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Tracking My Mileage Without Losing My Mind

Tracking My Mileage Without Losing My Mind

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    I track where I go — whether I’m traveling by car, train or plane — for several reasons:

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    • I can write off 50.6 cents for every business mile I drive in 2008.
    • I can plan my trips more efficiently if I have a good idea of how often I’m traveling, and where.
    • I can easily backtrack, if need be, even long after the travel.

    But finding a method for tracking travel, especially mileage, that isn’t time consuming, can be difficult. I learned to track mileage from my mother, who, to this day, writes down her mileage and location every time she parks the car on the back of her most recent gas receipt. It gets the job done, but it seems like she has to devote a lot of time to the process, from the actual time spent writing down information to processing it later on.

    When picking a mileage tracking system — or creating your own — there are some very specific factors that you should keep in mind:

    Documentation needs: If you’re expecting to be reimbursed for your mileage by an employer or client, know from the beginning what sort of documentation you’ll need to hand over — will a travel log suffice? will you need gas receipts? will your travel need approval? The same goes for any mileage you intend to claim as a deduction on your taxes. If you’re based in the U.S., unless you get audited, you need only minimal documentation. It’s if you get audited that you’ll need to be able to pull out some paperwork to show that you really do drive extensively for your job. What kind of records, you might ask: Kelly Erb, of taxgirl, says, “The best proof is written records.” The key, Kelly says, is that they have to be contemporary — meaning you tracked your travels as you made them. Electronic tracking is fine as long as you keep up with it in the same way you would keep up a written system. She recommends tracking mileage and the purpose of a trip, as well as keeping receipts for both tolls and gas. Kelly offered up another suggestion as well: “If you use E-Z pass or something similar, you will actually have a printed record of your trips compiled for you.”

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    Other variables: Are you tracking your travels to help make your weekly round of errands more efficient? Or are you comparing your mileage to your spending on gasoline? If you need to track other variables, you’ll have to plan for that fact from the beginning. You may need to include your gas expenses or the number of times in a month that you visit a given location in a month in your tracking system.

    If you’re good about record keeping in general, you may not need to stress too much about tracking miles: say you keep a calendar with pretty precise records of where you are at any given time — business names and addresses. If you don’t detour too often, you can just calculate the distance from one appointment to the next (just plug addresses into either GoogleMaps or Mapquest).

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    But for those of us who would rather keep track of our mileage as we go, several web applications can serve the purpose admirably. Personally, I like Jott. As I reach a location, I can just call up Jott and record a message stating my mileage, my current location and my purpose (which makes things much easier when I need to sort out my business travel from everything else). And because Jott will send my recordings to my email, I can set up filters based on a few words or even run searches for particular locations. The only wrench in my system is the occasional voice recognition issue: I go to plenty of places with apparently unrecognizable names. But I can always go back to Jott and listen to a particular recording again.

    I just drop my Jotts into a spreadsheet — theoretically on a monthly basis, but realistically every few months — with a few formulas set up to figure out not only my total travels, but also my totals within categories. I try to phrase my Jotts in such a way that I can just cut and paste while doing something less than intellectually challenging, like watching television.

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    But I can think of plenty of variations on this theme that depend on how you connect to the internet and which applications you like: you could text messages to a Twitter account, keep files on a PDA or hack your car and a GPS device together so they can keep track of mileage without your interference. The key difference between these techniques and an old-school mileage book (which you can get for free at your local H&R Block office if you don’t like high tech solutions) is that the information is already typed up. With far less effort than handling a stack of receipts, you’ll be able to manipulate your travel information: even the simple task of adding up a total number of miles traveled seems monumental with my mother’s stack of annotated gas receipts. Many people say that the only acceptable method of tracking is using pen and paper, preferably kept in the car. But think how much time adding up those numbers are going to take, while I’m dumping my Jotts into a spreadsheet that will do all the math for me?

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    Last Updated on July 17, 2019

    The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain)

    The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain)

    What happens in our heads when we set goals?

    Apparently a lot more than you’d think.

    Goal setting isn’t quite so simple as deciding on the things you’d like to accomplish and working towards them.

    According to the research of psychologists, neurologists, and other scientists, setting a goal invests ourselves into the target as if we’d already accomplished it. That is, by setting something as a goal, however small or large, however near or far in the future, a part of our brain believes that desired outcome is an essential part of who we are – setting up the conditions that drive us to work towards the goals to fulfill the brain’s self-image.

    Apparently, the brain cannot distinguish between things we want and things we have. Neurologically, then, our brains treat the failure to achieve our goal the same way as it treats the loss of a valued possession. And up until the moment, the goal is achieved, we have failed to achieve it, setting up a constant tension that the brain seeks to resolve.

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    Ideally, this tension is resolved by driving us towards accomplishment. In many cases, though, the brain simply responds to the loss, causing us to feel fear, anxiety, even anguish, depending on the value of the as-yet-unattained goal.

    Love, Loss, Dopamine, and Our Dreams

    The brains functions are carried out by a stew of chemicals called neurotransmitters. You’ve probably heard of serotonin, which plays a key role in our emotional life – most of the effective anti-depressant medications on the market are serotonin reuptake inhibitors, meaning they regulate serotonin levels in the brain leading to more stable moods.

    Somewhat less well-known is another neurotransmitter, dopamine. Among other things, dopamine acts as a motivator, creating a sensation of pleasure when the brain is stimulated by achievement. Dopamine is also involved in maintaining attention – some forms of ADHD are linked to irregular responses to dopamine.[1]

    So dopamine plays a key role in keeping us focused on our goals and motivating us to attain them, rewarding our attention and achievement by elevating our mood. That is, we feel good when we work towards our goals.

    Dopamine is related to wanting – to desire. The attainment of the object of our desire releases dopamine into our brains and we feel good. Conversely, the frustration of our desires starves us of dopamine, causing anxiety and fear.

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    One of the greatest desires is romantic love – the long-lasting, “till death do us part” kind. It’s no surprise, then, that romantic love is sustained, at least in part, through the constant flow of dopamine released in the presence – real or imagined – of our true love. Loss of romantic love cuts off that supply of dopamine, which is why it feels like you’re dying – your brain responds by triggering all sorts of anxiety-related responses.

    Herein lies obsession, as we go to ever-increasing lengths in search of that dopamine reward. Stalking specialists warn against any kind of contact with a stalker, positive or negative, because any response at all triggers that reward mechanism. If you let the phone ring 50 times and finally pick up on the 51st ring to tell your stalker off, your stalker gets his or her reward, and learns that all s/he has to do is wait for the phone to ring 51 times.

    Romantic love isn’t the only kind of desire that can create this kind of dopamine addiction, though – as Captain Ahab (from Moby Dick) knew well, any suitably important goal can become an obsession once the mind has established ownership.

    The Neurology of Ownership

    Ownership turns out to be about a lot more than just legal rights. When we own something, we invest a part of ourselves into it – it becomes an extension of ourselves.

    In a famous experiment at Cornell University, researchers gave students school logo coffee mugs, and then offered to trade them chocolate bars for the mugs. Very few were willing to make the trade, no matter how much they professed to like chocolate. Big deal, right? Maybe they just really liked those mugs![2]

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    But when they reversed the experiment, handing out chocolate and then offering to trade mugs for the candy, they found that now, few students were all that interested in the mugs. Apparently the key thing about the mugs or the chocolate wasn’t whether students valued whatever they had in their possession, but simply that they had it in their possession.

    This phenomenon is called the “endowment effect”. In a nutshell, the endowment effect occurs when we take ownership of an object (or idea, or person); in becoming “ours” it becomes integrated with our sense of identity, making us reluctant to part with it (losing it is seen as a loss, which triggers that dopamine shut-off I discussed above).

    Interestingly, researchers have found that the endowment effect doesn’t require actual ownership or even possession to come into play. In fact, it’s enough to have a reasonable expectation of future possession for us to start thinking of something as a part of us – as jilted lovers, gambling losers, and 7-year olds denied a toy at the store have all experienced.

    The Upshot for Goal-Setters

    So what does all this mean for would-be achievers?

    On one hand, it’s a warning against setting unreasonable goals. The bigger the potential for positive growth a goal has, the more anxiety and stress your brain is going to create around it’s non-achievement.

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    It also suggests that the common wisdom to limit your goals to a small number of reasonable, attainable objectives is good advice. The more goals you have, the more ends your brain thinks it “owns” and therefore the more grief and fear the absence of those ends is going to cause you.

    On a more positive note, the fact that the brain rewards our attentiveness by releasing dopamine means that our brain is working with us to direct us to achievement. Paying attention to your goals feels good, encouraging us to spend more time doing it. This may be why outcome visualization — a favorite technique of self-help gurus involving imagining yourself having completed your objectives — has such a poor track record in clinical studies. It effectively tricks our brain into rewarding us for achieving our goals even though we haven’t done it yet!

    But ultimately, our brain wants us to achieve our goals, so that it’s a sense of who we are that can be fulfilled. And that’s pretty good news!

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    Featured photo credit: Alexa Williams via unsplash.com

    Reference

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