What I learned trying to optimize my life through data

Photo by Minh Pham on Unsplash

“I wanted to understand what daily actions most influenced the things I cared about most (at that time); my mood, my energy, and my productivity.”

I’m a bit of a geek. There is no denying this. Always have been. Always will be.

I like numbers and I like to see what they can bring to light when explored. Perhaps this could explain why a big portion of my work is data analytics.

I, like most people, also like to be productive, to be in a good mood, and to feel energetic.

A few years ago I decided to merge these two interests. I decided to track a bunch of factors in my life, from how much I ran and the type and number of calories I ate, to my length and quality of sleep; from how much youtube I let myself get dragged into, to sleep, hydration, routines, habits, behaviors, and the outcomes of all these things.

I wanted to understand what daily actions most influenced the things I cared about most (at that time); my mood, my energy, and my productivity.

Analyzing the information collected yielded some interesting findings. I’ve incorporated these findings into my life for years and, now that I have a little blog and Medium page going, it seems like an appropriate time to share. So here we go…

What I did and how I did it

First, it should be noted that I did this several times, each with a different number and array of factors. However, the “dependent variables” (those I was interested in optimizing) stayed the same; mainly “Mood”, “Performance”, and “Energy”.

Now, granted, these are subjective measures, but so is our sense of happiness or joy, so I won’t get into that debate here.

I ranked these “outcomes” on a scale of 1–10, each day that I tracked. The independent variables, such as sleep, alcohol intake, running, etc… was measured using either a binary measurement (yes/no, such as “did I drink coffee”), numeric (just a number such as hours of sleep or calories consumed), or a scale (1–10, such as productive I felt that day or how well I did in not indulging in mindless “entertainment”).

Some background

I am a runner. That might be the only thing consistent in my life through the variety of times I tracked my life.

A big part of why I run is the feeling that it burns off the crazy, all of that extra mental energy, helping with mood, energy, clarity, focus, and productivity. I have a depressive background also use running as a way to keep that at bay (LINK) . Another, generally, constant has been meditation. Again, used to keep the crazy brain and the depression at bay (LINK).

Given the significance of these two factors in my life, it was my expectation that this analysis would vindicate my dedication to these activities. It did and it didn’t. It really showed me that, on a day-to-day basis, other factors were more important, including influencing whether I meditated or ran.

Initial Results

The first time I undertook tracking and did the analysis, I was shocked by the results (In retrospect, I shouldn’t have been). My top running metric was 5th on the list of how strongly this impacted the dependent variables, those things I was trying to improve (I actually did not track meditation), and this was only one of the 4 running metrics I was tracking (the 5th was my “3-day moving average”, or the number of hours I ran, on average, over 3 a day period). This, in retrospect, makes sense because I can watch my mental capacity decline with each day I do not run (or at least do something to burn off the crazy) until it bottoms out on day three and I become a hot mess.

Any guess as to what the top factor was?

If you guessed hydration, you get a gold star. Hydration was the number one factor (in my initial tracking) in how happy, energetic, and productive I was.

That’s right boys and girls, drink your fucking water.

The interesting thing was, I was tracking these things three times a day and an increase in hydration would be followed, eight hours later, by an increase in my dependent variables. The same worked in the opposite direction as well.

Granted, I was living in a very arid Colorado Springs, Colorado at the time and this variable seems to have less influence since both I have gotten better at drinking water and since I moved to the southeast (Asheville, NC. Yeah. Crazy humid).

Since, no doubt, enquiring minds want to know, the next top factors were my sleep, followed by my morning routine (it gives my day structure and focus), my evening routine (this may have been simply a cross-correlation), with the 3-day running average coming in fifth.

There were other more minor correlations, but nothing with significance that I trusted.

Subsequent Tracking Learnings

I did several other iterations and I consistently saw the same broad themes as above but was able to extract some nuance. For example, sleep was consistently, in both the initial analysis and in later analyses, one of the top two factors. However, I learned that “quality” of sleep was more, much more, important than “quantity” of sleep.

After that initial round of tracking, almost all the top influencers of my mood, performance, and energy level we either sleep or exercise related (my answer to any minor issue became “drink more water”, so questions of hydration were largely ameliorated).

Exercise also had its nuances. Namely, “productivity” increased with energy intensity while “clarity” increased with exercise duration. Mood and energy simply loved any kind of physical activity (though, intensity was a bit stronger of a correlation than duration).

Energy: The Keystone Variable

Energy was interesting. It was a dependent variable. It was something I was trying to maximize. However, when doing the correlation analysis “energy” also becomes an independent variable.

There was not much consistency between mood influencing things or “Productivity” influencing things. However, “Energy” was a massive factor in both “Mood”, “Performance”.

This should not be a surprise. It’s hard to be in a splendid mood, when you are dragging and crazy low on energy. It is also hard to perform at a high level when bonking and low on energy.

Everything is easier when you have the energy to do it, to think about it, to focus on it, etc…

So, if “Energy” affects everything, then what affects energy? Well, cocaine, obviously, as does developing a 5-a-day Monster energy drink habit, playing frogger with highway traffic, and provoking a packs of street dogs. These, however, are not recommended and are likely not sustainable.

If I had to distill two lessons out of all I learned, they would be as follows:

Maximize Sleep Quality and Exercise Intensity.

Optimize these two factors in your life and you will improve, if not optimize, your energy. With that, the world is your oyster. Go out and conquer it.


All of this is based upon correlation and, as the saying goes, “correlation does not imply causation” (spectacular, and entertaining, write up on this LINK).

However, I think there has been enough research to substantiate the influence hydration, sleep, and exercise has on mood, performance, and energy (and, of course, energy affects mood, mood affects energy, and both affect productivity).

Additionally, I am a sample size of one. Someone else tracking the exact same information would likely yield different results. However, I would expect the findings would not be drastically different. I mean, Sleep? Hydration? Exercise? Yeah, these are pretty critical to all of us. It just helps when we see it in black and white from our own lives instead of being yelled at us from our news feed. So, though the tracking and results were unique to me, I suspect the themes and general findings are not.

If you have any interest in testing this for yourself, reach out. I can give some guidance, and my have a pre-made spreadsheet (I’d have to dig it out of the archives) that may help.

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