A Combination of Journaling Styles

My approach to journaling is a combination of methodologies. If this were Kung Fu, it would be a combination of styles. I think...

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My approach to journaling is a combination of methodologies. If this were Kung Fu, it would be a combination of styles. I think we can learn different concepts and then adapt them to our own needs. So, I'll go over some of my influences in journaling.

GTD - Mind Like Water

David Allen, the author of GTD (Getting Things Done) was a great influence in my style of productivity, which filtered into journal writing. The most important part of his teaching was having a single trusted place to deposit my thoughts. In his case, he was referring to an inbox in which you would physically deposit slips of paper with things to do.

Then, once per week, you would go through your inbox and turn those into actionable items. For example, if you need new tires on the car, you would take that note and write the next action to take. In this case, it may be to decide where to go for new tires. Then, you decide the next action for when you are ready to come back to your note. You're not solving the problem right away. You are simply moving the project forward one decision at a time. Knowledge work is essentially a series of decisions and small tasks.

By dumping thoughts onto paper, you allow your mind to return to stillness, like water. Otherwise, your mind will work hard to keep track of what needs doing. This keeps your mind from resting.

The weekly review is also another lesson learned from David Allen. You set aside a time to go through all of your open tasks and decide what the next action is. You're not doing any of it during the weekly review. You are simply deciding what the next physical action is for when you are ready to perform it.

Bullet Journaling

I first came across bullet journaling around 2007. The creator posted an image on Flickr, which formed the basis of my use of journals. At that time, I was using index cards with a binder clip as a PDA of sorts. Each notecard had a project. I would write next steps on each. Bullet journaling got me to move to Moleskines. Whereas I could discard completed index cards, the Moleskine requires weekly reviews to migrate unfinished tasks forward.

The beauty of using a journal for productivity is that you have a working history you can use to refer back to when needed. Up to this point, my productivity and journaling were separate activities. Bullet journaling put the two together. This had the added benefit of having one trusted place to put down all my thoughts. And, I could carry it with me everywhere.

Evernote - Remember Everything

Around that same time, Evernote came around. I also flirted with a website called Vitalist.com, which was rather good about organizing tasks using GTD methodology. However, what kept me using Evernote was the proposition of unlimited storage. At that time, terabyte drives were not a thing. It made sense to have a cloud service that could hold all your notes and images. Even better, Evernote could recognize text in images, which it would index. This meant that I could take photos of my notes and find them later.

Or, I could record a voice note and make a few text sentences to make it easy to find the voice note.

Or, I could simply type my journal entries directly into Evernote.

Unfortunately, Evernote entered a period in which it became unusable. The software was bloated and very different on each platform. It was useful to be able to capture my Moleskine pages and make them searchable. There was even an Evernote and Moleskine collaboration to make the notebooks easier to scan.

But, I could not get past the bloated software. So, I reverted back to Moleskine notebooks.

At the moment, I am trying to use disk bound notebooks. Like 3-ring binders, disc bound notebooks allow you to add and remove pages as needed.

I thought I could have a home and a work notebook. But, it's not working. My habit of having one trusted place to put my tasks and journal entries does not play well with having two journals. Unlike a Moleskine, having a disc bound journal allows me to add and remove pages as needed. I can scan things when they are done. I can reorganize notes.

The closest thing I have found to be useful is the Rocketbook systems. These allow you to write notes and easily scan them to your iCloud, Evernote, OneDrive, Google Drive, or other storage destination. Rocketbook makes it easy to use paper notes that are converted to digital format. It also recognizes text, making it easy to index your work. The only trouble I have is that I live in Texas. If I leave my notebook or pen in the car, the ink goes invisible. Also, it is slightly inconvenient to spend time periodically wiping pages clean. I liked the microwavable version better. I have even tried printing my own Rocketbook pages on paper. These are actually rather good.

But, from a retrieval standpoing, digital works best when your notes are collected together. Having one-off notes makes it unlikely you will ever read notes again. I need to recreate the journal experience where old notes are retained with the new notes.

That brings me to GoodNotes on the iPad. Using a Apple Pencil is cool. It is handy to have a digital representation of a notebook in which to write notes. However, my job can be rather physical. Carrying around an iPad always puts the iPad at risk of being dropped or damaged. I don't quite have the same concern with a physical notebook. Good Notes is a great substitute for a physical notebook if my day was mostly spent indoors sitting at my desk.

Present Day Journaling

For now, I am still using the TUL disc bound system for my tasks and notes. I tried having one for work and one for personal notes. But, that's not working. I should just accept and take advantage of the ability to easily swap pages.

Having a calendared Moleskine was great. I'm not getting the same benefit from a calendared TUL notebook.

As for journal entries, disc bound notebooks, like TUL notebooks, are a combination of the traditional bound journal and the Rocketbook. Now Evernote, iPhone, Dropbox, and Google Drive offer document scanning. So, it's a simple matter to retire several pages by scanning them into one document.

As you can see, journaling has evolved into more than just writing what I did today. Journaling has become my plan for what to do, how to do it, how I did it, and what I could have done better. If I were a computer, my journal would be the swap file on the hard drive that frees up space in my RAM while I'm working on something. Once I'm done, I can clear the RAM and load up the swap file for the next task.

The bad thing about working this way is that I am often clueless. Too much water in the mind like water. As I trust the system to remember things for me, I'm too happy to forget stuff. I have to revert to my journal to recall details. It has occasionally worried people that I don't remember some things as they don't understand that I intentionally try to forget details I have written down.

It is for this reason that journaling is extremely important in my life. It allows me to focus on work when I'm working. And, when I'm not working, I can enjoy some peace knowing that the next step and details are waiting for me when I'm ready to work again. And, when the job is done, I have documentation already done. I just need to transcribe my notes to report on my progress.

It works so long as I stay loyal to the journal. If I stray from the system, my life slowly crumbles.