As a researcher and journal writer, I find many similarities between journaling and diary studies. In fact, my journal is my personal diary study. In this article, I have explained a self-devised method of journaling that draws inspiration from diary studies methods in user research.
My experiments with goal based journaling began last year but it is only this year that I have deep dived into it. One of the main reasons I got hooked to it is because it controls the whirlpool of thoughts inside my head and allows me to arrange them periodically. It makes me reflect on what all I have achieved during the day. Am I just fooling myself into thin air or am I really getting the work done? In effect, it helps me to feel productive.
I use the calendar approach for goal based journaling. I owned a big-square monthly calendar from Staples last year in which I planned the events of the day. It kicked off with simple appointments or rather tasks which were more or less fixed during the week such as my French lessons, community volunteering, deadlines for submissions, so on and so forth. It also included the events that I was looking forward to, like my dad’s arrival date on the airport or that weekend I was going for a cottage trip during fall. In no time, I realized that I love making my little entries in the calendar. It displayed in front of me how action packed my day was and how much ground I covered during a particular month. Till this point, a calendar for me was nothing more than a scheduling device for me. Until the day one of my friends realized how much I love doing this activity and gifted me a Friends-themed Calendar on Christmas last year.
I got excited. And as the new year unfolded, I decided to do a little more with my Calendar than just putting in names and timings of events. I decided to journal descriptively in those squares. This time it was less scheduling and more commentary.
Often times we make a list of things to do and then strike out the tasks that we have accomplished (which by the way is soul satisfying!). But this time I reversed the process. At the end of the day I sit with my calendar and fill in details of the day. From the names of dishes I cooked, to having a video chat with my parents, from time spent on scrolling through my social media feed to some real tasks like collecting thoughts for a Medium post, I tend to fill in all the crucial details of the day which took my time and energy. When I write these details I either feel accomplished or not.
The challenging part of this journaling is that I have to be brutally honest with myself. If one of the days has been a rough day and I am unable do much except binge watching, it is better to realize it on paper than letting it float in my head for long. It lets me push my limits and start afresh the next day. The interesting part of this journaling method is that it helps me keep a record of what I did during the whole month. Not like I need historical records of my days but I do tend to forget my day very easily. This journal becomes my point of reference on many of the smaller events like how I spent my last weekend.
The researcher in me pushes me to go back to data and analyze it, read between the lines, find patterns and insights so I can reevaluate my decisions, my journeys and strategies. And so, one calendar is not enough for me.
The idea of using second calendar occurred to me when I received the second calendar of the year at Toronto Tea Festival. Given my fetish for calendars, I wanted to make this one useful too. There are beautiful teas displayed on top side and spacious green boxes on the bottom to fill in details of the day.
Now that I was already putting on paper the events of the day, I wanted to use this green space for more specific tasks that I wished to accomplish during the day narrowing down to my immediate goals. Observing my task list closely, there are five things that maximize my sense of accomplishment. I decided to code these five things and account them in green squares. My codes are
Reading — R
Writing — W
Biking — B
Yoga — Y
French — F
What is the basis of selecting these 5 things? I want to build a discipline with some of these practices such as yoga and reading. With others, my aim is to judiciously use the time to develop the skill such as writing and learning French. The biggest advantage of coding five most important tasks is that it helps to prioritize and lets me keep my focus on one activity at a time. Hence, untangling my whirlpool of thoughts.
For someone like me who likes to take a lot on plate, there is always a chance to under deliver and over promise the deliverables for the day. Even with this coding arrangement and knowing that this doesn’t include routine tasks for the day, I realize that it is not practically possible to achieve all five of them daily with a high level of efficiency. (Unless I stretch my day and take a cut from my sleep, which I do not find very useful). So I alternate and ensure I am doing at least 3 out of 5 of these tasks every day. If it is a bright sunny day I go for a bike ride, if it is gloomy and rainy outside, then yoga indoors. Sometimes on weekends, I choose to do both. There still isn’t any hard and fast rule on what I pick every day, but I push myself to do at least three on a daily basis. These three codes go into my green calendar. One month later, I am able to assess my performance on each of these tasks. I am able to tangibly measure which goal needs more attention and which one got plenty.
So far I have been enjoying this methodology. Not only it is visual and minimal, but I have also been constant with this method in the past five months of this year. It may seem like there is a lot of effort I am taking to record my day’s proceeding but I am fairly confident that it does not take more than 10 minutes. I usually retrospect towards the end of day. The impact on my productivity has been gradual but steady.
Have you tried any innovative productivity hack this year?