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August 7, 2016 AT 12:33 pm

Leisure Goals and Tracking

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The Wall Street Journal offers a fresh way of looking at quantified self tracking data. Using the data to optimize relaxation. The Hidden Cost of Personal Quantification study claims the opposite “measurement can make enjoyable activities feel more like work”, but there seems to be a happy compromise with non-quantitative data such as pictures.

Via WSJ:

What makes a vacation successful? For some, the answer lies in the data.

The “Quantified Self” movement—whose adherents track much of their daily lives using smartphones and wearable technology such as Fitbits—is heading off on holiday. Life-logging was once relegated to counting footsteps, but more people are now using personalized data to help them unwind more efficiently, setting and tracking leisure goals such as limiting computer use and optimizing relaxation while they are away.

“If one of the reasons you go on vacation is to recharge your batteries, then shouldn’t you be tracking the levels of your batteries too?” asks Michael Schrage, a fellow at the MIT Center for Digital Business.

Last year, Fitbit alone sold 21.4 million connected health and fitness devices and reported revenue of $1.86 billion. Self-trackers say that their devices and smartphone apps encourage them to be more “present” and intentional about how they spend their time. “People are drawn to data because numbers are a less judgmental reflection of who we are, which makes them easier to accept and interact with,” says Steven Jonas, a senior editor of the website Quantified Self Labs.

Vacations may provide a unique opportunity for tracking because our holiday-making selves are already primed to self-reflect. Mining the data behind our behavior can yield personal insights and help us let go of patterns that hold us back from really enjoying our time away.

Last year, Fitbit alone sold 21.4 million connected health and fitness devices and reported revenue of $1.86 billion. Self-trackers say that their devices and smartphone apps encourage them to be more “present” and intentional about how they spend their time. “People are drawn to data because numbers are a less judgmental reflection of who we are, which makes them easier to accept and interact with,” saysSteven Jonas, a senior editor of the website Quantified Self Labs.

Vacations may provide a unique opportunity for tracking because our holiday-making selves are already primed to self-reflect. Mining the data behind our behavior can yield personal insights and help us let go of patterns that hold us back from really enjoying our time away.

When visiting family, self-tracker Ernesto Ramirez aims to keep his computer use to two hours a day so he can be more present. With the time-management software RescueTime, he can limit his email use and restrict or block websites he labels “unproductive,” like social-networking sites. RescueTime keeps score of how close you get to your goal—and, Mr. Ramirez says, helps to clarify how we actually spend our time.

Self-tracking can also inform vacation decisions, like how best to use your leisure time. Mr. Jonas has used a sports training app called HRV4Training, which measures heart-rate variability, to quantify how stressed his body is on any given vacation day. “If my morning reading shows that I’m stressed, then I know not to push myself, maybe skip the big hike and leave more time that day for reading,” he says.

Still, a recent study suggests a hidden cost to tracking leisure time. In a series of six experiments published earlier this year in the Journal of Consumer Research, researchers found that activities like reading, coloring or walking can feel more like work when tracked. In one study, researchers asked 105 university students to color shapes for 10 minutes; one group’s coloring was quantified, the other’s wasn’t. The group whose output was measured produced more but rated the activity as less enjoyable than those who weren’t tracked. “When we do things we like, we’re intrinsically motivated,” says lead researcher Jordan Etkin, “but when we start measuring outcomes, then we become extrinsically motivated, which can reduce pleasure.”

To avoid this risk, Gina Neff, a fellow at the Oxford Internet Institute and a co-author of “Self-Tracking,” suggests using “non-quantitative” tracking. If your vacation goal is to eat healthier, instead of tracking calories, take photos of your plate before each meal and note the colors and the portions. “Looking at these photos over time,” says Dr. Neff, “can provide a powerful way of changing eating habits.”

On her last vacation, Dr. Neff planned to jump-start an exercise regimen she could continue at home. Through photos, she tracked the little nudges that inspired her to swim laps for 45 minutes, such as the satisfied smile she captured on her phone after each swim. She says, “When I look back at these photos and see that smile, it motivates me to stick to my swimming routine, even when life gets busy.”

Paul Abramson, a primary care physician in San Francisco, prescribes vacation self-tracking experiments to patients whose symptoms could be environmentally related, like mold, or stress-related, like a demanding boss or teenager. Using the health app Mymee, he and his patients customize which symptoms to track and how. If the patient gets better on vacation and then reverts to old symptoms at home, he has insight into potential causes.

With self-tracking, the data isn’t the end point, says Dr. Abramson. It is a way to trigger better conversations with yourself and others.

—Ms. Wallace is a writer in New York.


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