Tiago Forte presenting at Silicon Valley Quantified Self meetup (November 2013)
Tiago Forte interviewed by STEP Journal

Tiago Forte (Twitter @gsdlab)

Not so long ago we’ve talked to Tiago Forte – San Francisco based workflow designer and productivity consultant, famous for an award-winning online course Getting Stuff Done on Skillshare and the insider of SF #QuantifiedSelf community.

Feeling that some (…actually, many) of his thoughts could be of interest for #STEPjournal blog visitors, we’ve summarised our discussion (eliminating most of the good words he said about our app, as you know… we are a bunch of humble people here) and present it below.

…skipping the overture of small talk and polite phrases…

STEP Journal: Tiago, what’s your relationship with lifelogging apps?
Tiago: Frankly, I haven’t used lifelogging apps very much. Hmmm… what do you think is the killer app in the field? There’s usually one killer function, feature or benefit people are looking for in any field. What is it for lifelogging and is there one?

STEP Journal: Tiago, we are here to ask questions. Would you focus on answering them, please?
Tiago: (laughter) ok, so… many lifelogging apps offer to connect something to the app – from social services to wearable devices. But for people like me, who are using Facebook or Twitter for professional purposes (“Here’s an interesting article” instead of “I did this and that”), such integration is not valuable.

In my opinion, there are two types of apps out there – very practical ones (time tracking, for example) and very utopian ones – based on a deep dive into your life, promising to collect your life moments, but noone exactly knows what’s the main benefit of collecting all that. Market is yet immature, I think.

You may argue that what I do boils down to lifelogging, yet I don’t see it that way. I see it as experiments. My experiments are extremely active – I take subjective readings twice a day, I attach stress monitor to my ear every day. It’s not just passive tracking.

STEP Journal: So if a device or an app automatically tracks something for you, you don’t feel like you’ve worked hard enough in your experiment?
Tiago: Kind of. What matter even more – all of those automatic tracking apps are somewhat innacurate. For example, Moves does not know if I was walking or if I was shopping. And those inaccuracies are a big deal for me. It’s accuracy over convenience or beauty for me.

STEP Journal: in the #QS meetup at Evernote in November you’ve talked about the last productivity experiment. What are you up to these days?
Tiago: my core interest is productivity, yet if you want to know more about productivity, you have to track way more than pure productivity. So for the next experiment I will be tracking health metrics, weight, stress (objectively by measuring heart rate variability, and also subjectively), and sleep.

My goal is to have a list of factors in my life with numbers showing their correlation to productivity. So far I narrowed to 3 main factors affecting it positively / negatively – sleep, exercise and stress levels. I want to be able to tell myself – “if I go on a run this morning, it will increase my productivity by 25%”. It’s not “oh, if I run, I will feel healthier, have more energy, blah blah blah”. I want to be able to quantify.

My decision making goes like this: first I identify what I want to track, then search for the optimal tool which allows for data export.

STEP Journal: it sounds a bit like a self-fulfilling prophecy as just by telling yourself “I ran, so I will be 25% more productive”, you have no excuse not to be more productive on that day.
Tiago: An interesting point! Would be good to run an experiment where after 2 months when the correlation is identified, continue the experiment for 2 more months to check whether awareness of the correlation number affects the correlation. It’s so much fun – you are the subject and the experimenter in self tracking.

Frankly, though, I don’t think knowing the number is that powerful – I don’t think I will be more productive just because I know exercise has that effect, its power lies in making me run at the first place.

STEP Journal: in your opinion, how the lifelogging / self-tracking tools will develop in the future?
Tiago: In my class I notice that people want to track so many different things – from conversations they have to photos they take. It’s a crazy crazy variety of items…

‘Hardcore data collection’ apps will remain in market and continue to be used for collection of detailed accurate data by people like me. ‘Pretty package’ apps will stay, too – the ones boiling everything down to one number (like Nike Fuelband) for people who are just starting with self tracking. Yet I don’t know what that number could be.

I think the next generation of smart self-tracking apps will ask you “What do you want to change” and “What do you want to know?”. How alcohol consumption affects your sleep? Track and see the correlation lines. I don’t know what are the steps to get there from inputting data about your everyday life to getting answers. Obviously, it will take some trial and error to develop such tools.

STEP Journal: The last question – if  you had to explain your friend what STEP Journal is and does, what would you say?
Tiago: I’d say “it’s a multiple choice journal”. If someone asked “What does that mean?” I’d probably compare it with Facebook timeline. It’s random, contains things you did, others did… The only difference is that Facebook timeline is not about you that much – others can tag you, post pics of you, etc, while STEP Journal is a timeline that you create for yourself and you choose what goes on it – pictures, notes, activities to help you track whatever is it you want to track.

I guess the next question my friend would ask is “and what would I use it for?” and that’s the same question people ask me about self- tracking – “what is self tracking for?” I don’t know. It’s personal. Up to you to decide as you are both the sample size and the population.

STEP Journal: Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Tiago! It’s always fun to talk to you!
Tiago: my pleasure, guys!

Tiago Forte presenting at Silicon Valley Quantified Self meetup (November 2013)

Tiago Forte presenting at Silicon Valley Quantified Self meetup (November 2013)

PS. Click here to watch Tiago’s talk at the Silicon Valley Quantified Self meetup last November (2013)

PPS. Curious about STEP Journal? Download the iOS app

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