙂

My Favorite Way to Weigh In

I don’t know about you, but the thought of getting on my scale every morning and then having to manually enter my weight, body fat %, and Body Mass Index (BMI), makes me want to urinate all over my couch and then throw it out my 5th floor window.

Granted, I’m a strange character, with unusually low tolerance for manual work. But it’s more than that….

What infuriates me about such work, is that nagging feeling of “computers should be doing this for me.” It’s a waste of my creativity dammit! And that makes me angrier than a hungry patron in a fast food line with a broken cash register. Not a pretty site.

And so, with the prospect of this kind of drain on my otherwise chipper life, the WiFi scale was purchased! I use this Withings body analyzer model, which was originally recommended by Noah Kagan. You may remember him from such companies as AppSumo and Mint.

The beauty of the Withings WiFi scale (mind you, I’m receiving zero incentive to promote them. Perhaps they should throw me a bone? Or better yet, a free blood pressure monitor), is that it’s completely hands off. Set it and forget it, make Ron Popeil proud style.

Setting up your account is super easy, and it even links up to your LoseIt account (which I’m sure you all have now because of my compelling post on How I Tracked and Maintained my Weight Using LoseIt).

As I mentioned in said post, my daily calorie budget on LoseIt changed based on my weight (which increased above the target by a few pounds). And at the end of the day, who doesn’t love a good ol’ self correcting system? Right? 🙂

So far I haven’t analyzed my weight on a daily, weekly, or monthly basis. In fact, I haven’t looked at it closely at all. *Sad face*. I’m still just collecting data to be used later. Believe me, my future self will thank me.

The only habit I had to create (notice how the habit theme keeps coming back…Charles Duhigg really struck a deep chord with me), was pulling my scale out from under my couch after my morning bathroom routine.

Parting Words of Wisdom

I wanted to be consistent with how much clothing I was wearing at the time of weigh-in. And as much as I love walking around naked, sometimes it was cold in my apartment and I didn’t want to strip down and start shivering needlessly. So I kept it simple and left on the outfit I wore to sleep the previous night. That’s right, my pj’s.

The thing is, it doesn’t matter what you do, as long as you are consistent. Don’t wear long pants, t shirt and sweatshirt one day, and rock nothing but tube socks the next. Capiche?

Lastly, it’s best to weigh in at about the same time every day. Preferably the morning because it’s before you eat (which might vary from one day to the next).

You get the idea. None of this should be groundbreaking.

More to come on my Fitbit next week. Stay tuned!

How I Tracked and Maintained my Weight Using LoseIt

Now that you’re Constantly And Never-endingly Improving (CANI) your life, and determining how quickly you need to walk (or run) to catch your trains, we can get down to business. You are following along with everything so far, right?


Now, wanna hear something ironic?

I’m going to go out on a limb here and assume your answer is yes…

I have weighed 138 lbs for the past several years, and the last thing I want to do is lose weight. If anything, I could use to gain a few pounds. I know I know, cry me a frickin’ river. I have a freakishly fast metabolism and know many people who would gladly exchange a kidney for what I’ve been given as a default.

I will have you know though, that it’s not all peaches and cream. I’m hungry more often than not, and spend more money on food than anything else. Yeah, wild times.

But back to my ironic observation…

I began recording my diet on 6/11/12 not to lose weight, but to track my diet to later use in my Excel classes. Being the diligent little self tracker that I am, I haven’t missed a day since (win!). I’ve also used this data as examples in my live Excel classes, and will soon be incorporating it into my online Excel classes.

The service that I use, called LoseIt, is relatively easy to learn. All it takes is a bit of diligence, and once again, not surprisingly, beginning a new habit. By the way, if you haven’t read Charles Duhigg’s Power of Habit yet, please do so now.

Here’s how LoseIt works

First I created a free account and downloaded their app to my iPhone (also Android compatible).

Then I set a daily reminder in the evening to record everything I ate that day. I use the Appigo ToDo app which I have been using for years, and absolutely adore. However, if fancy task management systems don’t put that extra bounce in your step, you could just as easily write a note on a piece of paper and put it on your pillow after you wake up in the morning. That way, you’ll have no choice but to see it before you go to sleep. Pretty nifty right? I’m pretty sure I got that idea from Bassam Tarazi. Check him out by the way, he’s awesome.

In any event, what I like about hacks like these, is that it frees up your mind to not have to try and remember anything. Ari Meisel talks about this in his efficiency framework called Leverage. You can focus on more important, creative, and interesting things like how to respond to that cute girl’s text message from last night. Speaking of which….

Here are a couple things to keep in mind

At first it will be annoying to enter new foods into your account, but after about a week or two (and depending on how predictable your eating habits are) you’ll be able to add entire meals to your log to save oodles of time. Even if you make slight variations in your meals you can quickly and easily change items and/or quantities after you initially add them. Sa-weet!

Another potential barrier to getting started, is feeling like you have to record everything to the nearest 1/8 of an ounce. This is a common trap, and one that I used to fall into all the time.

Thanks to Ramit Sethi and his philosophy of just focusing on getting 85% of the work done, which he calls The 85% Solution, and then worrying about the last 15% later, I have tamed that beast of an issue.

The real question is, would you rather have 85% of the work done, or 0%? I’ll take 85% any day. Sometimes I go back and close the gap to bring myself to 100%, but most of the time I discover that 85% is good enough. Thanks Ramit!

Next, set up your LoseIt account so that you receive weekly emails with a CSV file of your previous week’s activity. Here is a step by step breakdown:

  1. Login to your account (duh).
  2. Go to “Settings” on the top navigation bar.
  3. Choose the “Email Reports” option towards the bottom of the list on the left.
  4. Create “New Report.”
  5. Be sure to choose the “Weekly” option and check the box ON for “Include Spreadsheet Attachment.”

You can also manually download your weekly reports each week by going straight to “Reports” on the top navigation bar and choosing the “Export to Spreadsheet” option.

Be sure to download my FREE LoseIt Diet Log Template and follow along.

LoseIt Diet Log Thumbnail

Note: Only compatible with Excel 2007, 2010, or 2013 FOR PC. Excel for Mac will give you an error message, and a lot of grief. If you have a Mac, like I do, I recommend installing a virtual PC using VMWare Fusion.

Admittedly, this isn’t the most automated system I’ve ever created. It is however, one of the simplest.

When you get a new weekly report, open the CSV file, and then copy and paste special the values only into the worksheet “LoseIt Diet Log – Master”. Refresh the workbook and voila! You’re good to go.

I’ll be going over exactly how this tool works in my course, but for those of you who can figure stuff out in Excel pretty well on your own, just explore it a bit. If you have questions, leave them in the comments and I’ll be sure to help you get unstuck, or at least point you in the right direction.

As you’ll notice, I haven’t done a whole lot to analyze my diet yet. I’m no nutritionist, but I can already see a daily breakdown of my caloric intake based on the meal. I can also see the trends based on days of the week, as well as fluctuations over time.

So what’s this all for?

Again, I haven’t done much with the data yet, but I’m open to suggestions.

One thing that did change my behavior slightly though. I have my LoseIt account linked up to my Withings WiFi scale (more on that in a later post). What was really cool is that my daily calorie budget automatically adjusted to a lower number in order to maintain my weight of 138. I didn’t even realize it was doing this at first, but it was pretty cool.

It’s a self-correcting system that keeps me at the weight I want. I can go about my day, see how many calories I have left to consume, and make better eating decisions to make sure I don’t go over my daily budget).

P.S. If you’re on LoseIt feel free to add me as a friend. It’s been a solitary thing for me, and I wouldn’t mind the company :).

Subways Have Schedules?!?

Have you ever left your home in a hurry, only to arrive at the train station and discover that your train doesn’t get there for another 8 minutes?

I don’t know about you, but this was one of life’s little nuisances I was hoping to do without, thank you very much.

Having grown up in Manhattan, I had become accustomed to the idea that subways arrive at random, unpredictable times, and that part of the New York experience involves sitting around and waiting for them. And let’s not forget the added bonus in the summer of getting to sweat profusely as you enter the sauna…I mean station.

Side note: Anyone else feel like taking the stairs down into the subway moves you a few miles closer to the earth’s core?

In any event, I was delighted to discover in June of 2012 that there was actually a SCHEDULE of subway trains. Drinks for everyone!!

But hold on a second… how accurate were these schedules? And more importantly, should I make a run for it, or can I calmly enter the station just as my train is pulling in? (Oh how sweet those little victories are)

But before I break out my victory dance, I would have to record and analyze some subway information, I thought to myself. After a bit of searching, I found an iPhone app called Daily Tracker, now called Lumen Trails. A bit pricy ($10 when I purchased it), but what I liked about it was its customization options.

Long story short, every time I took the subway I would track the following 5 data points (separated by commas of course):

Train, station, direction, scheduled time of arrival, minutes late

An example of an entry would be:
A, 42, uptown, 4:52 pm, 3

Note: If a train was early, I would use a - (minus) for the minutes late.

What I discovered a month or two in, was that trains were never more than 3 minutes early, and they were actually surprisingly accurate. Even more shocking, was that the majority of trains actually arrived on time or not more than 2 minutes late. Believe me, nobody was more impressed than I. Thank you MTA, for mobilizing the city that never sleeps, day in, day out.

So you might be thinking, “Woopty frickin’ do Shir!”

If so, you should probably reconsider whether this blogger-bloggee relationship is right for you. (Hint: it’s not)

On the other hand, for those of you who appreciate the punchline of a nerdy joke (such as these), here was some additional significance in my preliminary findings…

  • If I absolutely had to be somewhere on time, I had to make a run for it and arrive at the train station 3 minutes before the scheduled arrival time, otherwise I might not make the train I needed to catch.
  • Not surprisingly, after about 10 pm the scheduled intervals between trains increased significantly, and the reliability of the schedule decreased sharply. Fortunately, I’m not the party animal that I used to be, and I rarely stay out past 11 pm, especially on weekends.
  • During the year that I taught Excel classes via Skillshare, I discovered that there was an unusually high concentration of trains departing at the time I needed to leave. There was a 5:30 pm, a 5:35 pm, and even a 5:38 pm. This had to do with additional trains going to Far Rockaway and Howard Beach. No complaints from me, since each of those times worked beautifully :D.

A couple other notes

While tracking my subway experience in this way wouldn’t provide a comprehensive map of the entire NYC subway system (tear), it would however provide an extremely relevant and personalized series of insights for me. I would be able to tell with a high degree of accuracy how likely a train would be to arrive on time, given my typical subway routines.

What this kind of tracking did for me, was put me at ease and gave me more information with which to base my decisions. That is after all, what Excel is all about. It’s a tool that helps us make better, more informed decisions. You’ll be hearing this a lot from me, so get used to it :).

Some final thoughts

Interestingly enough, I tried exporting the data into an Excel spreadsheet, but never finished. This is true with a lot of my self tracking. I haven’t gotten around to analyzing it in Excel, but I know that when I do I will have a huge amount of useful information.

Don’t worry, as soon as I create the Excel spreadsheets I will provide them here for you to download, completely gratis. Until then, keep your pants on and feel free to start tracking your own data. Don’t forget to leave a comment if you do!

I’m just kidding, pants are always optional when reading this blog.