Hacking Google: Building a goal tracking “mobile app” with zero coding

iphone apps
Building a “mobile app” can be easy with the right tricks.

A few days ago in the article “On polymaths: why you should master everything,” I made the bold claim that people should pursue the life of a polymath, constant learning and mastery of multiple subjects. Obviously, this is much easier said than done. Learning a new skill is, let alone mastering one, extremely difficult, especially when it’s difficult to see or quantify results.   In the words of the late, great management consultant, Peter Drucker, “what gets measured, gets managed.” To stay motivated in forming a new skill, you need to see results, to see results you need to measurement, to grow fast, you need to experiment and see the results on your measurements. Before I get too far ahead of myself, lets look at how you can build a powerful, quick and dirty, “mobile app” to start measuring. Brett Boot, one of my MBA classmates at the David Eccles School of Business, discovered this trick and I’m excited to share it with you.

Plan your KPI’s

The most important step is luckily the first! Take a long hard look at what measurements are going to be most important to you. In Do your goals align with your measurements, Tim, my 8 to 10 friend and cofounder, discussed the importance of choosing the right KPI’s (Key Performance Indicators). In his example, he outlined how athletes wanting to form a new work out habit may jump into tracking BMI and body circumference instead of days in the gym. When forming a new habit, techniques such as Jerry Seinfeld’s “don’t break the chain” may be the best approach. In that case, consistency and days performing the desired habit may be best metrics to track. Example KPI’s can include days in the gym, reps, weight, and time spent doing cardio if you are looking to exercise. If you are trying to become an artist you may choose time spent sketching, sketches per day, paintings per day, etc. There are many examples for every industry, trade, skill, habit, what’s important is that you track the things that are most important to achieving your goal. Ask around, do some research, find out what others are doing and get ready to roll.

Getting on to Google forms

Here’s the fun part: building out your measurement tool. Get on Google drive (if you don’t have an account, its free to sign up) and create a form. This tool is used to create surveys and track responses. For the purpose of mastering a new skill, you will build the survey and continually retake it and record your KPIs.

google form
When the page opens up, you can easily add modules that contain drop down field forms, multiple choice, free text, time stamps etc. While it’s fun to add lots of fields, don’t go overboard. The more fields you add, the less likely you are to complete all of them. Keep it to a minimum and focus on what’s important. In my example below, I’m focusing on time blocking for Linkedin prospecting. I’ve added fields such as length of time block, whether I completed the time block, how many contact attempts were made, how many connections were made, how many connections qualify as potential leads, etc.


As a side note, if you are using text boxes, use data validation to manage the text that can be written. In this way you can’t accidently enter in letters when you need to enter numbers.

data validation

When you are finished, click on the send button and shoot it over to your email.

Getting it on your mobile device

Once you have the link to your form, its time to put it onto your mobile device in an easy and accessible way. In the below screenshots I’m using an Iphone. I’m not very familiar with droid phones but I’m sure the process is similar. Open the link to your phone on your mobile browser. Click on the center icon that looks like a box with an arrow.
You should see the following screen. Click the “Add to Home Screen” button. You will now have an easily accessible button to get to the form.

When you complete a full time block of working on your new skill, you can click on the icon, fill out the form, and get on with your day.  You’ll see this cool window appear.

Building out “push notifications”

Great goal oriented apps such as run keeper or level leverage push notifications to keep users on track to meeting their goals. Run keeper, for example, will shoot out pop up notifications that say “I notice you haven’t run in a while” to encourage users to get back on track. Since we want to ensure we are forming new habits and developing skills, we need to build in tools to encourage our future selves to stay focused. This is where Google Calendars comes into play. Open up Google Calendar and select the day and time you want to receive a notification. Since I have found a weekly checkup most helpful for my tracking, I’m choosing the end of the week. Name the event something encouraging that will get your future self engaged, chances are high that you won’t be motivated to keep entering data after the initial excitement fades.

After creating your event, go into the edit window. Set the event to repeat. If you need daily encouragement, set the repeat to daily. If you are doing a daily reminder, make note that it takes on average 66 days to form a new habit, as James Clear outlines on his blog. Set the daily repeat to at least 66 days.

edit calendar
The last step is to set up pop-up reminders. If your Google Calendar is synced with your phone, 30 minutes before the calendar event occurs, a pop up window will appear reminding you to complete the data entry on your app.

Checking the data

At the end of the week, or when you feel it’s appropriate to check back with your results, log onto Google Drive and get into the folder with your survey. A spreadsheet will now appear alongside the form. Open it and you will see all of the data you’ve recorded.

Google Sheets operates very similarly to Microsoft Excel and supports a majority of the same functions. If you need more robust functions, you can easily export the data into excel. This is a really great way to track data. I have used Google Forms a lot for work and school, but have only begun experimenting with it for habit forming and tracking. The next post will go in depth on data analysis and measuring your path to mastery. Here at 8 to 10 we are excited to hear about what skills you are working on, businesses you are building, and how you leverage tools like this for increasing and measuring your productivity. Feel free to comment and share!

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