Lifebot: Logging Life Via Text Message January 2017

Life Log

This is how I keep track of every day of my life. You probably think I’m obsessive. The truth is that I haven’t always been the most… habitual… for lack of a better word. This is my way of keeping myself accountable for getting enough sleep at night, eating well, getting enough exercise, and noticing how these factors affect my energy levels and mood. We all know that you’ll feel like crap if you don’t get enough sleep. But have you ever tried tracking it to measure just how crappy you feel?

There are a lot of of Quantified Self apps out there. Tons:

Most of them are actually pretty nice. Most of them solve a niche. FitBit is great for anything it can passively detect from an accelerometer on your wrist (it does food too). Then there are other tools that are great for aggregating data. There are tools designed to track emotion and mind like Quantified Mind or TrackYourHappiness.

Like I said, there are tons of apps. But like the true hipster I am, none of them were good enough for me. I just had to be difficult and make my own.

I find two things in this world to be underrated. One is spreadsheets - especially Google Sheets. Why?

The next thing is text messaging. Apps are great and all, but they are also a pain. You have to download them. You have to create an account. You have to log in. They take up space on your phone. They take forever to open. They get slow. You have to figure out their interface. They get buggy. And as an app publisher, they are a ton of work to maintain.

Sometimes I find myself opening up my text messages and texting myself small notes, like a pin number or an appointment reminder, because the time it takes to open up the Messages app and write a text is probably going to be about three seconds. The time it takes to open up something like Google Calendar or my Journal app, create a new item, set the time, the category, etc, is going to be about 15 seconds. That’s actually a pretty big difference - especially when I often want to make notes like this throughout the day while I’m in the middle of a conversation or crossing the street. Yes, I do that. Yes, it’s a horrible idea. But look around New York… everyone does it. Yikes.

So.

I’ve built a text-message-based life-logging tool that allows me to text myself little logs throughout the day. I can text my tool, which I call Lifebot, a ☕, and it adds an entry in today’s row with the current time. Or perhaps I forgot to log that I had a coffee at 10:30 this morning. I can text it “☕10:30”. After lunch I can text it that I had “🍽chicken and vegetables over rice”. I like that I can do this literally in the middle of a conversation without really interupting someone (and even this I don’t like. I hate looking at my phone if someone is talking to me… how rude). After using this for a few days all of the relevant emojis are in my “recent emojis” list and super easy to get to.

And I haven’t even gotten to the best part. I’ve hooked it up to FitBit so that it grabs my data every afternoon and logs time asleep, time awake, amount of sleep, number of steps the day before, and my resting heart rate. Even if I record nothing else in a given day, I have my vitals organized nicely into a spreadsheet automatically.

The passive aspect of this is important. It’s been shown over and over again that self-tracking works best if it’s passive. We are excited to install apps and let them track our behaviors but if something requires manual input every day, we just… forget. Following through with updating stuff everday is difficult. Of course, this text bot doesn’t exactly solve that, but can you really passively track food and coffee intake? Not really. But texting is pretty close. It’s something that we already do and we don’t even have to install anything.

There is one thing that could be easier than texting, actually. And that’s using something like the Apple/Android Watch - but this is something I haven’t tried yet. A good app for the watch might do the trick, too, for those that have one.

This is a low-key side project that I’ve been working on here-and-there for awhile and that I will continue adding features to over the long run. It’s as simple as a Google Spreadsheet, a Twilio trial account, and a Node server that runs on a free-tier AWS EC2 Micro instance.

If you like this and think you’d want to use it too, send me an email at [email protected]


Update January 23, 2017: Also check out the GitHub repo, now open source on GitHub!