This is what passed for a spreadsheet in 1941. Photo: Everett Collection (Shutterstock)
The new year is fast-approaching. Even if you believe New Year’s Resolutions are a bunch of baloney , I’d argue the start of a new year is still a useful time to reflect back and look forward. For me, it’s the time when I’m most grateful for my habit of writing down every little thing. And I don’t just mean getting my thoughts and feelings down in a journal—I’m talking about tracking every book read, every mile run, every beer crushed (I only ballpark that last one). If you’re interested in documenting your life (and you should be!) may I recommend the humble spreadsheet.
Before you start rolling your eyes: no, I’m not talking about bullet journaling ( which can be cool , but which I find too artistically daunting). I simply create a Google sheet full of different color-coded tabs so that I can track any number of ways to measure a year . It’s a fun, slightly nerdy technique that helps me visualize my life in a way that traditional journaling can’t. Here’s why I think this year, you should start your own spreadsheet to track all the little things in your life.
The case for documenting your life
We’ve written a few times before about how and why you should journaling . I’m a staunch advocate for the practice, but I know that writing daily journal entries isn’t everyone’s “thing.” However, journaling can be so much more than jotting down a few measly feelings, and there are plenty of benefits to getting out of your comfort zone and giving it a shot. According to PsychCentral , keeping a journal is a useful way to reduce stress, identify and solve problems, and generally clear your head.
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Even if you aren’t trying to deliberately define or process your mental state, documenting your life can be a beautiful thing, whether via tools like 1 Second Everyday videos, whether to track your workouts , document your child’s life , or simply capture the passage of time (which I’ve heard can be fleeting). For me, the essence of these videos is the act of finding one worthwhile moment every single day. And that’s the mindset I bring to my spreadsheet journal.
Anything can be an achievement
The spreadsheet journal is perfect for us freaks who like to combine sentimentalism with statistics. Whatever metrics you choose to jot down, you can frame them around a sense of accomplishment. Your smart watch can track how many steps you’ve taken. A spreadsheet journal, however, is where you can appreciate how many steps you’ve achieved. From there, you can have fun with the numbers, converting those steps into miles or finding patterns over time or in whatever suits your nerdy brain.
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Go wild. Create different tabs dedicated to different areas of your life, so that you can appreciate how much you have going on. I’ll throw around some ideas in the next section, but at the end of the day, a spreadsheet is a low-effort, high-reward alternative to trying to use your words all the time, so don’t get too caught up in the details. The technique is really about recognizing the value in every little number that defines your life.
Starting your spreadsheet
First things first: choose your spreadsheet software. I opt for the ease of Google Sheets, but I understand you might have some privacy concerns there. Or maybe you’re simply a master at Excel . It’s up to you, since the basics of your spreadsheet journal won’t change depending, whatever your software of choice.
For some formatting ideas, check out this post on using spreadsheets to keep your family organized . The main takeaway is to create one master file with as many different tabs as you see fit. Include tabs tracking your health/fitness goals, books/movies/TV you’ve consumed, your finances/budgeting, and whatever else is significant to you:
- Hours slept
- Miles walked
- New foods tried
- Concerts attended
- Movies watched
- Books started
- Books finished
- Dates gone on
- Kids born
- Bottles of wine drank
- Job applications sent into the void
- Personal letters sent/received
- Time spent in traffic
- Playlists created
- Podcasts started
Unlock your spreadsheet’s power
You can dedicate a column in each tab for jotting down miscellaneous notes, but for the sake of tidiness, make sure not to overfill your boxes with text. It also helps to stay consistent with your formatting—e.g. bolding the header of each metric. I color code at whim. For instance, as a stand-up comedian, I keep track of all my shows with a specific color to mark how I felt about them: shades of green mean the show went well, and shades of red mean the show went...less well. In times where it looks like everything is red, it’s nice to be able to shift my gaze to all the green, too.
At the end of the year, you’ll be able to use all that data to visualize both the big and the little things in your life over the 12 months prior. At a glance, you’ll be able to pat yourself on the back for how successfully you cut back on caffeine, or upped your time outdoors, or improved your books-started-to-books-completed ratio. Ultimately, my own spreadsheet is about appreciating all the little things in my life, even if I do so one of the nerdiest ways imaginable.
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