This is a guest post by Joe Pawlikowski.
If you’re not familiar with the quantified self, you’re missing out on one of the most beneficial modern movements. The idea is remarkably simple: collect and analyze data about your habits and behaviors in an attempt to change them. Quantified self practitioners have shed mounds of fat, saved thousands of dollars, and have otherwise changed dozens of other poor habits and behaviors.
The biggest key to success with the quantified self is the mere act of collecting data. It’s so easy to forget to record that latest purchase or write down what you ate for a day. Thankfully, our iDevices can make things easier. Since they’re always with us, we can use them to instantly record habits and behaviors. That gives us accurate data, and it’s with accurate data that we can effect change.
Here are five apps I’ve used with great success in the quantified self movement.
My Fitness Pal (free)
Last year I lost 40 pounds and am at my lowest weight since high school. It took a ton of focus and even more guesswork. That’s because I didn’t have an apparatus to record the meals I ate and the exercises I performed. When I gained five pounds last summer, I decided to try something different. My Fitness Pal was a great solution.
The app is ridiculously simple. After setting your current and target weights, and then a weekly goal, you log all the food you eat throughout the day. My Fitness Pal has a food database of over 1.2 million products, and you can even scan the barcode. Additionally, if you cook with recipes you can enter in the ingredients and then calculate nutrition information for the whole meal. Then you plot all of your exercise against it, giving you a net caloric intake for the day. Meet your goal every day and you’ll see the fat melt away.
What I love most about this is that all the information is stored in My Fitness Pal’s cloud, so you can use it wherever you are. That is, you can use the iPhone app, the iPad app, and the website. It will display the same data at all times.
Easy Spending (99 cents) and Mint.com (free)
Ever feel as though your spending habits are out of control? These days, with debit and credit cards, we’re quite disconnected from our money. It’s not an actual physical thing any more, but rather just a number that a bank stores for us. The most effective way to control spending habits is to become more aware of them. That’s where these two apps come into play.
Easy Spending is a straight forward app that allows you to make a record of every time you spend money. To to the store to get something? Make sure you log it. That will make you aware that you are spending the money, and that will perhaps make you reluctant to spend too much. This is the same method that John D. Rockefeller used to keep his own spending in check — though he obviously had to use a pen and paper.
Mint.com provides another excellent service. It connects to all of your bank accounts and gives you instant updates on balances. You can calculate your net worth and set budgets. By categorizing your spending with this app — using Easy Spending as a guide — you can make sure you keep your spending habits in check. That will help your bank account grow considerably.
Since graduating college reading has become very important to me. Yet I find myself lazing off sometimes and not keeping up with my regimen. I have found, though, that when I talk to friends about books that I’m more motivated to read even more. That’s what I essentially get with Goodreads. It might not be a genuine face-to-face conversation, but it provides plenty of motivation.
The key to this app is networking. If you have friends on Goodreads, it becomes all the better. The app shows you what they’ve been reading, and their progress through their books. As you read through your library, they too see yours. You can then read their reviews and leave your own. Since I installed Goodreads I haven’t noticed a lull in my reading. I’m always moving forward.
Even better, since I know what my friends have been reading, we can make easy conversation when we see each other. And, of course, I can get great recommendations for what to read next.
OK, maybe this isn’t the most productive app, but it’s certainly interesting. As a beer lover, I want to always be trying new brews. With the microbrew revolution fully under way, this is easier than ever. But by connecting to my friends on Untappd, it’s even easier still. I can see what they’re drinking and see their ratings. That gives me ideas for new brews to try.
Even better, it keeps a log of the beers you try, which you can examine in many ways. I had a friend who used Untappd to track the 366 unique beers he drank in the last 366 days. Again, perhaps not the healthiest habit, but if you enjoy fine beers it’s a must-have app.
These, of course, are five apps I use for my quantified self. There are dozens, even hundreds (maybe thousands) of apps in the App Store that can get you started. With the tools right in front of you, why not take a journey to your own quantified self?
Joe Pawlikowski writes about technology, baseball, and other miscellany around the web. He writes about telecommuting and other work issues at A New Level.