I was on the other side of the world in a suburb called Etobicoke, about 30 minutes from Toronto in Canada. It was 27th June 2019, and we had arrived at my brother-in-law's place. My wife Sarah and I had travelled the 30+ hours from Melbourne, Australia, with our two kids, Raphael (21 months) and Clementine (9 months). We intended to spend the next five weeks based there to give our kids a great experience while I worked remotely and launched a campaign in New York City.
On reflection, this day was my lowest score out of the last 365. I remember vividly through the haze of jet lag, very little sleep, multi-angle stresses, a few wines and the constant question that I kept asking myself:
"Daniel, what have you done?"
But let me first tell you about how this score came to be.
In the last 12 months, I have very much taken on the theme of measure what matters, maybe too far in some people's view. But if you were like me, knowledge-rich and execution poor, I wanted to find out more about myself and if I could crack my code to sustainable high performance.
This was my first learning; I didn't know what sustainable high performance was for me. This is the difference between theory and implementation.
I was obsessed with the tips and tricks, hints, strategies and lessons that can be heard on the world's best podcasts or read in the top-rated books, articles, and blogs. I would look for any little nugget that could help you get ahead. But very rarely would I implement it. I would often find myself looking for the next little nugget and 'taking note' rather than spending the time working out a way to realise the benefit of it.
So, with inspiration from the great George Costanza from the Seinfeld episode The Opposite: "If what I was doing was wrong, the opposite must be right!" Also influenced by my obsession with Tim Ferriss, who is renowned for lifelong human experimentation, I went on a mission to measure what I did, rather than what I knew.
Over 12 months, I gathered 5,430 data points on my life, across all elements of the life wheel that is mentioned here. On average, this was 15 data points a day, a combination of ratings on specific questions, updating progress on my most important goals and logging the numbers of my key metrics.
Overall, I had 74 indicators that I was measuring, but not all measured at once. It was a combination of daily, weekly, fortnightly and monthly. 'How I was feeling' was a daily rating, 'the number of date nights' was a monthly metric.
Every day I would receive two pulse requests on my phone, one in the morning and one in the evening which asked me a series of questions that took no longer than 30 seconds to respond to and make the occasional qualitative comment.
I would then log my key activities and update my goal progress on average every second day. For all of these data points, a score was calculated using a series of algorithms (for too sophisticated and smart for me to attempt to describe) to produce a score.
My overall score vs fitness and health over 12 months
A breakdown of some of the key sources of data and how I tracked them is below:
Garmin Forerunner 235 + Apple Health to track my steps, exercise minutes and sleep.
Calm & Apple Health to track my mindfulness minutes. There wasn't many mind you!
Lifesum + Apple Health to track my kilojoules consumed. I did this for six months for every meal and drink every day.
iPhone 8 + iPad to track my screen time and device pickups.
Everperform to integrate all of the data above and to capture pulse ratings, goal progress, and the remaining KPI metrics like date nights.
So for this small investment of time, here is what I learnt about myself over the life of the experiment. The good, the bad and the ugly!
My exercise duration increased by 371% compared to the previous 12 months, but I didn't work out every day and even had full weeks without any exercise at all.
My sleep increased by 11% compared to the previous 12 months, even with the birth of my daughter Cleo.
I had an increase of 20% more steps than the previous 12 months.
There were four days throughout the year when I rated 'how I was feeling' at 0 out of 5 (one of those being the sudden death of my brother-in-law) versus 15 days when I rated 5 out of 5 (one of those being the birth of my daughter).
On one day, I picked up my phone 129 times. I was awake for 16 hours and 48 minutes that day, which meant that I was picking up my phone every 7.6 minutes. Ridiculous!
There were only 42 days between my highest score (72.59) and the lowest score over the year. From 27th June, it took 59 days to get to my next highest day (38.93).
My most active day of the week was Tuesday.
For every ten phone pickups, I sleep 5 minutes less.
For every one standard drink, I sleep 12 minutes longer.
My sleep hours trend over 12 months
And here is what I learnt that changed my beliefs and habits
It is tough to measure yourself like this for 12 months, so I cut back. It pushed me to keep the discipline of responding to the requests daily, and I found that on the days that I wasn't feeling 100%, I would be more likely to ignore the requests. For the most part, I was diligent, however every two weeks or so I would lapse for a day. Ironically, this was most frequent around 27th June 2019.
In saying that though, it was the underlying motivation to learn about myself that kept bringing me back to investing even that small amount of time. From that, I was able to learn so much about myself that I otherwise wouldn't have. Here were some of my own little 'nuggets' that I didn't need to read or listen to anyone else to impart their wisdom on me.
52 minutes of exercise is my optimal duration per day if I want to maximise how I feel and think clearly
Riding my bike to work enabled me to break one of the hardest 'mental' habits I had, feeling guilty that I wasn't at home supporting my wife when I exercised.
Exercise minutes over 12 months
Committing to come home on a Tuesday afternoon to spend day time with my kids and give Sarah some 'free' time, I was only able to achieve 33 out of 52 weeks. In the weeks that I did this, my relationship score was highest.
I analysed my work score and observed that when my engagement was low due to low office hours, travel, etc. My reliance on systems increased. When these systems and the operational cycle (standups) discipline was low, this led to my lowest work scores overall. Our ability to get back to this cycle was the easiest way to increase this score quickly.
65 is the new 100. For me, 65 equates to sustainable high performance. When I see the daily score of 65, it validates for me that I am in balance overall, and my areas of focus align with my areas of activity.
My best day is not a one size fits all recipe. The data showed me that doing the same thing every day would not have led to the highest score. The strongest predictor of my score was whether the activities and metrics aligned to the focus area I identified that week. For example, Sarah's birthday is on 27th April, so for that week, my relationship focus was high, and as a result of my Relationship score overall increased by 50% around the time of her birthday.
But the trade-off was Health and Fitness as it dropped off 43% in the same period.
Number of date nights over the 12 months
So what do I take into 2020
Firstly, I am proud of what I have learnt about myself this year. In particular, when I was questioning the decision to travel to Canada with my young family, to push through and make it work was both challenging yet rewarding in the end. Some of the best moments came from that time, and that is a great time to reflect on.
One of the most memorable phrases for me from 2019 for me was in the days after ex-AFL player Danny Frawley passed away, and Wayne Schwass who delivered a moving tribute to Danny said:
"You see my health and well being is ultimately my responsibility. It's up to me to stay healthy and well. It's a daily responsibility and commitment."
For me, that translates to the daily responsibility I have for all of the elements of the life wheel. It doesn't mean that I need to ensure all eight parts are maxed out; responsibility is exactly that, be responsible. That includes doing nothing in one element to ensure you can dedicate your focus to another (take Sarah's birthday as an example).
By no means do I feel like I have life worked out. I sit here today a little weary, scratching my head and trying to work out why Raphie decided to throw himself out of his cot repeatedly at 2:30 am this morning.
Life is a journey, and I am taking the wins (3.71X is a massive one that I never thought I could do) and the next challenge to overcome (Raphie!) as they present.
2020 will be another year of measurement, why would I stop learning this about myself and fall back into the state of being too busy to notice. Taking a similar approach consisting of a weekly cadence of focusing on 3 elements of the life wheel at a time, knowing that I can't maximise them all, but reaching performance in those three focus areas is what sustainable high performance means me. I will have days like the 27th June 2019, and I will need my data 'holidays' at stages I am sure. I will also have the belief that it will only be temporary, and if partake in exercise, supporting my wife, spend time with my kids, or do something to help someone else I will fast track my way back to a better score, and a better feeling. Right now, this is my formula that leads to better performance.
So what does this mean for you?
Careful now! This is what I've learnt about me. I love the title of Chapter 4 from Jordan Peterson's book 12 Rules of Life, 'Compare Yourself to Who You Were Yesterday, Not Who Someone Else is Today'.
The results, insights and life tweaks have all been driven by my data. They probably won't work for you. However, the process might, and I would encourage anyone courageous enough to ask themselves some uncomfortable questions in the name of improving yourself, whatever that means for you. I'm here to encourage you to make that first step. Measure what matters, start with you! For what it is worth, my score today is 63.
If you would like to see my data or find out more about anything related to this, I am more than happy to share in the name of helping you improve. Just drop me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.