It was for a research assignment for a user experience course. The task was to pick an activity we did regularly, track it and record the changes, if any, it had on our behavior. So, I tracked every bite of food that went into my mouth for seven days. By the end of the week, not only did my food choices clean up but my weight went down by four pounds.
Prior to the assignment, I had already begun to rethink my relationship with food. However, the act of writing down every piece of food I consumed, seeing the macronutrient total and the ability to get into my pants with out a large inhale, transformed fleeting thoughts into lasting behavioral changes. I had suspected my diet choices could use some tweaking but now I had proof on paper (and on the belt loops).
Seeing=Believing + Sharing=Caring
As cliche as the title above sounds, the potent combination of seeing every food choice listed each day paired with the knowledge that I would have to share them to a group of classmates, made me clean up my act. Monday, I passed on the coffee creamer. On Tuesday, I had one less piece of toast. By Wednesday, I skipped the morning toast completely. Day by the day, seeing the small drop in my weight made a believer out of me. While the idea of having to share my entire weekly food intake made me care about it all the more. I didn’t want to look like Boss Hog, literally and figuratively (pun intended).
Food, Quickbooks, Exercise, or Facebook.
Almost anything task or activity can be tracked and transformed. I have also done this with my work day, tracking every task I did during business hours. I listed everything from actual work, to reading industry blogs, reacting to email, responding to call/texts, Facebook, Quickbooks, trips to the water closet, everything!
The results were a swift punch square in the nose. I discovered how much time was allocated to email, calls and other so called “work tasks” such as keeping up with industry news and connecting on social networks. It showed me where most of my time went and gave me a good visual guide to what tasks I was most productive and what times this seemed to happen.
In addition to tracking specific actions, like the food experiment, I’ve also tracked general behaviors such as all of my work day actions. I’ve tracked general behaviors these two ways.
One with a piece of paper divided into three categories: bad, good and better. I then recorded each action and intuitively categorized them by how it made me feel when writing it down.
I have also tried a Covey-esque four quadrant matrix on a piece of paper. I divided it by tasks that were important and urgent (deadlines and bills), urgent not important (many emails and reoccurring meetings), important not urgent (marketing, new product development and business strategy), and not urgent and not important (some emails, mosts chats, and 99% of everything Facebook).
I find both methods are effective but it’s the two simple actions of recording each behavior and making a note of how they made you feel being the most important. So whatever you do, just try to track those two at a minimum.
The first few days of work behavior tracking were rough as it showed me all my work day warts. However, like the food experiment, by day four my behavior began to change and my time choices improved. Gone was the ichat and email was regulated to only specific times of the day. Again, every small change and better choice made each day a bit more productive. Thus, more productive days add up to a more fulfilling week.
Tracking behaviors is a very simple method that anyone can implement immediately. It can promote change or simply discover the how, what or why behind a behavior . All you need is a clean sheet of paper, a competent writing tool and a chosen behavior or action to track. So, track the coffee habit you’d like to change or find out if Instagram is snapping up your free time. You can also have fun with it. Listen to jazz during the morning commute or actually take a lunch break away from the desk for a week straight. Each day, just track the action and how it make you feel. Whatever you chose, if done with regularity, you will see results and the results will make you believe—things can change.
Pick one specific behavior you’d like to change or at least find some insights behind it.
Track every time you preform that behavior. You can include the time and place if you’d like. Do it for at least a week.
Compare and contrast any changes such as frequency, elevated mood or shift in behavior performance (these will obviously vary depending on what’s being tracked)
Have fun with it. Pick something you’d be excited to change or learn more about.