December 27, 2008

Why New Year's Resolutions Fail

This recent tweet from John Roderick has really stuck with me. It's a perfect concrete example of all the little choices we have to make between short term gain and long-term benefit.
johnroderick johnroderick I'm out of coffee filters. If I get up and go to the store I may as well go to a cafe. Buying filters only helps Future John. And fuck him.
So this year, I'm scaling back on the grandios promises. Instead, I'm simply going to draw of picture of future Todd, keep it in my wallet, and try not to stick it to him too much. Sorry present Todd, but you've had your year.

December 21, 2008

Data Visualization

One of the most challenging elements of any presentation is how to use data to support your points in a compelling manner. In reading an article on health care in The World in 2009 by The Economist, I saw this clever example of using a strong visual element as a background to the data.

With the vacationer hooked up to an IV, the image communicates the message with more impact than the chart alone. The numbers then back up the story by showing how the forecast increases in the number of US patients traveling abroad for medical care over time. The point isn't that by 2015 the number will be close to 15M, but rather that the number is increasing and increasing quickly. The image even communicates the reason behind this increase by hinting at the luxury side of this growing industry.

Two great blogs focus on how to achieve this elegance in data representation: Slide:ology by Nancy Duarte, and Presentation Zen by Garr Reynolds. Their books by the same titles offer plenty of examples of before and after pictures. Both are must have resources for anyone responsible for creating decks of data. And in today's information workforce that includes must of us.

December 18, 2008

December 17, 2008

What Would You Track on your Personal Dashboard?

Nicolas Felton is a graphic designer who lives in New York and has taken on the sizable task of writing an annual report of his life. That really got me thinking, "What metrics would I measure if I were responsible for writing a report on my life at the end of the year?"

I know my dental hygienist would want me to track how often I floss; my coworkers, how quickly I return emails; my wife, the number of foot rubs I provide. But what would I track? How would I measure success?

I've been working on different options for a week or so (I haven't been tracking the time I've been spending on it, so I can't tell exactly how long). The process of determining my own person metrics has been eye opening and challenging. Some easy things like miles run or pages read jump to mind quickly, but that's not much of an annual report.

I'll have to keep working on what goes on my personal dashboard, but once I have a rough draft of what to measure, the next layer of complexity is to figure out how to track these events. Felton to the rescue with his new website Daytum. It's similar to Spark People, only you can count and measure whatever you want. Now instead of just counting pages read I can track which books I read faster and the number of pages on average per day. This could be additive. But maybe I should start by tracking the number of weird looks I get when I tell people what I'm doing.