Life-tracking: not quite right yet

I’ve been doing some sort of “life-tracking” with websites, apps, or pen and paper for years. In some ways, it started when I wrote my first diary entry at age 9. Now it’s a way of keeping track of different bits of information related to my health. What I want, ultimately, is to understand myself better so that I can be more physically and emotionally fit.

At the moment, I’m using these apps on my Android phone:

  • Migraine Buddy (despite the name, I’m mostly tracking sinus headaches)
  • Daylio (daily mood journal)
  • Accupedo (a basic pedometer)
  • Google Fit (it came with a system update. I’m still so-so about it, but I do like the minutes/day activity tracking.)
  • Clue (menstrual cycle tracking; I’ve also recently tried Planned Parenthood’s Spot On.)
  • Sleep Better (sleep tracking)

I’ve tried many more, including a few types I’m not using now.[1]Notably, diet, bicycle rides, and depression. I’d like to something for tracking weight-lifting, which I just started. Instead: Google Sheets. They all have their pluses and minuses, but there’s a few commonalities that make the system as a whole feel not quite right.

Apps don’t ask for the right information. I’ve been using the same sleep tracking app for over a year. It’s great that it detects movement and times my alarm accordingly. But the other stuff it asks me about (exercise, caffeine, alcohol, stressful day, not-my-bed, ate late) don’t seem to correlate with any patterns of good or bad sleep. Nor do the phases of the moon, which it’s also tracking. So I’m not able to change anything to get better sleep; I just know when it was bad.

Conversely, it asks about dreams, but in a way that implies a single dream per night. The heck?

Clue, which in many other ways I love, fits moods into 4 tiny boxes, including “PMS”, which yo: if I was paying attention enough to identify that this feeling was PMS, I might not actually need the app?

Migraine Buddy tries to get me to track potential triggers all the time, but I can never figure out which day it’s asking about.[2]It’s gotten better about displaying this. Honestly, I’ve been really impressed by the leaps forward in Migraine Buddy.

Meanwhile, I’m recording the same information across multiple apps. Is my mood related to my headache? My menstrual cycle? My sleep patterns? Is my headache related to my mood? Did my exercise help with my cramps?

I like that Daylio allows me to add in as many different events/factors that might relate to mood as I want (with cute icons, even), but there’s no cross-app format or API that when I add a headache in Migraine Buddy, it automatically fills in the bubble in Daylio. Or when I add today’s general mood in Daylio, it would absolutely help to have it shared over to my period-tracker.

Migraine Buddy is tracking my sleep automatically, allegedly, but it’s much wonkier than what I get from Sleep Better. I’d much rather use Sleep Better’s data to feed Migraine Buddy.

Because I prefer having different apps that are good at what they do, rather than having a single app try to do all the things. As with Migraine Buddy’s sleep tracking wonkiness; on the other hand, it’s great at asking me where on my head it hurts, and what things I’ve tried to make it not hurt.

It’s not an app, but I’ve been using Monthly Info for almost a decade, and it’s perfect at one thing: when is my period likely to start, and within what range of dates, because it’s got enough data that it can even calculate my standard deviation. I can make choices based on that information.

What I really want is a standard format for life-tracking data and the ability to tell apps how to share with each other. So that maybe I can see patterns I’m not getting now. Maybe I can make better choices, or understand the effects of the choices I’m making.

Unfortunately, that level of open sharing probably doesn’t match anybody’s business model.


1 Notably, diet, bicycle rides, and depression. I’d like to something for tracking weight-lifting, which I just started. Instead: Google Sheets.
2 It’s gotten better about displaying this. Honestly, I’ve been really impressed by the leaps forward in Migraine Buddy.

Realizations through Learning UX

Editor’s note: This post was originally published on Medium. We welcome Talisha to The Interconnected and thank her for being willing to republish her article here!

My classmates and I the first day in Digital Experience Design class
My classmates and I the first day in Digital Experience Design class

This past Monday, in my Digital Experience Design class, we were completing a group exercise. As students, we were collaborating to create an affinity diagram based on what we hoped to learn in the class this semester. Since I had previous taken a class with the professor, I knew this was the goal. However, the rest of my classmates did not. To them, we were just following the professors instructions of putting ideas on sticky notes and figuring out the best way to implement structure and hierarchy in a way that pleased the professor.

At one point a classmate said something along the lines of… I don’t know what to do, as I don’t know what the outcome should be, what is the purpose of this exercise? Immediately that struck a cord with me as I had the same thoughts only two semesters prior. I played along and didn’t share with the others what I knew. Then another classmate asked the professor how he wanted us to implement the structure. To which the professor called on me to answer that student’s question; essentially revealing that I understood something they did not.

At that moment I came to a realization.

I’ve been interested and learning about User Experience Design(UX) since around 2012. I have a good foundation of what UX is, the reasoning behind it, the power and impact it has and how it has been changing over the years. Despite this, I am still a beginner or at least am perceived as such. If you asked me to explain what I do, the way I articulate this, would not sound like someone who has been at it since 2012. You might be wondering how can that be when your acquisition of knowledge has been over 4 years in the making? Well, it’s quite simple.

I had not been regularly practicing or speaking to what I know.

If I had been applying and sharing my knowledge about UX every day for the past 4 years I might be considered a mid level designer at this point.

So what does that have to do with learning UX?

I have found that one of the best ways to learn and practice any skill is to teach it! You don’t have to be an expert nor do you need to have a degree to be a teacher. You just have to know more than the next person. Maybe, you don’t even have to know more, just know something that the next person does not. In class that day, I was no expert. My classmates are for the most part, on the same level professionally as I am. For that brief moment, the professor called on me to share my knowledge from a previous class with my peers. It was something small, but I taught them something that they will need to remember and practice themselves throughout the rest of the course. In this way I was able to practice my knowledge and articulate it. The fact that I did this will help solidify that concept for me to refer to in the future.

Learning also comes with being self-aware when you share your knowledge. You may not say things exactly right when you teach them to someone for the first time. However, being aware of this will help you improve it for the next time. So get out there and share knowledge as you are learning. Teach others as often as you can*. I will be doing the same. In this way you can add value and as a result start to be perceived as an expert in some area. Being able to clearly communicate what you do will also help to get your new career in UX moving.

*Don’t be arrogant. Apply your knowledge where appropriate or when asked. Don’t force yourself into a conversation to try to impress and seem like an expert. Be humble and add value where you can. Honey attracts more bees than vinegar.

Good luck!

Two lessons, more than two bricks.

I am a shitty estimator.

It’s important to know your weaknesses.

For example, we had a brick patio in the back yard that led up to a wooden deck. I estimated I could tear the whole thing out and replace it in a couple of weekends.

My husband laughed.

Now it’s important to note that he is absolutely not the handy one in the house. I own the tools, I use them. Most importantly, I’m allowed to go stand in 95° heat with 90% humidity, while he, with various medical conditions, is not.

So when I say “I can tear down…” I do mean “I”. There’s no help here, there’s no mouse in my pocket.

Compromise and communication are key in big projects. I compromised; we hired a contractor to tear down and replace the deck. But the contractor didn’t do hardscaping, so either we had to tear out the patio or pay someone else to do it.

I figured I could tear out the patio and save us some money. There were what? A couple hundred bricks? I could probably tear them all out in a weekend or two, even if my two Jack Russel Terriers insisted on “helping”. We had all summer before the deck replacement was scheduled.

Since the Terrier Dirt Relocation Committee had already dug out under the vinyl fence twice this summer, I decided that I could tear out all the bricks and use them to line the fence and save us both fencing costs and brick removal costs by doing it myself.

And I estimated poorly.

Kaylee explores the brickwork
Kaylee explores the brickwork

After two hot summer weekends of pulling bricks, piling them in a garden cart, then lining them up under the fence edge, I had fully secured the yard’s perimeter… and removed approximately 1/3 of the bricks.

And then one Friday afternoon I realized that hey, the deck folks were going to be here in 10 days and I still had 2/3 of a patio.

So I moved the wood pile in the back yard. I built it a brick base, put the wood back in the pile, and constructed a brick wall around it to keep certain vole-chasing terriers from climbing it.

That left me with half a patio. And sore arms. And a half-laughing, half-concerned husband.

The next seven days after that are a blur of 97° heat with indexes over 110, bottles of water, and trips back and forth from the patio to the rapidly-growing stack of bricks near the wood pile. And picking up bricks, and setting down bricks. And throwing the ball for the Terrier Amusement Team, who firmly believed they were training me to be a better hunter. And did I mention the bricks?

Finally at one point 3/4 of the way through the project I said, “I wonder how many bricks this actually is,” and I counted.

Lesson one: Some projects we would never take on if we knew how many bricks we had.

My patio was 98 paving long by 38 bricks wide. That’s 3,724 bricks. They weighed in at 6lbs per brick. That’s just over 22,000 lbs of bricks, or 11 tons.

By the time I estimated the size of the project, I had already been hit by 8 tons of bricks. And I had 3 tons to go.

So on one hand, I had proven what I already knew about myself: shitty estimator. And this is absolutely not the approach that I would take on a project for work or for someone else.

Estimating is a key skill, which is why I have a very accurate formula for estimating the size of a design project at work:

  • Estimate the size of the project.
  • Double it because that’s how estimates work.
  • Double it again because you’re shitty at estimating and you know it.
  • Double it again if the people who never give you content on time are involved.
  • Double it again if the people who always fight every good decision that wasn’t theirs are involved.
  • Double it one more time if your gut says there are issues you haven’t accounted for yet.

This formula has never let me down. I’ve delivered the vast majority of my projects within three days of my estimates, without dragging my feet, and without working too many insane hours.

My formula for estimating bricks—eeh, how bad could it be? a couple hundred?—was not so reliable.


Lesson two: Sometimes it pays to be stubborn.

By the time I estimated the bricks, I was well on my way to being done. I was averaging a ton of bricks a night after work (thought I didn’t know it at the time) and I had a few days left.

I will not pretend that when I stared at the calculator on my phone and its happy estimate that I had three tons of bricks left to move I didn’t feel the full weight of the eight tons of bricks I’d already moved on my shoulders.

But then I realized I’d already moved 3/4 of the bricks, which proved I could move 8 tons of bricks. Compared to 8 tons, 3 tons is pretty small. Tiny even. (This is the same logic that gets me through mile 10-13 of a half marathon.)

If I moved all these bricks, I could say with my head held high that I had personally moved 11 tons of bricks this summer. A woman who moves 11 tons of bricks by herself has no need to take shit from anybody about anything. That’s an impressive number. That’s power.

That’s stubbornness.

Extreme stubbornness is moving the rest of the bricks the same night because Dammit. I. Am. Sick. Of. Moving. These. Bricks.

Which I also did. Because bricks.

I should have estimated the project accurately before I started. It wasn’t a good decision to take on 11 tons of bricks by myself, and if I had gotten hurt it would have put both the patio and deck projects at risk.

Even after my horrible estimation and the doubly-horrible weather,  I set out to do a difficult thing, and I did it, with no help, in adverse conditions. Hard work is a thing to be proud of, and I’m proud of both my work and the stubbornness that carried me through to the end.

But a good estimate? A good estimate is a better tool than two hands and a garden cart.