Going Paperless: Quantified Self and Evernote

I think I’ve said before that I’ve taken Evernote’s tagline, “Remember Everything,” as a kind of personal challenge. Is it really possible to remember everything? Sure, I can capture all kinds of documents in Evernote. I can capture my tax return information. I can capture my kids’ artwork. I can capture all kinds of social media interactions. I can capture what I eat using Evernote Food and who I meet using Evernote Hello. But what about those quantifiable things that I’m not always conscious of? That’s what I want to talk about today.

There is an entire movement that’s focused on the quantified self, but I didn’t really become interested in it until I read a blog post by Stephen Wolfram, physicist and creator of Mathematica. His post took a look at his own personal analytics. Upon reading that article, I realized that I also captured (or could capture) much of the same data. What kind of data are we talking about? Strictly speaking, we’re I’m talking about information that you can collect without having to be aware you are collecting it. For instance: I use a FitBit Ultra device1. I clip it to my pants during the day, and wear it around my wrist at night. Otherwise, I forget about it. By doing this, I get a wealth of data: how many steps I’ve taken, how far I’ve walked, how many flights of stairs I’ve climbed. How many calories I’ve burned, how long it took me to fall asleep, how many times I woke up on the middle of the night, etc. I don’t have to do anything. I just wear the device and it collects data.

I have an iHealth wireless blood pressure wrist monitor. I can slip this device onto my wrist anytime, press a button to take my blood pressure (and pulse) and have the information sent automatically into Evernote.

My primary computers are an iMac in my home office, and a Windows laptop at my day job. On both of these computers, I’ve installed key loggers. These key loggers don’t record my keystrokes. Instead, they count them. Without me having to think about it.

Combine the FitBit data, the iHealth data, and the key logger data and you have a pretty good picture of my daily activity, without me having to do anything other than what I normally do. But how do you capture this information in Evernote?

There are two ways you can do it, depending on your level of skill with technology and determination. I’ll break these two methods down into “Simple” and “Advanced” and outline each.

Simple Methods for Capturing the Quantified Self in Evernote

Here is a simple method for capturing your FitBit summary data in Evernote:

  1. Be sure you are signed up for FitBit’s weekly summary email.
  2. Create a mail filter2 to identify the weekly summary email. The action you want to perform when this summary arrives in your inbox is to forward the message to your Evernote email account:

    Gmail Filter, Step 1

    and the next step:

    Gmail Step 2

The resulting note in Evernote looks like this3:

Fitbit Weekly Summary

For the iHealth wristband device, it is even easier. You can configure the device to send the results to Evernote through the website. There are two types of resulting notes. Almost at once you get a note that shows your blood pressure and other measurements (pulse, etc.):

iHealth summary

Advanced Methods for Capturing Quantified Self Data in Evernote

The above methods are nice for the basics, but if you want details, it is sometimes better to go off on your own and grab them. Fortunately, many of these services provide APIs (application programming interfaces) for doing just that–if you know how to code; or if you know someone who knows how to code.

For instance, I like getting a little more detail about my FitBit activity than what is provided in the weekly summary. Indeed, in the spirit of “remember everything” I like to know my activity on a day-to-day basis. So, using the FitBit API, I wrote some code that extracts this information and records it in a Google Spreadsheet. It also sends a summary email to me and my Evernote account each evening. That summary email looks like this:

Custom FitBit


This provides a much more rich set of data. It includes not only my steps, but how many floors I climbed, calories I burned, and my sleep habits. (Of course, I haven’t slept yet today so there are no numbers.)

I’ve also used the iHealth API to capture some custom iHealth notes, to say nothing of some local scripts on my iMac and Windows laptop that capture my keystroke counts for the day.

Why is this information useful? Well, to some extent, it helps me “remember everything,” even those things that I am not entirely conscious of. The data that goes into Evernote is simply a summary of course, a way that helps complete my view of my day4. I also capture this data in ways that can be better analyzed. I can, for instance, look at what I did in a given day and plot it against my blood pressure to see what makes for a stressful day. I can use simple algorithms to parse out my morning workouts so that I can identify the days I worked out and how well I did, without having to explicitly record my workout in Evernote.

But the greatest value is in what I haven’t yet thought of. How will this information be useful in the future? When my doctor asks during a check up if I have been stressed lately, all I have to do is call up the last 30 days of my blood pressure and compute an average to provide an accurate answer. When I want to learn when the most optimal time for me to do my writing is, I can pull data from my keylogger to determine when my optimal writing times seem to be.

Mostly, for me, it is just fascinating to capture this data, along with everything else I capture in Evernote. It helps paint a more complete picture of my life and goes the extra mile in terms of “remembering everything.”

For those who missed it: I was a guest over at Lifehacker yesterday, answering question about paperless living. Head on over to Lifehacker to see the full Q&A. And as always, this post, and all of my Going Paperless posts are also available on Pinterest.

  1. FitBit no longer makes the Ultra. The new equivalent is their FitBit One device.
  2. I use Gmail.
  3. Yes, I picked the week that we took our kids to Disney World as a way of impressing everyone with just how active I can be.
  4. I have a saved search that shows me all of the notes created today and another one for “yesterday.”)


    1. Norm, on my Windows laptop I’m using a program called KeyCounter. It simply logs the number of keystrokes for each minute of the day in a log file, one file per day. I have a perl script that sends the data to a Google Spreadsheet, and a summary to Evernote.

      On my Mac, I use an app called Typingstats, which is available in the App Store. This logs data to a SQLLITE database, which I extract via Perl, sending data to a Google Spreadsheet and a daily summary to Evernote.

  1. Thanks Jamie. I too would love to capture more personal analytics especially after reading your first post about the FitBit Ultra.

    Like Norm I’d love a copy of your script(s) as I don’t know how to code but certainly see that these Evernote projects make a compelling reason to learn. What other languages have you had to use to complete your data exports other than Perl?

    As always keep up the great posts. Is it next Tuesday yet?

  2. Excellent article!

    I would be very interested in finding out how you have sorted the Fitbit daily email.

    It’s at times like this that I do wish I could write code.

    Keep up the good work Jamie!

  3. This is great! Thanks for posting this.. will definitely look into doing this myself as I’m finally getting some speed in my get-fit goals.

  4. Question about the fitbit — are those weekly reports via email part of the basic/included Fitbit service, or are they part of the premium package with extra reports? Just want to check since they seem to have two levels for reporting with one costing an extra $50/year.

  5. Wouldn’t it be better to use ifttt.com to store fitbit mails in Evernote?
    This way you could specify which Notebook the mails go to (which you can’t when simply forwarding from gmail as it doesn’t allow you to rewrite the subject) and automaticly tag them…

    The way I do it with my Withings scale ist:
    Mails from Withings get labeled “Withings” and “Skip Inbox” in gmail.
    ifttt.com puts mail labeled “Withings” in a Withings-notebook in Evernote…


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