You know what happens when you pick up your phone?

Yeah, you know it. Your phone buzzes because of a text and then you reply and ten minutes later your phone is still in your hand and you’ve scrolled through 100 tweets, 50 Facebook posts, and checked your e-mail three times. And probably sent 3 more texts and 2 Facebook messages about things you saw in your travels. Right? I know this isn’t limited to ADHD, but I find that with ADHD when I notice I am doing it, it takes a LOT to re-shift my focus back on what I was doing.

Enter Pebble.

I’ve been a Pebble user for a couple of years now. Sometimes I feel a tad cyborg-y with my Fitbit on one wrist and my Pebble on the other, but whatever.

Because now my Pebble vibrates with an alert, I check it, and if I don’t want/need to deal with it immediately, guess what? My phone stays happily face-down on my desk or in my pocket. In a much different way from Forest, I find my Pebble one of the great reasons that I check my phone less. I less haphazardly go check my phone every time it buzzes, because I can simply clear notifications from my watch and go back to what I am doing.

No, I absolutely do not have to clear notifications immediately. A lot of the time I don’t—I glance at my watch and hit back—not dismiss—and done. The alert stays on my home screen, ready for the next time I want to pick up my phone because with a quick glance, I decide if I should read/reply to it now or later. There’s less of an abyss to get sucked into on my Pebble (which is why I’m not really interested in an Apple watch, because I’d probably just get sucked in there with the interactivity anyways).

Another nice feature is reminders coming up on my watch. This is especially great if I put bus rides in my calendar—with a down button tap, I can re-check what time the bus comes from my Timeline view.

Although I totally need a Moovit Pebble app for the 90% of the time I don’t put bus times in my Google Calendar… That would be rad.

I’ve been using the Fitbit for several years now, but when I got my Pebble, I threw the Misfit app on there to see how it fared (the Pebble can’t use more than one activity tracker at a time, or I can guarantee you I’d have tried something else on there to see if it trended similarly to Misfit!)

Now, yes, clearly I like that my step count for the month on Fitbit (5.19K) is 29% higher (if I did that math right, yes sometimes I struggle to use a calculator) than that on Misfit (3.67K)–152,000 steps is kind of a lot (some of which potentially accounted for within the five days that the Misfit/Pebble combo just apparently mostly gave up, and then slowly rose back to life? Note that I’ve definitely worn my Pebble every day since getting it, so it’ not like I left it laying on the bathroom counter to not count anything for a day while my Fitbit did stuff.

It’s important to note, though, that at some point I did realize there was a setting on the Misfit app to specify where you’re wearing the device. Not, however, that it became any closer to the Fitbit numbers. What’s more accurate? Well, nothing will say for sure, but a quick google lead me to Neil at Spoken Like a Geek, who noted:

I ran a small test where I recorded the step count on both devices before taking 130 steps and the recording the counts again. [… I]n this very unscientific test the Fitbit was spot on and the Pebble  [was] out by a factor of 35%.

And, note that I had no idea that Neil had run this similar comparison–his trend line is a lot smoother/has a bit more predictable of a flow than mine has. EDIT: Note that Neil was using the Fitbit Flex, thus both trackers were wrist worn. I keep my Pebble on my left wrist, and my Fitbit One on my right hip (pocket), which could account for some variance. I’ll probably run this experiment again (when I don’t have a significant gap of data), and I’d also like to add a third set of data for the steps collected directly from the iPhone (…and be very intentional about keeping my phone on me for the duration of the experiment, because today for example, I had a phone call vibe-ing away on my Pebble and I could not remember where my phone was.)

Additionally, this proves I need to move a lot more. I did try the standing desk thing the other day for a bit, but given that I was using some folding stool from IKEA with my MacBook, it was not a super ergonomic setup [which is my general experience at these things given that I am 5’2″ and thus even when I eventually attempt to build a less makeshift standing desk, the instructions for people who are 6’+ are less than helpful and I am, as we discovered above, not good at math and 5’2″. At the very least, if I’m already standing I’m just more prone to wandering a bit more or breaking out into dance on occasion–the effect on my productivity will be questionable, however.

IFTTT, or, if this then that, is a miraculous little website.

[Keep reading before you go get lost there for a few hours.]

It does just what it says. If [this] (a social network, an online storage service, a text message, an e-mail… etc) then [that] (triggers an action by another network.

Like this:


When I got my Pebble, I had been illusioned (you’ll see why illusioned and not disillusioned momentarily into thinking I’d be able to display my Fitbit stats on the watch. When I got my Pebble, and then was finally able to see the official Pebble app library, the first thing I tried to install was Edwin Finch’s Fitface  which would stream my Fitbit stats via their API into my Pebble.

Except Fitface doesn’t work and the developer doesn’t know what to do and it works great for a select few people (maybe?) and the rest of us can’t do anything with it. (And now the documentation is filled with irritated sounding “don’t e-mail me, I can’t help you” quips from the developer.) You can still get at it on Github if you’re code-y that way.

I’m not code-y at all. I tried to be even, but playing with Finch’s code from GitHub and using the Pebble Developer  stuff with zero coding knowledge and ADHD is kind of futile. Except I still wanted a solution.

I’m kind of obsessed with IFTTT. IFTTT works with Fitbit, so I decided to try to make a solution.

Failed attempt 2: (Attempt 1 was trying to code, remember?)
Feed Fitbit into a google spreadsheet using Ernesto Ramirez’s intraday data code and then miraculously turn this into RSS or something. [Note: you need to have personal intraday data unlocked by Fitbit first.]
This attempt lasted about ten minutes because despite getting it working before, I couldn’t get it to work again. And then I started googling getting a spreadsheet to become an RSS feed [on a self-refreshing basis] and I quickly gave up.

Failed attempt 3:
In my above quest, I did discover that Google Calendar has easily accessible RSS feeds. So, I used IFTTT to grab data from fitbit and push it into a Google Calendar quick-add.
I mean, it worked for a bit, I’ll give it that:


Steps to Google Calendar…

The RSS from google calendar kind of sucked though. I also had to go back through more than once to fix things—for instance, if I wanted things to feed through to the watch in a timely fashion through all these steps, I had to trigger the Fitbit check for five minutes [or so] before I wanted the data so that it had time to add an upcoming event through Google Calendar’s “quick add” fun, and then push it to the watch at the proper time. Which sucked because it always gave me a time range on the Pebble and didn’t work all that well.

The main problem making every input as a Google calendar event [yes, ridiculous, but hey, the promise was easy RSS feedability!] problem with this was, I inputted the date initially as “today” and then on day two it didn’t work. I didn’t know it would be quite that literal, so I went back through the dozens and dozens of IFTTT recipes I’d made and removed the “today” item. Which made it not work at all, despite having the time in there already (day one was exciting and then day two was very sad. That’s even worse than it not working to begin with!).

Failed attempt 4 (or 5, depending on how many methods you count the last one as).


Next, I tried to just push the Google Calendar data over to WordPress. (“Starts” is super awkward, but remember, I was using Quick Add and my movement was the event.)

Which ran into the same issues as running off the Google Calendar RSS did, obviously. I’m not sure why I thought it would be any different, but hey, it worked to start, right?

Final trial – Success:


Oh yes, 61 individual recipes to get this going:

But… it WORKS. (Note the minor tweak between the previous picture and the latter, in which I toggled the body text to contain a dash instead of the date that was being half cut off, because IFTTT required me to have body text—I didn’t realize at first that even though a space didn’t work, a dash would.)

Updates go from my Fitbit as scheduled within IFTTT, and are pushed into WordPress with the title “{{Progress}} {{DailyGoalType}}” translating to the above “#### Steps”. I get updates every 15-30 minutes throughout the day, since Fitbit syncs every 20 unless you force sync (I gradually spaced out my updates towards the end of the day, mostly as I got tired of making IFTTT recipes, and because I’m usually sitting around anyways—clearly I’ve been sitting around a lot today.) I put the update time in brackets, as if I don’t move, it doesn’t update—so I know if it’s 3:17 and my update still says 3:00, I haven’t moved in at least 15 minutes (or, my fitbit hasn’t synced since it’s on the automatic 20 minute timeframe—but I’m usually the culprit).

I could have done much of this through iOS notifications, but, I wanted it to be more passive than having to dismiss notifications constantly—well, I wanted passivity at times. Using Cards for Pebble and RSS, my steps simply feed in and hangs out under the clock.
Note, that I didn’t fully abandon Google Calendar. I have it set so that if my sleep from the previous night is under 7.5 hours, it will quick add an event at 11:30 that night—


the alert will be pushed to my phone/Pebble and I’ll have to dismiss it (actively), acknowledging that I should attempt to not go to bed at 2:30 AM for once. IFTTT, by non-Calendaric default, would push that alert to me immediately. What do I care at 9 AM if I only got 7 hours of sleep? I need that reminder later on.

Similarly, I didn’t want a passive alert telling me I hadn’t done as many stairs as I could have today.


So if I haven’t done 10 flights of stairs by 4 PM, I get this little alert (see the first one):

And then I will hopefully not be lazy and go do some stairs—I got this at 4 PM today and then went up and down my two flights of stairs “five times”, which in house stairs, is actually ten flights ascending, since Fitbit needs a 10ft ascent to count as a flight. Except no, airplanes do not count.

[Since this point, I’ve toggled OFF all of the iOS notification switches that accidentally were ON—meaning I got random iOS notifications vaguely being like “Steps goal is not achieved yet”, and they were annoying.]

Limitations: Other than the Making-61-Recipes-To-Make-This-Happen Thing

Also known as “I don’t code, so hey.”

Biggest drawback? Once I hit my daily step goal outlined on Fitbit, my updates cease. I think it was broken then (in the Failed Attempt 4 Stage at this point), but yesterday, I hit my steps goal by about 4 PM, so while I magically got an update around 12:45, even as I tried to fix things last night, I couldn’t test them! This can be mitigated by changing daily goals in Fitbit, but, that’s kind of the point: once I start hitting my 10,000 step goal consistently and being frustrated by the lack of updates, I’ll increase my goal—the reward for increased movement being continual access to the data on my wrist, even if kind of ridiculous.
The reality is, getting nudges every time I look at the clock or dismiss a text notification on my Pebble (via my step count) is yet another way to make the wearing-a-wearable less passive and the data meaningful—because yes there are studies about how much these things work in the long term, and that long term impact data isn’t as awesome as it could be. I’ve been wearing a Fitbit for three years now (is “back in the Ultra days” one of those things that will make me sound old eventually?) and while I’ve never stopped wearing it (save for when it has been lost and awaiting a replacement), the data becomes less important at times.

So while I’m not quite living up this slide from #MedX (by Dan of Dan’s Plan Health)…


I realize I need to find ways to get myself excited about my fitbit data again—and if not excited, at least paying attention to it. I haven’t come close to reaching the “this-is-useless-never-trying-again” stage signified by that orange x… but the above experience is the ideal one, the one I’d like to have, and days like this

screenshot fitbit 01-20-15

are a reward. It’s not just about look how freaking pretty that is! (though the little fitbit smiley face animations when the page loads do help!) but it’s also that it feels really freaking awesome, too.

Yes, quantified self data is an extrinsic reward—while I’m being motivated by numbers instead of my own sense of “yeah! I love exercise and DOMS and hypertrophy! yeah!” [because really?!], it’s a very different kind of extrinsic motivator–it’s not like using a pizza or whatever as a reward. If it takes my Pebble to help that process out after three years, well, I’m okay with that.

And at the end of the day when I get this final report


hopefully the passive-but-constant reminders will result in more active choices–well, at least until I get bored with this, too, and have to find another way to keep it interesting.