My Fitbit says I have not climbed a stair in seven months and more thoughts on monitoring

Black Fitbit tracker
Photo by Adam Birkett on Unsplash

I wear a Fitbit every day.  My Fitbit serves as a personal health monitoring and dashboarding solution.  Literally, I use my Fitbit to make sure my job and lifestyle isn’t killing me.  I use its hourly reminder function to get 250 steps each hour (sitting too much is bad for your health) and I use the step count to make sure I’m approaching some level of sentient activity (at LEAST 5000 steps) in a day.  Yesterday I noticed something odd in my Fitbit report which led to this blog post.

My Fitbit report for yesterday. 11,000 steps and 0 floors climbed.
Yesterday’s Fitbit report

I had just finished an evening jog and was feeling pretty good about myself.  While I was syncing the data to my phone I noticed that I was scored at 0 “flights of stairs climbed”.  I thought that was unusual given the rolling hills on my jog – and I was certainly huffing on the uphills!  I was curious if that was just a blip.

Step data – the data I care most about – has been working ever since I got the device.  But “flights of stairs” has not recorded any data since December 2017, about seven months ago!

Average of 29 floors climbed in December and no floors climbed in January or February
Winter report: stair count
Average of 10,705 steps per day from December 2017 to February 2018
Winter report: step count

I have no idea what is going on with my Fitbit – maybe the gyroscope doesn’t work, maybe I got a new Fitbit in December, maybe my app is out of date – but whatever the reason, that is beside the point.  My thoughts are around data collection and monitoring in general.  My personal health data collection and monitoring solution is broken!

A good solution dashboard and monitoring solution collects the data that you need to understand your solution health and should notify you when the solution health looks poor according to those metrics.  When it comes to steps my Fitbit is ideal: my personal health is monitored via hourly and daily steps and I have all the right alerts in place.  When it comes to flights of stairs my system is broken: no data collection was happening for seven months and I had no idea.  If the stair data is important, I should have had an alert somewhere, if the stair data is important then it shouldn’t be on my dashboard!

This exercise demonstrates some good principles around data collection and monitoring:

Figure out the most important metrics for your system and measure them.  With these measured data you will be able to intelligently understand your current situation and make future plans.  Without data you are just guessing!

Set up a dashboard for your system’s most important metrics.  Attention is limited – include ONLY the most important metrics.  If you can fit all the metrics in a single phone screen that will be easy to consume!

Ensure the health of your data collection.  Set up monitoring infrastructure and alerts letting you know if data is not coming in.

Periodically review what data is collected.  Make sure you are not collecting data you don’t need – wasting your resources and time.  Add new data as you learn what truly indicates system health.

I love my Fitbit.  The system they have set up is nearly perfect for me. Steps are the most important metric to me and I have all the right dashboards and alerts in place for steps.  Every night I review step data and it helps me assess when I need to set aside more time for future exercise.  I also appreciate the chance to look at the personal health solution Fitbit enables and how it led to this educational opportunity!