Friday 9 December 2011

How to Record your Month ... in Numbers

Hi, hi.

Next month [January 2012] will mark the 2nd anniversary of me blogging My Month in Numbers.

Not that I  ever intended it to be a regular feature, I'd just had some pretty interesting numbers to record that month and the idea just spilled out ... then some people seemed to like the idea [me being one of them] ... and I just kept going.

Over that time I've had questions about exactly how I go about recording all of my numbers and about how I don't forget them and which ones I choose to feature and so on, so finally I've put together the following 'Tips for the Month-in-Numbers-curious' for anyone who's ever wanted them!

Warning: if you've ever harboured a romantic notion that I have divine inspiration when it comes to recording my monthly stats ... prepare to feel like Dorothy when she discovers the Wizard of Oz is just little guy pushing buttons. But, if you're OK with that ... then read on ...

How are you going to work out what's happened each month and which numbers belong to those events?

I guess the most simple answer to that would be to say - write it down, make notes, add things in your diary except ... while this is what I do from time to time, it isn't what's consistently kept me blogging my Month in Numbers for 2 years.

But what has helped me the most is my photographs.

Whether or not you plan to use photographs to illustrate your Month in Numbers blog post they're a great aide memoire when it comes to writing your post and preventing one month's events blurring into another.

So you're going to need to find all the photographs you took during the month in question:
  • You can do this by looking at the date stamp on the photo - but you can make this easier still by storing your photos in monthly folders.
  • I store the majority of my 'general life' photos in folders marked with the year, containing sub-folders for each month. A quick look through that folder brings up the events of the month ... which is usually my MinN starting point.
Failing that, during less organised months, I go to Picasa [a free photo editing+ organising package] and use the slider bar at the top to 'Filter by Date Range':

Here I can adjust the date range so it only shows me the photos taken in the last month:
  • Then I know for sure that those are the moments, memories and events which are the starting point for my post. It's amazing how often I misremember and would end up writing about something that happened over a month ago if I hadn't checked the dates on the photos.
  •  I believe Apple's iPhoto has a similar function, and I would guess most other photo storage packages let you sort like this too.

If you don't take lots of photos then I think your best resource will indeed be a notebook ... or the online equivalent ...

I don't tackle my entire 'Month in Numbers' post the day I plan to publish it. That way madness [and a very brief post] lies.
  • Often, as soon as I publish the current MiN post, I immediately create a new draft post for the following month.
  • Then, throughout the new month I can open it up and add in quick ideas, things that have just happened, numbers I've just thought of, rough notes and sometimes photos straight away.
  • Then, when the end of the month arrives there's the basic shape of a post already waiting for me.
  • I then knock it into shape, adding in details, more photos and constructing actual sentences!
So, you've browsed through your photos, you've got a few ideas and reminders of your month PLUS you know where you're going to store the numbers and the inspiration when it strikes - now let's move on to exactly what you'll be documenting ...

What are you going to record? Which numbers?
Some months the numbers will be obvious and come completely naturally to you.
  • there'll be birthdays;
  • anniversaries;
  • house moves;
  • travel;
  • sporting events;
  • winning the lottery [OK, so that one might not be a monthly occurrence ... but we can hope!]
And all of these kinds of events will give up their numbers naturally: ages; dates; distances; scores; lucky numbers etc etc

But unless your life is so very much more eventful than mine ... you're also going to have to seek out the numbers within some of life's more day-to-day events.
  • so what are your key - everyday - events?
  • what are your activities / hobbies?
  • who or what have you shared your month with?
  • what have you made?
  • anything unusual and out-of-the-ordinary happen?
  • alternatively is there anything that happens so often, it's regular, repetitive? Because the numbers involved there are going to be worth collecting too - and even comparing with the same thing in the next month! 
So, once you've worked out your events, now you need to let the numbers emerge from them and here's where you need to think like you're still in Primary School.

Think: money, think size, weight, height, time, distance, temperature, frequency and so on ...  any and all measurements are useful!
For example:
  • What did something cost?
  • How big was it?
  • How heavy?
  • How often did X happen?
  • How much did something / someone grow?
  • How many X did you make / receive / give / find / lose?
  • How long did X take?
  • How far did you walk / drive / swim / fly?
  • How may pages did you read / write?
It's all really just a form of documenting your daily life.

Then, pretty soon, you won't be on your own doing this as I've found that once people know you're recording your Month in Numbers, they start offering you suggestions!

For me it's often James or my Dad ... or people on Twitter!
  • But if you have kids you could get them involved in offering suggestions or keeping a record of their own special statistics.
  • Or maybe it's a project they'd like to do for themselves?
  • That would make a great family record to look back on in the future.
Once you're up and running, I promise that the numbers will start to leap out at you more often and more easily. Especially when you're browsing through your photos and asking yourself the kinds of measurement questions listed above.

However ... there will be other months where you'll find yourself crowbarring the numbers in like an Ugly Sister's foot into a glass slipper!
But that's OK too. In fact, it's often these that tell the true story of your month ...

It's like the time in 2010 that I met one of my writing heroes David Sedaris and there was no possible way that that event was going to be left out of my monthly round-up. But which numbers could I fit around it?

Well, I started with the obvious: 250 - which equalled the number of miles travelled to London to see him. But that didn't tell a big enough story so ... so I added in 125 as that was the amount - in millilitres - of hair conditioner he gave me after he signed my book. [He was handing out similar bottles to everyone ... from hotel rooms he'd stayed in while touring ... yes, I know it's odd ... but you can forgive your heroes anything!]

But what I'm hoping this shows is that, no matter what the event, the moment, the memory, there are numbers there, if you look hard enough.

But, if you're wondering why you need to look that hard, why bother if there are no obvious numbers to record ... then ...

it's because, really .. you don't want to forget The WHY 
Why are you recording these numbers in the first place?
The BIG SECRET ... revealed
For me, it's not actually because the numbers - in and of themselves - are the story. They're not.  But what they are is:
  • a handy, interesting hook for you to hang the story of your month on to.
  • the padding which gives a shape to each set of 4 weeks in your life;
  • the focus for you to begin writing down what happened in the last 30 days;
  • a clear, simple, way to share your stories with people who read your blog [but who you wouldn't neccesarily share your secret diary entries with!].
So, it doesn't matter if you have to bend, twist and contort the numbers to fit the events ... because the events are more important - the numbers are just there to help you record the events.

Not vice versa.

Then, when you look back upon them in maybe a year's time ... those statistics will still mean something to you simply because of the story they were attached to.

I know some of you are planning to blog yours next year and maybe, like me, you'll illustrate this with photographs but ...

Alternatively ...
  • You could make a scrapbook page featuring your numbers each month and then blog the page which is what Month in Numbers stalwart Claire Salisbury of 'The Crafty Alchemist' has been doing each month throughout 2011.
  • Now she has a beautiful album and a full year of events, to look back on through her colourful pages: 

If 12x12 layouts aren't your thing ...

Alternatives to the alternative:
  • how about a digital scrapbook page? Maybe using a template to add in a few photos and space for your stories [perhaps something on a smaller scale to the approach Alexa took with her September album here]
  • you could art journal or 'smashbook' or 'glue-book' your Month in Numbers;
  • you could just blog one single photo that sums up your most important number of the month'
  • you could add to the pages of a mini-album with your new numbers each month;
  • make monthly tags;
  • or even just keep a regular journal / notebook and fill it with your statistical summaries.
Whatever you choose to do,  whichever numbers you choose to make a note of and however you choose to record and share them ... I hope you enjoy it while you're doing it and then enjoy it all over again when you look back at it in the future.

And whether you join in every month,  once a year or as and when you can, that's all fine by me. Just make sure to drop by and leave me a link when you do so I can swing by to compare statistics!


I know I've packed a lot in this post, but I'll add a link to it in the Month in Numbers tab at the top of the blog for ease of reference, or you could pin it to one of your Pinteerst boards if that's easier for you.

Thanks so much for your interest in the Month in Numbers idea this year, I can't wait to see how you all adapt it in 2012!

Happy number-hunting.

Julie :-)


  1. Fantastic post Julie, I'm a jot in down in a notebook girl myself, but that's because I need to take more photos lol. looking forward to next years Month in Numbers & already have 1 or 2 numbers for December :D
    C xx

  2. I did mean to join in last month, and I definitely will be this month. I am also so pleased that you are carrying on and I would imagine with this great post to help you will have a few more joiners :) Great ideas, thank you :)

  3. Oh and I meant to say that I bought some purple tights and a top last month :)

  4. You have turned it into an art form!

  5. It's on my to-do list to join in for next year!

  6. I can't remember where I first saw this idea but I was thinking about doing something along these lines for December. I was busy wrapping and thinking how many presents, how many rolls of paper and how many rolls of sellotape. I love the idea of doing it monthly for a year though - thanks for this post!

  7. Def going to start this in jan. Thanks for the tips, notebook and camera ready:)

  8. I'm going to start next year too - thanks for the nudge! I've pinned this for January!

  9. This is such a brilliant post with glorious photos, and beautifully out together. You know, you really could put this into a pdf with a button for a donation and we'd all pay you!

  10. Fab article Julie. I intend to join in next year as a part of my Photo Fifty/Project Life/365 photo type album to celebrate (gulp) being 50. I thought Id incorporate a month in numbers layout for each month - so any tips for gathering up the numbers is very welcome

  11. A great post which has left my brain fizzing with ideas - I really hope to join in at some point during 2012, thanks for all the brilliant ideas.


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