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This is a guest post by Kayla Matthews. She is a productivity blogger and efficiency enthusiast. You can find her on ProductivityTheory.com, on The Huffington Post, and on Google+ and Twitter.

Many people who want to take part in self-improvement find it difficult to answer one very important question: “How do I get started?”

You could arguably say the best way to answer that query is to compile personal data. After all, that insight should tell you where your strengths lie, as well as where there’s room for improvement.

Personal data also lets you conduct experiments and then refer to metrics to discover their outcomes. For example, maybe you’ve been going to the gym for a while and think you look more muscular ever since you started doing that new upper body workout your friend recommended, but you don’t know any concrete details about your body’s muscle makeup.

If you had decided to get some personal data that examined your body’s composition at the start of your gym sessions, it’d be much easier to determine whether you’re truly bulking up or if it just looks that way. In that sense, data tracking removes guesswork and provides facts.

Simple Ways to Collect and Use Your Personal Data

Personal data tracking could also help you think of self improvement as a fun game that always puts you in friendly competition with yourself and keeps you engaged with your goals. Now that you know why it’s useful to collect your personal data for self improvement purposes, let’s look at some apps and websites that assist with that task.

1. iMoodJournal

Available for Android and iOS, this free mood-tracking app lets you record and review your moods over time, chronicling if you’ve had mostly upbeat attitudes, down days or a healthy balance of both. If you’re accustomed to expressing feelings across Twitter, you’ll probably love how the app makes it possible to add hashtags to each mood journal entry and tag the content as you see fit so it’s easier to refer to later.

2. WhyQuit’s Quit Smoking Statistics Calculator

If your doctor has urged you to quit smoking or stay off the cigarettes even though you’re tempted to start smoking again and you’re having trouble following orders, head over to the Quit Smoking Statistics Calculator. In addition to tracking the precise length of time since you’ve last smoked, it figures out how much money is saved by kicking the habit.

Just input your data into the easy-to-understand form fields on this free tool, and you’ll have useful data in less than a minute.


3. You Need a Budget

Like many people, you may need to learn specific principles to follow before you can truly start to track — and more importantly, get a handle on — your spending. Perhaps you constantly wonder where all your money went, despite the best efforts to keep your wallet tightly closed except when you have valid reasons to spend.

If you can relate to these common scenarios, the You Need a Budget app, often abbreviated as YNAB, could put the foundation in place so you can make life-long changes to the ways you spend money and pay bills. The app offers many features, including:

  • Syncing with your bank account
  • Letting you input what you’re spending
  • Setting goals

It also offers actionable strategies for curbing spending, so instead of just being encouraged to stick to your budget, you receive personalized tips for making that happen.

The YNAB app offers a free 34-day trial. After that, it costs $50 per year to keep using. Keep in mind, it has cross-platform technology, so you can use it on your computer, tablet and smartphone, and enjoy universal features regardless of your device.

4. Simple Workout Log

Gone are the days when fitness fanatics had no choice but to take paper-based workout trackers with them to the gym to keep tabs on their progress. At the same time, although it’s no longer necessary to take that old-fashioned approach, you may also struggle to find a workout tracker that’s straightforward enough. In an effort to make their apps as flashy and engaging as possible, many developers pack their products with a plethora of features that never get widespread usage.

In contrast, an app called Simple Workout Log lives up to its name because it’s refreshingly basic yet quite powerful. This free tool lets you input all the essentials about your workout, such as:

  • The number of reps
  • The weight you lifted
  • The length of time you ran

Also, it has cloud technology so you can type data in on your Android app, then look at it later while sitting at your laptop. There’s also an iOS app in the works.

5. The PinnacleHealth Body Mass Tool

Your body mass index, or BMI, takes your height into account, so you don’t have to, and shouldn’t, only rely on the numbers on the scale. By using this free body mass calculator from PinnacleHealth, you can simply type in your height and your weight and then receive a body mass index score.

For most people, the ideal score is between 18 and 25, but it’s a good idea to get advice from a doctor or dietitian if you are concerned about your current BMI. Once you learn about the ideal score for your body, it’ll be easy to use this tracker over time and see how the number changes.


6. Noom Coach

Think of the Noom Coach app as your tech-based personal trainer. It simplifies entering the amount of activity you do and the things you eat, then tracks your overall well being as it relates to fitness and food.

What’s more, the app segments your dietary goals into a traffic-light-like color scheme. It splits foods into categories depending on how many calories they contain. For example, it’ll recommend eating a certain percentage of foods from the green category, and then a lesser amount from the red category.

As far as fitness goes, the app also helps you set goals based on how fast you want results. Choose turtle speed if you’re not in a rush, but opt for cheetah speed if you’re getting married in six months and want to look as svelte as possible on the big day.

Available for Android and iOS, Noom Coach is free to download but has various in-app purchases you can order, such as targeted fitness plans. According to data from iTunes, users who want to use the premium features most frequently opt for an app-based purchase that costs $9.99.

7. The Sleep Cycle Alarm Clock App

The busy lifestyles led by many people in today’s society unfortunately often make it seem like there’s not much time left over for sleep. If you’re trying to get more Z’s, the Sleep Cycle Alarm Clock could let you know whether you’re making improvements night after night. Just place your device on your nightstand, if it’s an iPhone, or in the bed with you, if it’s an Android smartphone, and start getting definitive answers about how long you snooze.

In addition to displaying the total amount of slumber you achieved, it contrasts that insight with your daily activity level. That means if you got an hour more sleep than usual on a given night but also walked four miles more than you typically do, your body probably needed that extra time in bed. This cool app could also set the tone for better starts to your days, because it can naturally wake you when you’re in the lightest phase of sleep.

Another app that works on either the iOS or Android platform, the Sleep Cycle Alarm Clock is available to use for free. However, there are several premium features you could take advantage of by making in-app purchases, and most are under $10.

8. Worry Watch

Whereas the iMoodJournal keeps track of all your feelings, the Worry Watch is a little more specific. Meant to tame your anxiety, it has features to help you log your worries and then track them over time to see if each concern turned out as badly as you’d feared.

There’s also a search feature that might highlight reoccurring patterns. For example, if you type in the keyword “work” and find that 68 of the 72 things you’ve worried about over the past month include that topic, it might be time to find a new job, or at least talk to your boss about improving your work environment.

This iOS-based app costs $1.99, and you can either get an app for personal use or one that allows multiple users from one family. Also, if you know anyone from an educational institution who might want to get access that covers entire segments of the student body, there’s a bulk rate of $0.99.

Achieve Your Goals Through Technology


As you can see, whether you want to set a budget and stick to it, get more sleep or have a BMI that’s more appropriate for your physique, it’s easy to set those goals and, more importantly, get hard data about whether you’re on track for meeting them or need to make some modifications. If you find you’re not yet making progress as you expected, don’t despair.

Since you’re motivated enough to take action by spurring positive changes, and smart enough to depend on tech to help you get there, those are encouraging indicators by themselves.

This is a guest post by Kayla Matthews. She is a productivity blogger and efficiency enthusiast. You can find her on ProductivityTheory.com, on The Huffington Post, and on Google+ and Twitter.

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Thanh Pham

Founder of Asian Efficiency where we help people become more productive at work and in life. I've been featured on Forbes, Fast Company, and The Globe & Mail as a productivity thought leader. At AE I'm responsible for leading teams and executing our vision to assist people all over the world live their best life possible.

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  1. Also forgot to mention – Stigma is another (at least iOS based) free app for mood tracking and journaling. If you want, you can join small support groups as well, or correspond with pen pals anonymously. Their developers are constantly improving the app and take suggestions on their FB group all the time, which they implement in subsequent releases.

  2. Thanks for the tips on the apps; I can’t wait for the iOS version of Simple Workout Log and will check out Noom Coach to see how much it adds vs MyFitnessPal and its massive integrated ecosystem …

    Kind of surprised HealthKit and all the iOS integrations don’t get mentioned a little more here, as well as a strategy to read/write to/from certain apps and not others in order to prevent redundant and/or conflicting data. This is a big problem if you use multiple fitness trackers (which, again, surprised at the omission).

    Another huge area I’ve found improvement in monitoring has been via sleep tracking. You mention the sleep cycle alarm clock app. I’ve found a dedicated sleep monitor to provide more accurate results. I’ve used a few different ones and am currently using the ResMed S+. Its app is outdated but you don’t have to wear anything for it to track, and it can track users independently even if you have two users in the same bed (i.e. my wife and I have our own, one on each side of the bed). Oh and they’re circa $50 on Amazon each, so not cost prohibitive. But sleep tracking has helped me realize that although I was trying to sleep more hours, I wasn’t getting good quality sleep, and led to the discovery that I had sleep apnea.

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