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As we rush around through our busy lives, it’s easy to lose sight of what we’re doing, what habits we have and where we’ve been. Socrates said an unexamined life is not worth living, but living without examination is incredbily easy.

Screenshot_SleepThat’s where Reporter comes in: this app for the iPhone is designed to give users a snapshot of their lives by asking them questions about what they’re doing, how they’re feeling, and the like.

The idea behind Reporter is pretty simple: at semi-random intervals a certain number of times a day, the app will send users a push notification asking them to fill out a short survey about what they’re up to. At the same time, Reporter will log a bunch of metrics about what’s going on around the user, including the weather, noise level, and how far they’ve walked.

All of that information gets saved to the app’s database, which users can then view on their iPhones, or export to their computer as a CSV or JSON file for more analysis. That split provides some good balance: the app provides a number of quality visualization tools to allow users to look at their data on the fly, but also allows people to turn it into something more interesting if they want.

The app comes with a killer pedigree, too. It was created for designer Nicholas Felton, who built Facebook’s Timeline feature. In data visualization circles, he’s known for his Feltron Annual Reports, which are brilliantly-designed records of metrics from his past year. Reporter was originally built to help with the creation of the Feltron reports, but Felton has now gone and brought it to the masses.

When setting up Reporter, the default selection of questions will give users some fairly good insights, but the app’s real power comes in the ability to add custom questions to the mix with a built-in editor.

Here are my tips for getting the most out of Reporter:

  • Embrace Reporter’s randomness. In the past, I’ve tried creating logging systems that rely on users logging things as they happen, and they just haven’t worked for me. What’s more, Reporter really isn’t built for that, since it asks users every question in a survey all at once. Instead of trying to track everything, track the present and the recent past.
  • Figure out what in your life you want to measure before how you want to measure it.
  • Create questions that give you useful data. Just because everyone else is tracking how many steps they take in a day doesn’t mean that works for everyone.
  • Keep it short. I’m less likely to do something the longer it takes. Usually, it doesn’t take me more than a minute to fill out my survey when my phone goes off, and that’s about the perfect amount of time.

AppIconIt’s not for everyone, of course. If answering surveys about your life on a regular basis seems like something you’d find tiresome, Reporter probably isn’t for you.

But I love being able to put together analytics that show where I’ve been, what I’ve been doing, and give me a better insight into what it is that I’m doing with my life. I see Reporter as a sort of mindfulness machine: I feed it data about my day-to-day, and it gives me back insights about what my life is really like.

Reporter is available in the iOS App Store for $3.99.

Listen to this week’s segment below, or via this MP3 file.

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