Update: Going old school led to old habits

A few months ago, I decided to put down my phone and pick up some paper and a pen to track my to-do lists and, more importantly, my nutrition and fitness. While the old-school approach did help me focus more on important work, I also gained 10 pounds since May. I knew I had to correct my course, so I renewed my commitment this week and am starting fresh.

What happened?

On one hand, tracking my food on paper made me focus on different aspects of my health. I noticed how often I waited more than 8 hours to eat, how I took fits of wanting nothing to do with anything that grew in the ground, that sort of thing. That was great, and it has helped me address some deficiencies in my diet. (Example: I now eat more spinach in a week than Popeye did. And mine isn’t canned.)

On the other hand, tracking my food intake on paper had zero influence on my decisions unless I analyzed what I’d written and figured out what changes I needed to make. When it comes to tracking my nutrition, technology has a distinct advantage over paper — it thinks for me. It does math for me. It tells me exactly how much sodium I consumed, the ratio of protein and carbs I’m ingesting. In short, it does all the work I’m too lazy busy to do.

My exercise regimen also suffered from May until now. When I was tracking exercise in an app that converts exercise to calories, I would go for a 20-minute jog just to earn enough wiggle room for a larger steak or a cookie. That motivation, as misguided as it sounds, kept me active. That didn’t translate to the written exercise log at all.

In fact, writing down my exercise reminded me exactly how much I loathe writing down exercise, particularly weightlifting progress. I learned that tracking reps and weights and supersets makes me loathe the process so much that I’d rather check the “Oops, missed it!” box and move on with my day. I fell into the habits I had before I lost 60 pounds — inconsistent workouts, permissive indulgence (read Sure, you can have the extra steak, why not?).

Without the immediate feedback an app provides, I was creeping back to a lifestyle I thought I’d left behind. The moment I realized that, I slammed the tracking notebook shut.

What now?

I know I am way more likely to reach my goals if I track what I’m doing. That’s true regardless of the project. In this case, I am the project, and I need to hold myself accountable.

So, I’m going back to my LoseIt! app for now. It isn’t ideal, because there is way more to life than calorie consumption, but the app is easy and does a lot of high-level tracking for me. I’ve updated my settings to track sodium intake as well as macronutrients, and I’m also tracking things I didn’t before — water intake, coffee intake, that sort of thing.

As for the rest of my life, I have had great success knolling tasks using a personal kanban board. (Well, it’s not so much a board as a blank wall in my dining room.) I use color-coordinated sticky notes to help me see when my expectations are out of balance, and I get passive reminders to stay focused on my priorities today every time I walk past the wall to or from the kitchen. (That’s why I used a wall in the dining room instead of my office.)

That’s not to say that I’ve abandoned my tech love at work. I use AgileZen to collaborate on my freelance projects, for example, and I’m using OneNote to track everything from my bills to notes about my clients’ progress. The big difference? I’m not bouncing between apps all day. I use my touchscreen laptop/tablet more and my phone less to manage my day, and that has made a huge difference in my productivity.

Grocery lists and the like are still tricky for me. Right now, I jot notes to myself on a whiteboard, so I don’t have to touch my devices with messy fingers. I take a picture of the whiteboard with my cell phone before I go to the store, and that works fairly well. Still, if you have a recommendation for simplifying my process, I’d love to hear it!