Quantifying ideas: 1 new idea every two days

I keep track of new ideas that pop into my head by writing them into my log book, on page 2 (page 1 is for food). During 2015 I used up 37 log books, each one with its own idea page. I recently transcribed them all into excel, to see what I could discover.

The first thing I did was to count the number of ideas per log book, which was kind of depressing at times and other times surprising. During the week of October 20th, I had no ideas, but then 10 new ideas in each log book for other weeks. I plotted the ideas per month of the year, and you can see that they do vary quite a bit (Figure 1). To do this properly, I had to divide the total number of ideas per log book by the number of days included in each book (since probably the longer the book, the more the ideas). So that’s why the y-axis has the rather awkward units of “ideas per day”.


Figure 1 tells me a few things. I was not really pushing myself to come up with new ideas, but from the data it appears that in a fairly relaxed manner, I have about one new idea every two days (the average per day for 2015 was 0.5 ideas/day ± 0.33). Some weeks I have up to one idea per day, which I guess would be an upper limit. It seems like there were different “idea peaks” around the beginning of the year, then in May and around December. All in all I jotted down a total of 166 ideas in 2015.

The next thing was to start looking for patterns. I wondered whether I wrote down more ideas when I was reading more. Maybe most of the ideas I was writing down were from books that I was reading? So, as I explained in a previous blog, I usually write down summaries of things that I’m reading from back to front, in the same log books (let’s call those reading summaries). As with the ideas, I plotted the total number of reading summaries the past year (see Figure 2), and realized that I wrote about 1 page (± 0.87 pp) per day. The peaks here are a bit different than Fig. 1, more reading at the beginning of the year, a lot around May and another peak around October. I correlated the data (ideas/day against reading summaries/day) and it was positive but low (+0.30), so I don’t think what I’m reading necessarily or automatically provides more ideas. Those peaks around April and May are interesting though. During those periods I was reading three books which, looking back, I did find quite stimulating, and wrote a lot of notes about, and they probably made me think more and write down more ideas. The books were, How music works (by David Byrne), You are not so smart (by David McRaney) and How Google Works (by Eric Schmidt & Jonathan Rosenberg).


So there seemed to be a bit of a relation between reading and ideas. But then the reader starts asking him/herself, what ideas is this guy having? So I went through each idea and tried to classify them into categories. After a while I came up with five categories: ideas that arise after observing people, events or things (e.g., it would be interesting to know why some joggers feel the need to touch something, like a wall, when they get to the half way point of their run), ideas that are directly related to work activities (it would be interesting to see if teachers have more ideas before class, during class or after class, and how those are recalled), ideas more related to myself (e.g., I want a graph of the heart beat frequencies of all family members on the living room wall), more general ideas about organization (e.g., how fast and efficient are meetings with small, medium of large groups), and finally ideas about quantified self (e.g., I want to quantify the amount of time I spend waiting for things).

I made a visual representation of how many ideas I had per category and it turns out that most of the ideas I had in 2015 dealt with quantified self (see Figure 3) and most of the other ones were well distributed among the other categories.


Finally, I went through all the ideas again and tried to get a feeling for how many of them were really original or how many felt like they were a remake of other ideas. So I took each individual idea in Excel and wrote beside it how original I thought it was. I feel that about 65% of all the ideas I had last year are quite original. Funnily enough, most of those were in the category of observing people, things or events. I then chose my very favorites of last year, a total of eight, that I thought I would try to work on more this year, we’ll see, maybe some new quantification projects. So I won’t tell you about them since they may show up on the blog soon!

A late Happy New Year to all.




  1. I will be interested to see some of those ideas that you came up with in the future! I was also curious, how much time do you spend each day or week in your log books?


    • Hi! Thanks for the comment. Yes, I hope to get some of those ideas out in future blogs.
      It’s funny that I’ve never really quantified how much time I spend writing in the log books. It’s a real habit and I don’t really think about the time it takes. However, I just now wrote down some things and calculated that it takes me about 5 min of writing time to fill up a page, multiplied by 60 pages, about 300 min or 5 hours per book, and each one lasts me on average 10 days, so I would “guestimate” that I spend about 30 min a day total writing time and about 3.5 hours a week. A lot of it is jotting down notes of what I’m doing, not really long essays, so it does not take up a lot of time. Thanks for asking, other wise I wouldn’t have calculated that.


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