Have I Mentioned How Much I Love the Exist App?

One of the things I love about the Exist app is the way it shows you how your actions interact with each other:

An Exist screenshot informing me that I'm getting less active and more productive on Mondays.

Call it confirmation bias or what-have-you, but it seems like every life/balance/habits newsletter I follow has hit the same point over the last week: to do more of one thing, you have to do less of something else.

Or, conversely: if you want to stop doing something, what will you choose to do instead?

Because if we don’t make a choice, we default to—wait, let me look it up—social media. (I don’t know if that’s actually true or not, but enough people are writing about it, and it ties in with my own anecdotal experience, so it must be!)

But I’m not here to write about how our choices limit our choices (and why that’s a good thing). I already wrote that piece.*

I’m here to complain about Fitbit.

Here’s what my Fitbit app told me yesterday, in a bright red GET WORRIED ABOUT THIS NOW notification:

Fitbit informing me that I get fewer steps on weekdays than weekends and should try to "incorporate some of your weekend activity habits into the rest of the week."

First of all—I mean, there are SO MANY OF THEM ALL, but this one will be first:

This recommendation is not associated with any baseline. Fitbit knows how many steps I’m getting. (They’re fine.) It knows how many active minutes I’m getting. (Also fine.) But since I’m getting more steps on weekends, I should be able to get more steps during the week too. Never mind priorities or commitments or any of that.

Second of all, you can’t incorporate an hour-long Les Mills BodyAttack class into the rest of the week. You’re not supposed to. Les Mills doesn’t even want you to. It is unhealthy to exercise as hard every day as I do on Sunday morning, where I get nearly double the number of steps that I get the rest of the week, and yet that is what Fitbit is advising I consider.

Here are my daily and weekly step/active averages, according to Exist:

A chart showing that my active minutes remain constant throughout the week but my steps rocket up on Saturdays and Sundays.

Fitbit takes these numbers out of context, sending me nagging reminders that I should be getting more exercise every day because I get more exercise on two days.

Exist shows me what I prioritize, illustrates how my choices and priorities affect each other, and invites me to reflect on whether I’m happy with that.

Another Exist chart showing my weekly productivity. It inversely correlates with my physical activity.

Of course, Exist gets all of my exercise and heart rate and sleep data from Fitbit, just like it gets my productivity data from RescueTime (and other data from other apps), so it’s not like I’m going to stop wearing my Fitbit Charge 3 or anything.

I just wish Fitbit would present my data without commentary, because it so often gets it wrong. When I get up early for a plane flight, for example, Fitbit sends me this “you need to maintain a consistent bedtime and wake up time” message even though it has a perfectly good GPS and can tell that I am currently in an airport.

Exist, on the other hand, has helped me adapt several habits for the better**. Without ever once instructing me to change. ❤️

*I also already wrote a piece about how much I love the Exist app, although that post described a totally different reason for loving it. Then guest poster Francine Carrel gave Exist a shout-out in her post on writing with ADHD. Go Exist!

**I am realllll hesitant to write the “I gave up refined sugar” post because we’re all making different and valid dietary choices for different reasons and I do not want to imply that THIS IS THE ONE TRUE WAY, but Exist helped convince me to stop eating refined sugar.

I Love the Exist App (and I Super-Love What It Taught Me About Priorities)

So you probably remember that I have this thing I call the “Daily Spreadsheet,” in which I track everything I want to prioritize on a binary level (did it happen, did it not happen).

Did I sleep more than 7.5 hours, or did I not?

Did I do something musical today, or did I not?

Did I draft NEXT BOOK today, or did I not?

Did I connect with another person today, or did I not?

Well. I recently learned about this app called Exist, which pulls data from a bunch of other apps (Fitbit, RescueTime, Apple Health, Dark Sky, etc. etc. etc.) to present a unified theory of Who You Are and How You Work.

You can probably guess that I love this app. It pulled in the last 30 days of data from all my other apps and instantly showed me correlations between sleep and exercise and heart rate and everything else—and sure, some of the correlations were fairly obvious, e.g. “the less you sleep, the more you eat,” but some were unexpected.

I didn’t realize, for example, how increased carbohydrate intake had a negative impact on literally everything else.

Of course, days in which I eat enough carbs to affect sleep, heart rate, exercise level, etc. are generally days when I eat at restaurants, buy cookies at the library, and/or visit the candy shop across from my apartment. Which means that these aren’t just carbs, they’re refined carbs. Added sugars. High fructose corn syrup.

I wanted to make sure my carb assumption was correct, so I added “added sugars” and “restaurants and snacks” to Exist’s custom tags section—that is, the part of the app where you can make binary choices about things that did or didn’t happen that day.

I started setting up a lot of binary choices.

Instead of “did I do music today,” I created tags for “piano” and “singing” and “Chorale” and “rehearsal” and “performance.” (Maybe Exist will tell me that my heart rate is higher on performance days!)

Instead of “did I connect with another person,” I set up tags for “Mom,” “Dad,” and so on. (Maybe Exist will tell me that spending time with a certain person lowers my heart rate!)

You get the idea.

Two things happened, almost immediately:

I had more tags than I was able to keep track of, making the correlation element less trustworthy. I would wake up the next morning and think “I forgot to track that I took a melatonin pill yesterday,” or I’d review the data and notice that I forgot to track the Steam game I played three days ago. If I can’t keep my tags straight, I can’t trust Exist to provide me with accurate correlations.

The more tags I added, the less any one tag became a priority. With my Daily Spreadsheet, I was motivated to do something musical every day so I could turn the “music” cell green instead of red. Same with reading a book every day, completing my shutdown ritual every day, and so on. I gave myself a handful of priorities and, because of that, was able to prioritize them.

But Exist didn’t show me a handful of priorities. It gave me a huge list of tags and asked me to identify which ones I’d done that day. Without that narrow set of items that I’d decided were the most important, and the constant visual reminder that THESE WERE MY FIVE MOST IMPORTANT NON-WORK TASKS, MUSIC-READING-CONNECTION-EXERCISE-REST, I… stopped prioritizing those tasks.

Unbelievable, right? Is my motivation to read an actual non-internet book weak enough that I will spend all evening on the internet if I don’t have a spreadsheet with a cell I want to turn green?

Turns out… maybe?

I want to keep using Exist, because I love it (and because it’s teaching me a lot about myself). But I think I’ll have to do some serious tag culling first.

Also, I am pretty sure I need to update my thesis that building the life you want means setting boundaries and priorities.

Now it’s “building the life you want means setting boundaries and priorities and avoiding refined carbs.” ❤️