Does anyone do journaling or day logging?

(Daniel Hollands) #1

I’m initially talking within a professional sense here, but if anyone does this for personal reasons, I’d be interested in hearing from you too.

I’ve experimented with a day log in the past. I understand this is a thing engineers tend to do, using it to keep track of problems they encountered, solutions they found, and other such decisions that were made. When I did it I tried to use Dropbox Paper, but never quite knew how to get my head around how it all worked, or what sort of thing I should be writing.

In the end I gave up in frustration.

Fast forward to today, and I want to try again. The more I think about it, the more I understand it could be helpful for me, both within the present moment, but also in the future when I try looking back at why I did what I did. I specifically want to use it as a tool for improving my estimating ability (recording why I used a specific estimate for a specific job, and having the ability to go back to it later for review)

Which is why I come to you, good people of Birmingham, and ask for advice on how best to keep a day log.

I do have some initial ideas, and names of systems which I’ve heard of, but I don’t want to lead this in any particular direction, so instead I throw it open to you, to hear what you have to say.


(Marc Cooper) #2

I usually keep a paper log per project in an A4 pad. Anything lengthy, I keep in a Scrivener project (per project) these days (and xref in the handwritten log). The latter allows importing/linking/embedding images, mindmaps, timelines, etc., so everything is one place.

If I think it necessary, then I start a diary (in Scriv); it can be both therapeutic and a lifesaver when trying to reconstruct the past.

I’m also in favour of architecture decision records (adr) per repo. (Also, see

I don’t really have much of a system; more a set of tools that survived through use and work for me.

(Andy Wootton) #3

Sorry, I replied on Slack again, earlier. I’ve cut and pasted it here:

I’m not sure time-sequenced logging alone is an adequate mechanism for recording data that might turn into knowledge and if it doesn’t, then why do it?

In my first job ‘the computer’ had a hard copy console and the operators would hand-write notes of explanation next to log entries. The logs were archived in a rack but very rarely referred to. In another job, we had a system that crashed every 128 days and unbelievably, someone worked that out, because we had automatic logs. There was a bug in the OS.

I think some of the ITIL courses talk about root-cause analysis of failure logs, if you know anyone who has been on those. I remember being bored to sleep by that section on a Help Desk course some of us went on, to learn to suck eggs.

New bit:
My 4Y skillz are slipping. I should have asked, “WHY do you want to (/think you should) do journalling or day logging?”

I often write to help me clarify the out of focus thoughts in my head or to clear my brain of stuff, so I can move onto something else. I find both valuable.

(Jon) #4

I’ve done day journaling in the past, mostly for the satisfaction of seeing lots of small items done, and also as reminder notes for the following day’s morning stand-up meeting. In that case it was not ever to get better at estimates, or to remember how to do a particular technical task; it was mostly just for myself. Very scrappy, and ultimately thrown away, without being a waste of time.

One of the things about writing is that engineers, in my view, don’t do enough of it, or they do, but then don’t share it with their team in a way that will be read in the future. Dropbox Paper sounds like people would put it in their personal Dropbox, and their teammates (who could benefit from learning about why a design decision was made) won’t ever know it’s there.

So, my suggestion is to use the most visible forms of writing tool available to the team, and this can be as rough as the team will tolerate (though of course clear and readable material is a kindness to others). README files committed to each repo and wikis are a good start for this.
Some systems (e.g. the wikis on Confluence) can be configured to ping changes to Slack, so that the team absorbs an incremental awareness of what material is there.

Lately I am working on a project managed on Trello, and I’m finding it useful to record design decisions in a task card. Once the decision is made, they can be moved to the “review” pile straight away, and I know that once I have gone, other folks in the project can absorb the detail/context of the project that is traditionally “you had to be there”.

(Mitesh Parmar) #5

I think your goal for journaling is different to what I will say, however will share it for its benefit.
From a personal view i invested in “The five minute journal” its a journal with a series of questions which you fill in, 5 mins in the morning and 5 mins before you go to bed. I started doing this, but then in my rush to work kept missing it and now need to get back into it.

I’ve read that there are lots of benefits in this particular journal and its method. So want to give it a real go. Might be worthwhile to try out. Google search will give you plenty of review on it. It more about reflecting on your goals you set for the morning and how your day went and what you actually achieved. Its also got some areas related to positive affirmation.

You can buy it from Amazon. It is a bit pricey, but i thought once i get the hand of it, i don’t need to buy another one. Plus you should always invest in your self.

Hope that helps…someone…


(Andy Wootton) #6

I’ve thought more about ‘root-cause analysis’ from logging . The mechanism needs to be shared with everyone. When I provided support to a help-desk, there was always someone looking for things that several people reported at the same time or in the same physical network segment or soon after a scheduled infrastructure logged change (many false positives!) My changes rarely caused problems but I often got blamed for random events over the next couple of days and wasted time investigating.

I guess I’m really talking about event-logging and recognising all of the unforeseen consequences of those events, by working backwards from the consequences to the event. Then you usually trigger other (sequences of) events to put things back into the state you want.

[possibly too theoretical but: I’ve been thinking about events as an area/volume/4D-equivalent of space-time, rather than a point in space and time, where there is an observable, indivisible system state-change. There tends to be uncertainty about where and when an event happened - everything was OK at about 15:00 but we noticed problems at 15:20, then you shrink the ‘volume’ until you find it.

(Daniel Hollands) #7

So none of you have mentioned the system that I’ve been playing with, and probably for good reason as I’m not so sure it exactly fits the requirements I mentioned above, but I’ve started a Bullet Journal. Here’s an awesome video that explains how it works:

I admit this is more for organisation than note taking, but it does open me up to a framework which I can explore to take notes, along with everything else that I’m trying to do.

My big problem with the whole analogue nature of this approach is that I have terrible handwriting, and find it painful to write for longer than a few seconds at a time. This, combined with the fact there are some amazingly-designed pages out there, is leaving me feeling all sorts of inadequate and unable to really use the system to its full potential - but I’m not ready to give up just yet (and I think I can mitigate some of my issues by using something like this:

The other thing I’ve tested out is that of Notion - it’s very similar to Dropbox paper, but has a lot of other cool things, such as the ability to embed databases into pages, and Trello-like progress boards, and more.

I’m using this for my estimating tracking, although I’m not fully on board with it just yet.

(Daniel Hollands) #8

I’ve spent a little more time with this, and I’ve realised that a bullet journal isn’t for me. I love the idea of the flexible nature of it, but understand the reality of the flexible nature is more than I’m really able to take advantage of.

But I still wanted something analogue, so because of this, after having a chat with my boss about alternatives, that I’ve decided to invest in a #ThisIsMyEra goal planner.

It wasn’t my top choice planner, but it was the one I was able to obtain quickly and without breaking the bank. The one that I really wanted to get was the Full Focus Planner, but this would have taken at least 2 weeks to ship from the US, and cost close to £55 (half of which was on shipping alone). I’ve also heard a rumour that they’re releasing a 3rd edition in September, so I’m going to wait until I can get that for Q4 this year (hopefully as a business expense).

So in the meantime I’m going to trial the concept using the Era planner over the remainder of Q3, using it to track the goals I’ve set for myself, as well as seeing what affect it has on my productivity.

(Andy Wootton) #9

I’m confused now. Those look like goal, task and time planning tools rather than a journal/log.

I once went on a course and got one of these
The best thing about it was that someone finally explained to me how to implement a clear-desk policy, if you actually do things. They had incredible trainers.

The tool is just a list of lists again, so once I knew what I was doing, I used Lotus Organiser then freemind, so I could back it up. I’d keep it in the Cloud now.

(Daniel Hollands) #10

That’s because they are, and that’s part of what I was hoping to achieve - but what they also allow is space for notes relevant to the day, allowing me to review them later.

(Daniel Hollands) #11

So, with it being ten days later, I figure it’s worth a quick update on how I’m getting on with my journal.

Right off the bat, I have to admit that the journaling side of things hasn’t really happened, at least not naturally. The estimates log I created in Notion has pretty much fallen to the wayside, and as I’m not great with handwritten stuff, I’ve found myself lax at taking any other forms of notes - not that there is a whole lot of room for notes within the layout:

That said, as you can see from the image above, I have made some notes (please ignore my terrible hand writing) - although most of these were after the fact, rather than as they became apparent. I mean, maybe that’s the point? I don’t know yet.

On the other hand, however, I think my daily organisational process has vastly improved. Before I start the day, I sit down and fill out the different sections:

working out what I want to achieve that day.

I think the process of thinking about it, being decisive with my plans, and physically writing it on the page all help reinforce that this is something which is going to happen today - along with a nice box which can be ticked once it’s done (and I do enjoy me a box tick or two).

So far I think this is working quite well - lets see if I think the same thing in a month.

(Marc Cooper) #12

I feel anxious just looking at those pages :scream: Probably due to the implied expectation to fill it. I think I’ve gained some understand of why I prefer a blank pad.

Given the amount of organisation – constraint? – in your notebook, I’d recommend completing the Learning How to Learn course from Coursera. Part of that is a recommendation to prepare your schedule and to dos the day before.

Good to hear you’re getting benefit from the exercise :+1:

(Daniel Hollands) #13

I’m the complete opposite - I was getting anxious looking at the blank pages.

When I first started to explore the bullet journal idea, I got myself a cheap pad, which I was more than happy to scribble in, but because I wanted something nicer, I decided to buy this:

To this day I’ve not put a single word in it, because it seemed far too nice to spoil with my horrible handwriting.

I’m not sure why the planner is different, but the fact I have specific sections to fill in takes the pressure off me. Oh, and I have erasable ink now, which is also a godsend.

That said, I am having a bit of trouble with the “I’m thankful for” section - it feels a bit woolly for me, but I’m trying my best to fill it out each day, trying not to repeat myself as I do so (talking of which I’ve not done it for today yet - I think I’ll add

I’m also not that keen on the “Affirmation” section, so I’ve slightly changed its purpose, and instead am using it to write a quote or some other inspirational sentence obtained from - for example, today I’ve written

A comfort zone is a beautiful place, but nothing ever grows there.

Thanks for the suggestion, I’ve just signed up :slight_smile:

(Marc Cooper) #14

I mentioned my use of Scrivener earlier and by a bizarre coincidence someone just posted a daily planner template. It’s a very neat piece of work – way too detailed for me – and, of course, you can edit it to taste. Plus – bonus – you can leverage all of Scriv’s features.