When it comes to fitness, I’m a bit of a data hound. But after years of effort, I just found out I’ve been doing it all wrong. I have at least a decade’s worth of exercise logs, I’ve been tracking and graphing my weight since 2002, and I create a food log every time I get serious about my diet, but there’s always been something missing.
Then I saw one of Noah Kagan’s videos describing the dashboard he uses to grow his business. He used to focus on income or number of customers, but realized that these are outputs and he has only limited influence over them. Noah switched to tracking the inputs such as number of ads placed, outbound calls made, etc. This makes his dashboard pretty simple: did he do the task according to plan or not? Suddenly, it’s easy to track what’s getting done and whether it’s working or not.
Oh man, you’ve heard of lightbulb moments? Noah’s proactive business dashboard was a flashbang grenade to my cerebral cortex. I was dumbfounded. He was talking about business, but it would work just as well for tracking fitness. For all the years I’ve been tracking my fitness efforts, it’s never occurred to me to follow this approach.
Sure, I could (and do) measure outputs like weight, body fat percentage, or body measurements, but those are merely the results of my efforts, not the effort itself. And I could track calories/food or when I ran or lifted, but for all the times I said I was going to eat/not eat a certain food or exercise a certain number of times a week, I never developed a simple way to show whether I did it or not in a way that created accountability. Duh!
It was time to open up Excel and geek out. A little bit of thought and work and I now have a proactive fitness dashboard that tracks each diet and exercise input I’ve committed to doing. I used Excel’s conditional formatting feature to color each cell green or red depending on whether I did it or not. I simply enter a 1 if I did it and 0 if I didn’t and the cell automatically changes color.
Setting it up as a binary did/did not has several huge benefits for me:
- If I choose to break a commitment then I have to physically enter that failure and the cell is going to be forever red, reminding me, taunting me, haunting me.
- I can review all my efforts with a quick glance.
- Because it’s binary, it’s pass or fail. I don’t get to give myself credit for a half-hearted effort. I either did it or I didn’t and almost doesn’t count.
- Entering the data at the end of the day serves as a reminder. Data, accountability, and the competitive thrill of getting a green cell all in one simple spreadsheet.
Here’s a screenshot of what it looked like in the middle of the second day:
Not bad, but room for improvement. I’m going to taper off caffeine so I expect the first several days to be red, and I really need to just get off my butt and stretch. All easy to see at a glance. I do have a section for outcomes so I’m tracking everything in one place and, once I have a couple of weeks down, I will be able to see patterns and compare efforts to my outcomes.
Another cool thing is there is tremendous flexibility to track your actions that will lead to the outcomes you want. I’m only sharing the screenshot above as an example so you can see how I set up the dashboard. These inputs fit my very specific goals and, obviously, anyone else will probably have very different inputs based on the specific results they are trying to create. So here are a few ideas of other inputs that would be easy to track:
- Macros (protein, carbohydrates, and fats)
- Amount of water consumed (you could either track the number OR the simple yes/no of whether or not you drank eight glasses)
- Weekly mileage goals for running or cycling (did you hit the goal or not)
- Hours of sleep
I tend to be an all or nothing person so the binary measure (did/did not) works well for me, but if you’re more into moderation, it would be easy to set it up to measure a range instead. For example, if you wanted to limit the number of sodas (or whatever) to no more than two a day, it could show green for one soda, yellow for two, and red for three or more.
Regardless of how you set your dashboard up, the key is to get away from focusing on outcomes and concentrate on the specific actions that will lead to those outcomes.
Super easy, super flexible, and super practical. Love it.
Big hat tip of appreciation to Noah.