The more we know about ourselves, the better off we’ll be. In order to find out more about ourselves, we need to collect data. Therein lies the stumbling point for most self-improvement projects. We simply lack the discipline to record this data over time. We forget once, and then we forget again, and that marks the end of our efforts.
Our computers and smartphones have made the data recording process easier, since they provide digital interfaces that we are around constantly. In other words, there is no pen and paper to lug around to record every bit of data we need. Yet many people still stumble when collecting data about themselves.
To combat this inherent human laziness, many developers have created apps that automatically track our behavior. That takes out the largest obstacle on our quest for better data about our habits and lives. Here are a few apps that can automatically take care of the data recording process.
Perhaps the best known and most-used financial software, Mint.com makes financial planning nearly effortless. Instead of recording our every expenditure, you instead enter your bank and credit card information into the Mint.com interface. The app can then see when you enact a transaction and adjusts your numbers accordingly. It brings together your financial life in ways that other, non-automatic apps simply cannot.
Best of all, Mint.com provides graphs that track your spending. Those visuals make a big difference. A list of transactions with numbers next to them can be intimidating, especially if the numbers are big. But looking at the data in graphical form can provide people with insights that they otherwise would not come across. While everyone would benefit from tracking their spending manually — plastic culture has made us less aware of our expenditures because we are disconnected from our cash — Mint.com’s automation is the next best alternative.
There are plenty of apps that track your fitness. When it comes to running there are so many that will use your smartphone’s GPS unit to track your mileage, your times, and your routes. Nike+ does that as well as any other app, but it has a few perks that other apps do not have.
Specifically, Nike+ has the Fuelband, which goes a long way in automating the process. Instead of merely tracking your running data, it tracks your fitness data. Move around a lot during the day? You’ll get positive feedback from the Fuelband. Sit on the couch and watch TV? That will be reflected in the app without you having to manually enter anything.
The Fuelband has a long way to go in measuring overall fitness. But it can measure how active you are throughout the day, which can help you get motivated to get more active. Apps that require you to manually input data don’t have that advantage.
Most of us spend too much time surfing the internet. We all have computers at our desks at work, and we all succumb to the temptation to surf from time to time. Some of us succumb more than others. While we can gain information and knowledge from surfing, it is mostly a time suck. We’d all be better off cutting down. It’s not an easy habit to kick, but there are plugins that can automatically track our browsing habits.
TimeTracker for Firefox is a simple plugin that simply tells you how much time you’ve been browsing around. How you use that data is up to you. But it can shed a light on how much time you waste every day. Think about how you can use that time in more productive ways. It’s one of the most effective ways of changing such a wasteful habit.
Traveling is a headache to begin with, but when you add in the possibility for delays it becomes an even bigger pain. Even worse is when your flight is delay for non-obvious reasons. A snowstorm at your departing airport might be obvious enough, but what about windy conditions at your destination? What about an issue on the jetway there? There are any number of conditions that can cause a flight delay, even if everything seems peachy keen on the surface.
Apps such as FlightView keep you up to date with automatic alerts for your flight. Flight cancelled? Stay home and rebook over the phone. Delayed forever? Spend your time in an airport bar rather than waiting by the gate for the next announcement.