Logging

by Mr. Cheap

I often say that when you can measure what you are speaking about, and express it in numbers, you know something about it; but when you cannot measure it, when you cannot express it in numbers, your knowledge is of a meagre and unsatisfactory kind.
-Lord Kelvin

One of the most important first step before making any change in your life is to figure out how to measure it. Its so easy to delude ourselves. I’ve found coming up with an objective measure, then referring to it in order to gauge progress, is the right way to move forward with most goals in life. Logging, measuring something regularly and recording it, is an excellent way to do this.

When I was first losing weight, I would weigh myself every day. Some weight-loss approaches caution against this, as your weight will fluctuate because of things like how much water is in your system, when in the day you weigh yourself or how recently you’ve eaten. In The Hacker’s Diet, John Walker acknowledges this difficulty, but instead of giving up on measurement, he proposes a useful correction, namely to use a 10 day moving average. This is a known approach for removing the jitter (small erratic movements in mostly random directions) from data and seeing what the trend is (some people use a similar technique for “predicting” if the stock market or an individual stock is moving up or down).

Calorie count does the math for you and lets you enter your weight every day. Then they’ll provide the trend line (I used it before it was bought by about.com, no idea if its still good or not).

I credit my daily weighings and being able to constantly evaluate whether I was losing weight (and how quickly I was losing it) as being key to my weight loss. I tried the same approach when I wanted to reduce my living expenses, and was able to drop them from about $2,300 / month to around $1,300 / month.

I’m currently tracking my networth, and every month I can see how I’m doing at general wealth accumulation. I also track my passive income every month, and am looking forward to the day when it matches my living expenses.

I sometimes wonder if I’d had more metrics when I was starting my company if I might have done better. If I’d committed to trying to connect with X new customers each week, or grow billable revenue by Y% each month, it might have kept me focused on the more important aspects of the business.

Any changes in your life that you can’t think of how to log (I’m happy to make suggestions)? Have you ever used logging to enact change in your life?

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{ 10 comments… read them below or add one }

1 guinness416

Your site killed my original opus! I’ll try again.

I keep net worth too and asset allocation tallies, albeit somewhat erratically, as well as misc work-related data on a jump drive for quick addition to my resume in the case I’m fired tomorrow. I love spreadsheets, use them every day for work, and have myriad stupid google docs going at any one time.

Unlike yourself, the one thing that never took with me though is tracking weight/food/fitness type stuff. Despite the fact that Canada is going to make me fat (up almost 20lb since moving from NYC!) I can’t see food as numbers, and the cook in the household wouldn’t stand for it either.

2 Mr. Cheap

guinness: I suspect our site is turning bad. It says it killed your post just to watch it die. Yikes!

Its definitely easier when you’re just feeding one person to make major dietary changes.

I’m a spreadsheet junkie too!

3 nobleea

I too enter all the financial information in to the requisite spreadsheets monthly. And yes, there is some erratic movements in certain accounts.

Do you guys use any ratios/metrics to track the net worth/finances other than pure numbers? I’ve read that debt/asset ratio is a good number (strive for under 0.5?), the % of your net worth that is in your personal residence (less is better), your debt to equity ratio (or debt to net worth, again less is better).

4 Four Pillars

I’m a spreadsheet junkie for sure! I have tons of financial info/blog stuff on spreadsheets. I do all my planning on spreadsheets.

Nobleea – I don’t keep track of any ratios. Ratios imply rule-of-thumbs which I tend not to worry about given the amount of analysis I do on my personal financial situation. My goal with respect to debt is to get it to zero – my goal with retirement assets is to get it high enough so I can live off it.

5 Squawkfox

I live in BC, in the middle of a forest. When I read “Logging” I thunk you was blogging about deforestation. I digress.

I track everything. I am obsessive about checklists, metrics, and dog hair. Dog hair being the hardest to track, by far.

6 Mr. Cheap

Squawkfox: Hmm… I promised to make suggestions for measuring things. Maybe weight for dog hair? Why are you tracking it (are you doing some sort of craft project with it or do you just want to know how angry you should be at the dog causing you additional house-keeping)?

7 Mrs Pillars

I was obsessed about accounting for every penny until Mike came along and disrupted my quiet life. Now I am happy to account for most expenses and leave a larger “misc” category for incidentals.

Keeping close track of my spending made me aware of how much impact it had to have a book buying addiction and having lunch with colleagues, etc. It gave me the opportunity to assess my priorities. You’ll be happy to hear that the book buying addiction is a thing of the past.

8 Mr. Cheap

Mrs. Pillars: Mike’s corrupting you! ;-) I fluctuate between accounting for every penny and try to just keep an eye on the “broad bush-strokes”.

Like yourself, I find accounting for every penny lets me see how individual choices are affecting my finances (but it can be a bit of a pain).

Usually I’ll track every penny for a couple of months, then just follow the general trends until I start worrying something is costing me too much day-to-day.

I totally understand the book buying addiction (and am a reformed addict), but its just so expensive and space-consuming!

9 Squawkfox

@Cheap I use the hair to track where she’s been sleeping. :D I use the dustbuster to do the count. :D

I too am a reformed book buying addict. I love books. Books are tangible. The are real. I have found wallet relief by rediscovering the library. My small town library is actually quite good…but nothing like the shelves in bigger cities.

10 Four Pillars

I agree with Squawk – I initially thought it was a logging (as in trees) post as well… :)

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