At the start of 2020, I published a 2019 Year in Review including everything I tracked that year.  Since then, folks have asked me how I came up with the “2019 in Numbers” table, so here is my whole method of habit tracking explained.

Since it’s a related yet more encompassing method than The Tomato Method I wrote about previously, I’ve decided to (half jokingly) call this: The Fruit Stand (FS) Method. Also, the resulting calendar looks like a colorful fruit stand.

 

Overview

“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.” 

– Will Durant

The Fruit Stand Method is an approach I use to track habits and, by proxy, my long-term goals. Each year, I decide on goals related to the type of person I want to be and then come up with the habits that will get me there. I buy a big calendar with the entire year on a single page and hang it up on a prominent wall in my house. I buy colored pens and assign each habit a different color. Whenever I do one of the habits, I put a dot of the corresponding color on that day of the calendar.

Goal

Breakdown into Habits

Calendar Marker

I want to be the type of person who is constantly learning

…to do that I need do make time for reading books + learning new things through online courses

A dot every time I finish a book

A tally mark for every 30min I spend actively learning via online courses

I want to be the type of person who is close with her parents

…to do that I need to continuously talk to and visit my parents.

A circle every day I talk to my parents

A shaded circle every time I see my parents in person

I want to speak German

…to do that I need to regularly practice speaking German

A dot on every day I do at least 15min of a Pimsleur Audio German lesson

I want to be physically fit

…to do that I need to exercise regularly

A dot on every day I exercise

Habit tracking isn’t anything novel and there are a variety of fantastic habit trackers out there. The game changer for me, however, was finding a calendar with an entire year on one page. Most habit trackers provide daily, weekly, or monthly views, but seeing an entire year at a glance helped me put things into perspective.

A yearly tracker also enabled me to stay accountable to habits that I might not do on a weekly or monthly cadence. I believe that we can do everything we want to do in life, just not all at the same time. A single day or week might not be balanced. But an entire year can be. I might not hangout with a friend every day, but I want to have spent time with a bunch of friends across an entire year. The yearly calendar helps me think on longer time scales.

“Balance is timing, not intensity. It is not doing multiple tasks at 80%, but developing the skill of turning it on and turning it off. Sleep fully, then work intensely. Focus deeply, then relax completely. Give each phase your full attention. Balance is “when to” not “how to.”” – James Clear  


How To: The Basics

  1. Buy a yearly calendar
    And some colorful pens. This is the calendar I use because I like its minimalistic design.

  2. Decide which habits / goals you want to track
    Some ideas include putting a mark on the calendar whenever you:
         Spend 10 minutes outdoors
         Write a sentence in a reflection journal
         Floss your teeth
         Don’t watch any TV that day
         Make your bed
         Exercise
         Go to bed by X time
         Email/text someone you haven’t talked to in a while
         Post a tweet about something you want to be a domain expert in
         Do one problem on LeetCode
         Spend 30 minutes working through a course on Coursera

    I want to call out the difference between process tracking – for example, tracking every time you spend 30 minutes writing – versus outcome tracking – for example, tracking every time you publish a blog post. Personally, I track a mixture of both. But it’s important to be thoughtful about which one makes the most sense for you. Many habits can be defined as either process-oriented or outcome-oriented. 

    Goal

    Process-oriented tracking

    Outcome-oriented Tracking

    Read more books

    Track each day where you read at least 5 pages

    Track the day when you finish reading a book

    Write more blog posts

    Track each day where you spend 30 minutes writing

    Track the day when you publish a blog post

    Learn more new things

    Track each day where you do 30 minutes of an online course

    Track the day when you finish an online course


  3. Start tracking
    Make a legend for each habit you decided to track. Hang the calendar up in a prominent wall in your house. Put the pens nearby. And start tracking!

 

The final thing is: walk before you run. Don’t track too many things. If you’re just starting out, pick one habit. Ask yourself, “What’s the one thing that would give me the most satisfaction if I started doing it regularly?” A good system that you use regularly is better than a perfect system that you never touch. Don’t let fear of perfection prevent you from even starting.

 

Here’s an example calendar that only tracks one thing: exercise.


How To: Advanced Techniques

Once I started tracking, I got obsessed with knowing more details about the habits I was doing. Over time, I developed the more complex Fruit Stand Method that I use today. If you thrive on analytics as well, you might want to use all or parts of this more complex process:

Monthly Calendars
I print out monthly calendars and use them to keep track of my habits in more detail.

Yearly Calendar
I will periodically transfer over the monthly calendar marks to the yearly one.

AirTable Tracker
At the end of the year, I transfer the data into an AirTable spreadsheet, which then automatically quantifies a bunch of statistics for me. This is how I create the “Year in Numbers” table. Feel free to utilize this AirTable template that I’ve created here.

As an example, here are all the habits that I have ever tracked and how I went about tracking them. FYI, I do not track all of these every year.

Goal

Habit: What I Track

Monthly Calendar Marks

Yearly Calendar Marks

Exercise

I want to be physically fit

Exercise sessions (anything from yoga to running to HIIT class)

 


Dot + Description of exercise + Number of minutes


Dot

Parents (phone)

I want to be close with my parents

Conversations with my parents (phone/video chat)


Circle + Which parent + Length of time


Circle

Parents (in person)

I want to be close with my parents

Days where I see my parents in person


Shaded circle +  Arrow for all days we spent together + Which parent


Shaded circle + arrow

Friends

I want to have strong relationships with my friends

Hangout sessions with a friend (in person or over the phone/video)


Circle + Name of friend(s)


Circle

Friends (overnight)

I want to have memorable adventures with my friends

Days of overnight trips with friends


Shaded circle + Arrow showing the days we spent together + Name of friend(s)


Shaded circle + arrow

Books

I want to read widely and often

Books I finished


Dot + Name of book


Dot

Content Posted

I want to create things. A lot of things.

Blog posts or YouTube videos I published


Dot + Name of content


Dot

Learning

I want to continuously be learning.

Time spent doing online courses


Tally mark for every 30 minutes I spent on a course


Tally marks

Travel

I want to see the world

Day(s) spent away from the city where I live


Name of place + Arrow (if multiple days)


Name of place + arrow (if multiple days)

German

I want to speak German

Days where I do at least 15min of Pimsleur audio classes


Dot + Note when I start a new level


Dot

Clarinet

I want to get back to playing music regularly

Every day that I play the clarinet


Dot + Number of minutes


Dot

Meditation

I want to develop a meditation habit

Every day that I do Sam Harris’ Waking Up Meditation course (10-15min)


Dot


Dot

Tomatoes

This was a technique I used to finish my PhD at MIT. You can read about it here.

Circle or shaded circle based on number of tomatoes I did on a given day.


Circle if 10-15 tomatoes

Shaded circle if 16+ tomatoes


Circle if 10-15 tomatoes

Shaded circle if 16+ tomatoes

Feel free to pick and choose elements of The Fruit Stand Method that you want to try.  This approach helps me hold myself accountable to my goals and I hope that it helps you do the same.

Give it a try and let me know how it goes!

 

 

The Details

  • Tools I use: Pens, Monthly calendarsYearly calendarVelcro adhesives (makes it easy to take calendars on/off the wall)
  • AirTable template I use. You only need to edit things in the “Master” tab. All the other tabs get populated automatically from data in the “Master” spreadsheet. 
  • A physical calendar is a really important part of this technique for me. I don’t get the same motivation from just tracking things digitally, but if that’s not the case for you, you might try re-creating this technique digitally