I See Data Everywhere!

Data surrounds us. Our brains wrap them up nicely with words like “feelings” or “impulse” or “hunger,” but those inputs from our environment or our own bodies are, at the most basic level, pieces of data. For a long time I thought I was alone in my view of the world. I often described it as a cross between this image from Terminator

and the opening sequence to Person of Interest (except for the whole crime, terrorism, bad guy craziness).

Come to find out, there are others like me and in a recent story by the Wall Street Journal, H. James Wilson discusses in Employees, Measure Yourselves, how employers should encourage their workers to review data about their activities to better themselves and their performance in the workplace. From screen tracking technology, to heart rate monitors, to thought modeling tools, there are a growing number of auto-analytics devices and applications that allow people to track information about them and analyze the results for self-improvement.

We live in a world where the view from our eyes is in vectors, analysis and pieces of data from the thousands of systems with which we interact every day. Maybe that is why people love New York City, a city of 8 plus million individual human systems who interact with tens of thousands of independent systems from businesses to public transit to taxis to law enforcement. With these auto-analytics tools, individuals can answer questions like “am I more productive when I get more sleep” or “how much time do I spend online every day?” I can say from personal experience, measuring data like sleep hours, calorie intake, calorie burn and hours at work have measurable and predictable patterns. Without my own home grown analytics, those patterns would just have lived as hypothesis in my brain, but with years of data to prove the pattern, I can predict and compensate for the effects of various scenarios between those data points.

Here’s my challenge to you. Overcome your fear of big brother, whether big brother be your boss, employer, government or some nefarious cybercriminal and pick three data points to capture, analyze, strategize and implement. Take email response time for example. Tools like Xobni (for Microsoft Outlook) or Smartr (for Gmail) give you powerful analytics tools to see how long it takes you to respond to email, who is your most frequent contact or what time of day do you receive or send the most emails. Look at the results of email analysis and compare it to other factors like time away from your desk for meetings, travel, or time out of the office. Then look at your perceived weaknesses and see how email may be a factor and determine a short -term experiment to improve on a weakness.

At our fingertips are powerful auto-analytic tools, many of which are free or very inexpensive, that give you a world if insight into how we function as humans within the context of the complex systems of which we interact daily. Our ability to measure, analyze and improve will make us more efficient, self-aware and productive. So, go ahead, pick a few data points, find a tool to help you capture the data and analyze the results. See you on the other, more efficient and data rich side.

Author: John Carew


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