Developing the 7 digital habits: Habit 7 – Quantify yourself 


This is the last in a series of posts that were prompted by an article written by the Leading Edge Forum entitled The 7 Digital Habits of Highly Effective People.

From the original article:

HABIT 7 – Quantify yourself – It’s thinking Win/Win for you and the organisation – the act of measuring yourself using a fitness tracker or watch, is a good motivator to get yourself into better health habits, for example, not wanting to break a streak (an uninterrupted run of repeating something). Using technology to build up data on yourself as more technology becomes available as well as science to understand it, means you will know more about your health and can take action before it becomes acute – something that is good for you, your organisation and the National Health Service. Covey would say that this is thinking Win/Win. Also measuring your activity online is a great motivator for improvement. For example, when you find out you have spent the equivalent of a day and a half of a working week on email, or a combined total of 5 hours on Facebook, it’s a digital health warning. One antidote to getting to addicted to technology is to try to form a mindfulness habit, driven by one of many apps available e.g. Mindshare, to help your brain fight back against all the distractions.

A few years ago, I went to the doctor suffering with severe headaches. At the time, I thought that they were migraines, but after an examination the doctor told me that they were tension headaches. This type of headache is caused by muscles in your head and neck going into spasm and locking your head like a vice. The doctor’s assessment was that this was the result of poor posture and too much time spent in front of a computer screen. I was then given 30 seconds of advice on how to fix my posture, told to reduce screen time, and then was sent on my way.

Not surprisingly, the headaches continued.

The advice I had been given wasn’t enough to correct over 30 years of poor habits. What followed was a long road of recovery which involved some medical assistance in the form of physiotherapy and the learning of several new habits. This was the first time I came across the concept of the quantified self. (I regard myself as a quantified self amateur, but there’s still plenty we can do as amateurs.)

Changing habits isn’t easy, but one of the best ways to do it is to build new habits that replace old ones. How? Do something repeatably over an extended period. To motivate yourself, set targets and then to measure yourself against them. Some people use wall charts and graphs to do this; I’m a technologist so I use an app on my smartphone. There are nine different activities that I track — some of which I try to do every day, and others just two or three times a week.

I also track my weight and levels of exercise using another app and some of the built-in capabilities of my smartphone. Our smartphones are measuring us all the time whether we use the data or not. These sensors in your smartphone are only a small subset of a growing array of measurement capabilities that are available. Here are a few more:

  • Weight and body fat monitors
  • Blood pressure monitors
  • Blood glucose monitors
  • Blood oxygen monitors
  • Body temperature monitors
  • Sleep monitors
  • Respiration monitors
  • Heart rate monitors
  • Posture monitors
  • Mindfulness monitors

There are many more to come. Sometimes there are medical reasons to use these capabilities, but for many of us the benefits lie in general well-being improvements.

The smartphone though is also part of the problem. From time-to-time, I have done audits on the amount of time that I spend with my neck bent looking at a small screen. This measurement used to require dedicated apps but more recently both Android and iOS have made significant improvements in their native capabilities. Apple iOS, which I tend to use is currently telling me that I pick my phone up about 50 times every day and that I get about 40 notifications per day. You won’t be surprised to know that I spend the most time on social media applications, followed by a music streaming service and a yoga app. There’s no reason for me to receive 40 notifications and knowing this is a nudge to me to tune some of these out of my life.

I once asked a group of people in their twenties to install an app on their smartphone that recorded their activity ahead of a conversation we were going to have about their use of social media. It’s fair to say that several of them were shocked by just how much time they were spending on their devices. When we delved deeper into the apps that they were investing their time in they were doubly-shocked by how much time trivial activity was taking up.

By quantifying ourselves, we can build a set of “nudges” into our lives that encourage us towards well-being. Tracking that we are fulfilling our goal of yoga three times a week nudges us towards doing yoga three times a week. Setting ourselves a heart-rate target while we are exercising nudges us towards that heart-rate.

There are other benefits beyond individual well-being. Some of the information that I record I can also make available to my GP (General Practitioner) so I don’t need to go in to have my blood-pressure tested in an environment where my blood-pressure is always elevated. The GP can see what my blood-pressure was last night at my house, and a few nights before that. In England we’ve recently agreed that digital glucose monitors should be available as part of the national health service which will allow people who are diabetics to track and record their blood sugar levels and also to provide those readings directly to medical professionals. Not only are these results cheaper to get, they are also far more consistent than an occasional visit to a clinic.

Quantifying helps us to move towards personal well-being. Personal well-being is a win for us and a win for the organisation that we work for.


Graham Chastney is a senior principal technologist in DXC. He has worked in the arena of workplace technology for nearly 30 years, starting as a sysprog supporting IBM DISOSS and DEC All-in-1. Latterly Graham has been working with DXC’s customers to help them understand how they exploit the changing world of workplace technology. Graham lives with his family in the United Kingdom.

Twitter: @grahamchastney

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