Data capture during my PhD

Not sure if this is the right place, but I’m starting my PhD next week and want to somehow capture my life. Planning on doing a 1 sec video a day, but someone also recommended using a Google form + daily reminder to fill in items like my weight, coffee consumed, or if I spoke to my advisor that day. As people who can likely make the best use of this data, what fields should I populate this Google form with? Are there other (less invasive) means of capturing this data? what parameters of someone’s life would you want to see plotted throughout 4 years?

Hi, I’m doing my PHD as well. To be honest, I’ve tried spreadsheet style recording techniques, but give them up so quickly. At the end I only use mobile apps to record my sleep cycle, steps , and diet information. The majority of them collect data automatically. As per my work schedule, Google calendar is fine…

It’s a very personal interest but I would suggest to record your sleep as extensively as possible (the gold standard would be video and EEG recording).
Video is easily feasible (I have recorded over 1,300 of my nights), the time killer being analyzing the data.

  • General activity levels and sleep times (e.g. via Fitbit).
  • Daily weight measurements (e.g. via Withings).
  • Time spent working/playing on your computer (e.g. via RescueTime).
  • How much time you spent at different places like coffee shops or at the gym (e.g. via Moves).
  • Meal times, coffee consumption etc (via Nomie, or any other data logging app).

Two useful measures I’ve seen in more than 1 QS talk:

  • Simple self-assessment of mood at same time daily. (Usually one number, on any reasonable scale, from 1-3 to 1-100.)
  • Simple self-assessment of sleep quality (restedness), also on any reasonable scale.

Great input!

@ Luke
-This is an amazing amount of data you already collected I believe I will only use my fitbit for sleep times

-I will use fitbit for activity, sleep, and weight.
-Meal times and coffee is done through a google form I made for myself
-I am still debating Rescue Time, only because my work is split evenly between hardware and software, and I don’t think time spent working on my computer is indicative of how much work I spent on my research. I might use something like Toggl so I can track when I am off my computer, although that does seem to have more of a cognitive load.


  • Restedness I will be doing on a simple 1-10 scale.
  • What is a good scale for mood? POMS takes about 5 minutes. Since it isn’t a linear scale, I might just pick from 8 or so different mood states at a specific time.

I am using a mood/productivity diary etc. as well for two years now. I use a 1-10 scale, there is to less differentiation in 1-3 for me. Usually medical professionals prefer a 6-20 scale, but 1-10 works great for me. Just measure the moods/activities that are most fit for you. Things like overall frustration/anger/flow/happiness could be appropriate.

If you think about recording moods it would wise to have some kind of scale in mind, how frustrated are you when you give a “3” compared to a “5” for example. (That is hard, I know but you will learn along the way)

Also; in your case you should think about when to assess your form. If you want to assess your life, you might take the form in the evening, if you are more interested in the effects of your PhD you should assess it right after the end of your working day.

5 minutes is way too long for a simple mood measurement you want to do every day for a long time. You want 15 seconds. Pick a number and go.

Hi Morris,

I agree with Agaricus on the mood scale. I am using a 1 to 4 scale and take just a few sec every evening to give my overall mood and my work related mood a number.
Then in the morning I give another 1-4 score to my sleep.

If you do that data collection over extended periods of time I find that the simplest scores are the best as you will consistently go through a list of them. If you have to spend even just a few minutes on each data collection point it will be challenging to do it over extended periods of time.

Regarding your sleep onset time I would suggest adding as many devices as you can for that. Fitbit is not bad at that but could be 30 min or more off. If you are using at least 3 devices you can easily find the outlier for that night. Smartphone work as well as any wrist or bed based sleep tracker for that.