Back in July, I stumbled upon a YouTube video about a concept called «Mood Tracking». The idea is straightforward: You create a particular scale, e.g. 1-5, that signifies your mood. Each day, you reflect on what happened, write it down and classify your mood through your scale. It's just a more numbers-focused approach to journaling.
On August 3, I started to implement the system, tracking the following metrics alongside a description of what happened on each day:
- Creative Hours: The time I spent working—either professionally or for private projects.
- Mood: With a scale from 1 (very bad) to 5 (very good)
- Sleep Hours: Tracked through my smartwatch
To ensure that I stick to tracking, I also implemented a daily task in my calendar. And I've been able to track consistently except for two days during a festival.
What I Wanted To Explore
As I saw Mood Tracking as an experiment, I wrote down some questions I wanted to answer during the tracking period.
- What's my mood in general, and how is it affected?
- Is there a relationship between my sleep and my mood?
- Is there a connection between my creative hours and my mood?
- Is my perceived feeling of productivity influencing my mood?
In hindsight, writing down these questions as areas to explore proved essential. But more on that in a bit.
I don't want to fool you: Pinpointing my mood with one number was the hardest challenge. Often, my mood significantly changed during the day: something good happening, something terrible happening. And there's also the question: How do you even define mood?
Also, tracking the mood at a specific moment creates an inherent bias. And it's tricky to detach yourself from what you're feeling right now. Therefore, the number was always some estimation to me.
Further, classifying the metric «Creative Hours» has been challenging, especially because «creative» already frames the activity. Is participating in a video call creative? The answer is probably: It depends. And not everything I do at work is considered creative but productive. In hindsight, I would exchange «creative» with something broader like «productive» or «focused work».
And last but not least, despite my daily reminder, sticking to the schedule has also been tricky. My goal was to track every day at 5 p.m.; however, I did it often later or even the next morning.
Now, let's dive into the statistics:
Over the past three months, my mood had an average of 3.5, signifying a slight tendency to be in a good mood. I mostly switched between 3 and 4, only occasionally feeling extremes in both ways.
Regarding my research questions, I couldn't find any apparent relationship between the amount of sleep and my mood. Rationally thinking, not getting enough sleep would lead to more severe mood swings. However, I did not track that aspect.
The relationship between the problematic «creative hours» and my mood is more complicated. Whenever I did nothing creative or productive, my mood was often lower. Conversely, I tracked high moods without any evident creative or productive work. Nevertheless, one or two focused daily tasks made me feel that I've accomplished something of substance and are reliable recipes for an improved mood.
The Highs And Lows
I also analysed the extremes, the days with a mood of 1, 2, and 5.
On the very low end, I find August 23, when I suddenly felt severe chest pain and had to do an emergency check-up (all went well, and the pain is long gone). Or October 1, when my grandmother died.
These are obvious and explicable results. But I also see that problems at work significantly impacted my mood, as well as some long travel days.
On the high end, surprisingly, it was primarily days off from work: The anniversary of my first date with my girlfriend, my birthday, a fun weekend in the mountains. But also the company retreat or days with good, productive meetings at work.
Now, should it be concerning that only a few workdays led to a high mood? No, I don't think so. Firstly, because the tracking should be more reliable. Secondly, because also only a fraction of work-related incidents have led to a bad mood.
Creating A Valuable Habit
Despite having fewer concrete learnings than I hoped for, setting research questions and the prospect of being able to illustrate certain aspects of the tracking helped create a valuable habit.
I took a couple of shots at journaling in the past, but it never stuck. Now, I've engrained the mood tracking in my daily habit and will continue it.
The habit had a significant and positive impact on my life: I have a vessel to put down my thoughts in writing, prompting me to reflect on a regular basis. After finishing every entry, I always felt relief when it was a bad mood day, or even more uplifted because I again realised what a great day it had been.
Adjustments Moving Ahead
However, I've made some adjustments to the system: I have ditched the «creative hours» metric altogether. I thought about replacing it but ultimately decided against it since it didn't bring me any value so far.
I opt to keep the sleep hours to further explore the relationship between sleep and mood over a more extended period and experiment with different amounts of sleep.
The new thing I added to the system is a column for gratitude. Every day, I want to describe what «I am grateful for» briefly because there's scientific evidence of the positive impact of practising gratitude.
Find Your Own System
If you've always wanted to try journaling but never could create a habit like me, I highly recommend the framework of mood tracking. Despite not being a numbers guy, it's still intriguing to dig around regularly and discover patterns.
Setting up and implementing your personalised system is quite easy:
- Think about metrics that interest you.
- Base your metric decision on questions you want to explore and write them down.
- Choose a suitable tool like a spreadsheet or prepare a notebook (I used a Notion database).
- Find a convenient slot (about 15 minutes) in your daily schedule and set a reminder.
- Don't worry about a few missed trackings, late entries, or not writing a lot down—done is better than perfect.