For a designer I do enjoy a spreadsheet. Nothing particularly tech and complex but I’ve found that applied correctly they can help make sense of a lot of the more messy parts of life. I’ve been tracking my finances using a Google doc for a few years and it’s helped me feel in control of this part of my life so when I came to need to shift a bit of a beer belly I turned to this method. So using that example, here’s why I think benchmarking with spreadsheets works so well:
• If you want to change a part of your life you’re unhappy with you need to first understand the problem. And by keeping track and building up data on a situation it really increases your awareness of what’s not working. Simply doing this solves a lot of the problems by tuning you to be able to spot patterns. So when it came to wanting to sort out my body shape, a part of my spreadsheet was recording everything I ate. Pretty quickly I was able to spot the troublesome parts of my diet and cut them out. Then a few weeks later I was able to look at what was left and see if I could optimise those parts. Just by recording and giving yourself data puts you halfway there.
• Getting the right metric to measure your success is key. The thing I wanted to change was losing an encroaching beer belly so most people would expect I should be weighing myself. But that wasn’t the problem here. Weight is an irrelevant measure: I genuinely don’t care if I weigh 12 stone or 16 stone, the problem was size not mass. So distance around my middle was the key performance indicator I used to tell if I was quickly reaching my goal. Incidentally I think this is a bigger issue around dieting: giving yourself an arbitrary weight goal to reach doesn’t tell you if your body is the shape you want it to be.
• Feeling like you’re achieving a goal is all about having regular updates: giving yourself constant feedback so you want to keep bettering yourself. It’s the achievement impulse, it’s gamification or whatever you want to call it. And the simplest form of it is a spreadsheet with some numbers. During my target period a good example was carrying a pedometer (well an iPhone app) to measure how far I was walking and then wanting to walk more and more each day to beat my weekly record or keep my averages high. Watching world records fall at the Olympics certainly helps get you in the frame of mind for this…
• Ultimately it’s about long term changes in behaviour not short fixes. So I did this ‘diet’ for six weeks until I reached the size I wanted and have since continued in that vein without the daily measuring. But now my eyes had been opened to how I ate and I’d seen how successful the changes had been so I wasn’t about to just return to my old ways. Because the changes had been fairly minimal I was able to keep them up.
If you’re interested about the slight diet change itself, it was simply thus: Minimise sugar – so no sweet snacking (or snacks at all in the morning), only diet fizzy drinks and reducing the sugary cereals. Less booze, starting with two weeks off it completely before cutting right back on beer. No bread, so mostly salads for lunch. That’s pretty much it apart from giving myself one day off a week to eat whatever crap I wanted, which was based on this theory by Tim Ferris.