How do I maintain my daily journal
My day is full of context switches, meetings with varying scopes, pending tasks to go through and desperate attempts to clean the email inbox. Rare are the days when I wrap up my working day with an empty to-do list. It is a big challenge to keep things running smooth. Keeping a daily journal is essential for me to get things done and have a sustainable work-life integration.
Beside my public blog, I maintain a private journal and write daily. Over the years it has proven to be the most helpful tool to me in personal and professional growth.
My Daily Journal and To-Do Lists
Typically my daily entry would consist of the happenings of my day and I’d close it with a reflection. I would usually have a dedicated time slot where I’d sit down to write, typically in the evenings.
I also had two To-Do lists, one for personal items and one for work. I was mostly relying on the GTD methodology to move forward on pending items.
This worked fine for a few years, however there were several trade-offs with this approach:
- Maintaining two separate to-do list proved to be counterproductive. I eventually ended up with competing priorities between personal and work items. This resulted to even more procrastination and the queue of the things I had to do was rapidly growing.
- Unstructured thoughts in the journal started to be a bottlneck when it came to reflecting, analyzing learnings and finding patterns to work on.
- Having a dedicated time slot for writing did not work for me. I’d find myself procrastinating to write, was too tired and didn’t have time.
Chance for optimization
Ultimately I had the following goals in mind when looking for optimization in the above mentioned routine:
- Focus on the most important and relevant things, remove the need of prioritizing across two different to-do lists.
- Write in increments during the day, as soon as it is possible and there is anything relevant to write down.
- Organize notes in a way to be able to pull out learnings in a structured way.
What do I do now
The first thing I did was to find the right tool for the problem. I opted-in for https://obsidian.md. Obsidian gives me everything I need - I can tag notes, build connections between notes and have a graph view over it (mind map), persist notes on my local disk (or Dropbox) and have all the flexibility for configuring the app the way I want. Check out the feature set for more.
I also enabled the Daily Notes plugin, which allows to create daily entries easily and customize the format the way I want. Here is what it looks like:
The plugin allows me to have my own template to structure the note the way I want.
Daily Entry Template
The template I use consists of the following headers:
- This week / Next week
- Things that happened
- Further Thoughts
This is essentially my to-do list for the current day. I try to cap the number of items to 5-6, from both work and non-work related backlog of items. I don’t prioritize items in this bucket - the goal is to accomplish all at the end of the day. Thus the tasks need to be clear and doable within one day.
This week / Next week
Same as above, but for the week.
Things that happened
This is the space where I write down my thoughts and happenings during the day. One key difference from the previous one is that I do it continuously.
The insights I gain after I reflect on what I write is quite interesting. For example, I can see how my productivity and mood changes during the day and how consistent the changes are.
Here I really just talk to myself. It is a place for ideation, thinking big things and looking into the future.
Typically I write down my learnings in the evening. Learnings can be anything - some afterthought from a conversation with a stranger, or insights I gained reading a book.
I do my best when I am in the best mood. Keeping track of my mood theme during the day helps me to analyze and understand the areas where I could do better, or which impact my day most.
Very happy with Obsidian and the routine I set up so far, I don’t have enough data yet, but can definitely see progress over the last couple of months in many directions, to summarize:
- I do write more
- I get more things done
- I am not looking for a new tool every other week