Ad-hoc data collection for Tableau analysis: Quantified self, Workflow & Google Sheets

October 26, 2016

Using Workflow (no Shortcuts ) to build small app like data collection tools on iOS.

Hopefully, you’ve watched the brief video above. Workflow was acquired by Apple and is now called Siri Shortcuts and is Free on the App Store.

The challenge behind data collection

If you’ve collected data about yourself or have briefly interacted with others who are part of the quantified self-movement, the very first challenge or question posed always revolves around data collection and data manipulation and following that, analysis. For the last few years, I’ve proved many times that the analysis is easiest and best done in Tableau. It allows me to analyse and ask questions as fast as I can think of them and better yet, it allows me then to present those findings in new and engaging ways, and I’ve done that with music, heart rate data and marathon data, or my whereabouts as shown here“.


Ellie is my car, nicknamed after the first two letters of the registration plate. I’ve owned her for just over nine years, and like most cars this age, you have to stay on top of maintenance to avoid nasty shocks. In April, I took the car in for a service, and the visit summarised that mileage was having an impact on wear and a tear and performance had dropped. A couple of the key things they said to watch out for was fuel consumption and mileage and essentially checking certain parts and items on the car on a schedule set by mileage rather than time, and so I set out to track mileage and fuel consumption manually.

Trial and error

I started with a Google form, it was super tedious, not much more to say about this, I gave up after 2 trips to the fuel station. I tried Reporter app but that carried the overhead of always life logging at the fuel pump which in itself started to skew my data with more representations of fuel stations rather than the random sampling that reporter tends to operate by. It also didn’t collect this data too well. My final resort was to keep the receipt and at the end of the month type it all out and clock the mileage weekly; this caused other issues, I’d forget or lose receipts, I just wasn’t organised enough to do this.

The solution

After a lot of frustration, I downloaded an expense tracker that allowed me to track fuel. I essentially used this app (targeted more at the accounting and expenses world) to log this one thing, but even then I missed vital information. I needed a way to track this data at the fuel court, within 10 seconds using the intelligence of my phone and convenience to capture the date, grab some context and save it somewhere. Three months back, within a week of each other Tableau and Workflow introduced the ability to connect to and post to Google sheets, respectively. I use Workflow extensively for plugging all the gaps in iOS or my social media sharing and also used it for scripting my way out of annoying limitations of the platform. I won’t go into Workflow now but this post here is a pretty solid (there’s way more here if you blast through that) and the images below give an indication of what workflows I’ve built within it and how the fuel tracker I made in it looks like in development. If you’ve used Alteryx, you’ll get Workflow straight away. So this short clip below is what my fuel logging now looks like, and of course, if you’ve used Tableau, you’ll know that analysis is super easy.

… and then analysis in Tableau.