I danced 10,362 steps at a wedding this weekend

How did I know? I was wearing a Jawbone UP

What is a Jawbone UP? UP is a wristband tracks your movement and sleep in the background. It works together with an app that displays your data, lets you add things like meals and mood, and delivers insights that, according to the company's website "keep you moving forward." It's a holistic approach to healthy living, and it starts with a better understanding of yourself.

Here is a screenshot of my movement this past Saturday. I got up really early to catch a flight to Durban, hence the activity around 5am, and the dancing began around 10pm and continued until the early hours of Sunday.

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I'm only using it for tracking my movement and sleeping patterns. The UP interface is perfectly good for entering meals and resistance-based workouts (activities the UP can't track) but I find this a little too much effort. So I default to the easy things to measure and all it takes is the discipline of wearing the UP bracelet.

The UP has a certain wow factor that gets people talking about it. But no sooner have I started discussing the UP with friends and family, when the inevitable "that's great and all, but it looks like an expensive gadget for geeks and I can't see the benefit" comment is made.

I completely disagree.

The saying "what gets measured, gets managed" comes to mind. This is one of the concepts from a management philosophy called Managing by Objectives. And for the first time, the UP has given me a really easy (read: all I have to do is where a bracelet) way to measure my physical movement and sleeping patterns. It also happens to have an app that represents this personal data in an attractive, engaging way.

Just by being exposed to this data, I can begin to draw connections between things I do, and the degree of their impact on my physical activity and sleep. Without measurement, this wouldn't be possible. And once I have the data, this can drive decision making.

So here are some of the things i've learned over the past two weeks of using UP to build my own personal data analytics:

  • Dancing at a wedding is equivalent to a 6km run in terms of calories burned. If I know I have a wedding coming up, I can miss one of my 5km runs in a week and still reach my physical goals for that week. I always knew that dancing was a great physical workout, but now I have more precise analytics.
  • I'm pretty active during the working day. I had thought that I sit at my desk for extended periods of time, but my analytics tell me that i'm up and about at last every 40 minutes. This could be a good thing physically, and it could also be destructive to concentrated periods of work. I'm going to interrogate this further.
  • On average, I fall asleep in about 4 minutes after watching a TV series episode. This isn't particularly useful, but I know that it takes me longer to fall asleep when I haven't relaxed by watching an episode. I'd like to run experiments with other pre-sleep activities like reading a book, watching a TED talk, etc... and see if these activities have an impact on the quality of my sleep.
  • I have deeper sleep on weekends than during the week. I need more data before I can draw decent conclusions, but the early analytics are in line with what I would have expected. Quality of sleep is one area that i'm particularly interested in measuring, and UP measures deep and light sleep, with the former being the more important in determining overall quality of sleep. I work 12+ hours most days (out of choice, I love it) and every now and again I struggle to sleep because my mind becomes over active. By using data from UP, i'm going to attempt to draw conclusions about what activities cause me to sleep badly. I have a good sense for this already, and i'm going to confirm it with real data.

The benefit to me is clear: simply by being exposed to this sort of personal data, I will draw connections I never did before and i'll improve in those areas with almost no additional effort. Add in a little extra effort, and i'll definitely see improvements.

Wearable computing is coming, and personal analytics will be an increasingly important part of our lives as we strive for continual personal improvement. The UP is just the first iteration of a generation of wearable devices. And as the cost of implanted devices come down - devices like those "installed" by people who suffer from diabetes, that measure blood/sugar levels, heart rate and a whole range of other personal metrics - I have no doubt that subcutaneous devices will become more popular. And as that happens, accuracy in measurement will improve.

But that's a little painful for a Monday. I'm going to stick with my Jawbone UP and see what else I can learn about my daily physical activity and sleeping patterns.