Revisiting Triathlon Intelligence

triathlon intelligenceDuring my triathlon years, I was amazed with the impact data has on a training program.  GPS devices, wearables, and tracking apps seriously changed how triathletes viewed their training.   Rather than going by feel, triathletes could “see” their workouts with data visualizations.  Areas for improvement were quickly identified and brought to the front for full attention.

As technology continues to improve, our wearables get more complex and accurate, and triathlons become more competitive, we need a better way to digest our data. Very much as Tableau has created a better and more robust platform for visualizing and forecasting business data, this same functionality must come triathlon.

What is the real problem?  It is the same problem I tried to address with TrainingMetrix, combining all of a triathlete’s data into a single source to derive insights and forecast future workouts.  To this day, we still deal with separate databases and apps for our workouts and nutrition.  Companies like Garmin and MyFitnessPal have improved integration, bringing nutrition and workout data a tad closer. But, we are still missing the insights… the indicator of diet quality, the indication of over training, and the ability to see progress at the highest level.

This is where my dream of triathlon intelligence comes in.  Combining each data set not just for visualization, but combining the data set in a way which tells the future.  Perhaps I want the crystal ball of triathlon training…  nothing big.  lol

Where does this go from here?  It starts a new era in research and passion.  For myself re-entering triathlon training has renewed my search for the ultimate solution.  In future posts, we will explore some of the solutions on the market including what is good and what is bad.

A Personal History of Task Management

For years I have been looking for a task management tool.  Ever since I tried “Getting Things Done” in college to no avail, I struggled to find the right combination of indexing, ease of use, and accessibility.  With both electronic and paper based options, it seemed everyone had their own idea of what the ultimate the task manager was.  Then you read about successful entrepreneurs who insist they only focus on three things per day (really? oh, you have a secretary, the article didn’t mention that!) compared to my wild mind constantly churning out ideas.

Below are some of the task management solutions from various phases of my life:

  • Mom, Dad and Adults – As a kid, you didn’t have to worry about task management.  Teachers gave you printed agendas, reminded you daily of homework due and you never went anywhere besides school so scheduling was synch.  When you weren’t at school, you had mom to ask, “have you done your homework?” or tell you it is bed time.  Those were the days…
  • Day Runner – I had one of those medium sized ones with a zipper all the way around.  My grandmother gave it to me for my high school graduation present and I used it for years, all the way through to my first real corporate, career job.  I loved the idea of having modules; calendar sheets for week, year and day; daily task sheets; contact list; and even the plastic “pencil” pouch.  The problems here were the bulk (front and back were padded and zippered), the cost and availability of refills, and the limited customization in design.  Eventually, I just started adding blank paper cut to the proper size.
  • Franklin Covey – Very similar to the Day Runner, but rather focused on use of Outlook.  They had printable sheets for us to print our “Day – Memo” sheets from Outlook once we decided what our three main accomplishments were.  What was fabulous was the printed calendar, the limited task list and the notes area.  I used this for a number of years until I switched companies and the new company didn’t believe in Outlook, just Google Apps.
  • Getting Things Done – a great concept and management solution.  However, it seemed too complicated to keep the inbox fresh and the many different components up to date.  Overall, way too complicated.  What I took away, however, was the concept of an inbox and anything that takes two minutes or less, just do it.
  • Smartphone, Palm Pilot, or other electronic organizer – After living without power for two weeks after the Tea Fire, I gave up on electronic to-do apps.  While some are great, they don’t allow for customization and you are stuck with their UI and process. You also have the NSA spying on your to-do list as pretty much all “tech” solutions run in the cloud.  Also, Evernote is unusable when the cat takes over the keyboard.  Also, just about every app makes the completed item disappear after you mark it complete, making past to-do and reference items difficult to find, some apps deleted them permanently upon completion.
  • Printable CEO – A great offline solution which allows for appointments, task prioritization, and notes.  Printing them daily was fine, but some days I didn’t need to print one as the previous day carried over.  The issue here is that each day is a sheet of paper and carrying previous months’ of notes around just isn’t doable in today’s smartphone obsessed world.  Also, I found the layouts to lack customization as sometimes I wish the notes section was twice as large and the appointments section a fraction the size.
  • My Own “Printable” Design – Using the printable CEO as inspiration, I created my own daily sheets which gave priority to notes, had a section for three daily accomplishments and five sub-goals.  I even added a line to write in a memorable, inspirational quote. It worked quite well for a few months, but I discovered on days where I wanted to do a brain dump (write down everything on my mind), I didn’t have enough task space (although the backside of the paper was perfect) and I had to carry that sheet around with me for a few days while I worked through action on the list.  Overall, I found myself re-writing ideas from my head onto the new “today” sheet to make sure I had access to them.  Like Printable CEO, carrying around the archives was hideous, an old school 3-hole punch notebook.
  • The Bullet Journal – My current system is the Bullet Journal.  Think of it as a morph between a Moleskin journal, a Day Runner, and a Printable CEO, utilizing low-tech paper and pen to beautifully archive entries as you go.  I am preparing a follow-up blog post just to discuss the power of the Bullet Journal, but the concept of writing everything down and then using symbols to categorize them is huge for me.  Having a calendar and daily appointment entries works well.  The icing on the cake… drum roll please… the Index.  Finally, a way of archiving entries on paper in a way they are accessible for reference!  Woohoo!  Where, o where have you been all of my life?

Looking over this list and realizing, not only am I getting older, but how diverse task management is.  I believe David Allen said in his first book that he didn’t expect everyone to use his system as he outlined, but rather suggested the reader use the parts that work. For me, the electronic solutions didn’t work, giving credence to “the pen is mightier than the iPhone!” What is your task management history like? What worked for you, what didn’t and where did you end up?

Anti-Cloud Based Tools for Personal Intelligence

Creating a personal intelligence platform for self tracking has never been easier.  While technology continues to push us toward the “cloud” and SaaS as a strategy of revenue generation, we cannot overlook the tried and true platforms available to keep data on your computer and away from prying eyes of Analysts.

As a data visualization and KPI development guru, I love finding those interesting trends in my own life that drive smarter, better habits.  If you are like me, you don’t feel comfortable sharing your dirty underwear with Mark Zuckerberg and you really wonder what Google is doing with all of that data they keep acquiring.   By maintaining a self database on my desktop computer which I can add to and tweak at a whim, I am able to give myself peace of mind and control over MY data.  Curious, about what KPI’s I track?  Stay tuned, that is a topic of another post.

Without further ado, here are some tools that you can use to create your own personal intelligence platform on your local computer:

  • Microsoft Excel
    • A stunningly powerful tool to use for even the novice user.  Create your own tables, link them how you want and design your own graphs and dashboards at your own pace and complexity.  Available for both Windows and Mac.
  • Numbers
    • A Mac only platform designed to compete directly Microsoft Excel which offers much the same functionality, but lacks some advanced capability compared with Excel.  The simplicity and robust visual que are 2nd to none, but as the data set grows, you may be wishing you chose Excel in the beginning.
  • Qlikview Free
    • I have been a fan of Qlikview for years.  I love the ability to create charts and dashboards from Excel spreadsheets and the gnarly level of interactivity that it provides.  The learning curve isn’t as steep as one might think and well worth a few minutes reading their documentation.   The limitation here is the limited number of shared files you can open.  Windows only.
  • MySQL / Apache / PHP / HTML5 / HighCharts
    • Ok, if you are going with this option, you are a true geek with coding ability.  This isn’t for the lighthearted as configuring MySQL, Apache, etc etc will take time.  But the advantage is you are left with an enterprise class database and a truly blank slate in regards to dashboards.  You can even create your own forms in HTML to add data.  Mac/Linux/Windows
  • Microsoft Access
    • If you need something in between Excel and MySQL to store data, Access is a great option and can interface with Excel graphs and dashboards.  With a mild learning curve, the ability to store any kind of data, and the convenience of a query builder UI, Access makes for a very robust solution. But, it lacks more advanced visualization, so be prepared to connect Excel to Access. Windows only and available with Office Professional.

As you can see, creating a Personal Intelligence platform off the cloud is possible.  You can take full control of your data and keep it private at the same time.  As data becomes more and more of a commodity and SaaS business models continue to nickel and dime everything, home based data management will be more and more appealing.  Excel is the perfect anti-cloud.