Daily Logging: How and Why I Track My Habits and Goals—and how you can too!

A real-life example of my daily log from March 2023, in Obsidian

Introduction: What is a daily log? Why keep one?

Since December of the year 2016, I have been keeping a private ongoing list of notes of my daily activities, thoughts, and progress. I realized how much I can forget what I have done and move on to the next task, without taking the time to appreciate what I have accomplished.

In my first log, I can see that it was the month I took an improv class about a type of comedy show I still do to this day (called the “Harold”). I also have notes about how I worked on blogging for this site and met a lot of friends around then

This daily log isn’t a planning tool or a to-do list. It’s not a list of tasks you need to complete. What I’m talking about is keeping track of tasks you’ve already completed. Think of this idea as a form of an ongoing “Tada List,” a term coined on the podcast Happier by Gretchen Rubin, author of The Happiness Project. Tada is the sound of “fanfare to call attention to something remarkable”. At the same time, my log functions as a type of gratitude list.

This creates a way to practice acknowledging every step I’ve accomplished, rather than focusing solely on what I haven’t done yet. By taking a few moments each day to reflect on what you’ve finished, you might just start cultivating a greater sense of satisfaction.

How to start your own daily log:

  • In a journal or in a text document, start with a simple list ongoing of accomplishments for each day.
  • You can track anything you want; such as where you went; who you saw; what you accomplished; and what you did to keep entertained and relaxed.
  • Schedule a weekly reminder on your calendar to review and catch up on any missed details
  • Don’t worry about getting every detail “right” or missing a day or two – you can always fill in the missing information later on or miss days entirely. The point of a daily log is to help you reflect and learn, not to keep perfect records.
  • Try to find a few minutes each day to reflect on your day and record your entries in your daily log.
  • You might also keep your notebook or document available when possible as you work or do various hobbies to record in real-time.
  • The log and your use around it can evolve each day, allowing you to track different life patterns and habits.
  • Each month, start with a fresh page in your journal or with a new digital document.

How I structure my daily log

For each month I start a simple text document where I list the day and the day of the week (i.e., “1 Tuesday”), and then below I write out what I did that day as bullets below that.

I also use this document to track other things that feel important to me: my mood, my most important tasks of each day, and who I’ve connected with that day.

One reason that I separate them monthly notes, is that this makes each month a fresh slate. I can reflect on the previous month and I get a blank slate to reset. It feels too separated for me to individual notes of each day or week rather than in groups by month.

Monthly notes containing my daily logs also help me model my later entries off of early ones. I can quickly see my own examples of how I tracked the 1st of the month, and that prompts me to add an update on the later entries.

At the beginning of the next month, I just have to set up a new document and I get the satisfaction of a blank slate.

What to track

For my own logs, I combine different areas of focus and track a wide range of activities, helping it serve as my one-sentence journal, a fitness, food diary, and more. You can customize your log to fit your individual needs and preferences, and allow the lists to evolve and flex with each day.

In addition to recording your daily activities, you can also include prompts for self-reflection and goal-setting. For example, you can track your mood, list what you’re grateful for, and imagine a successful future.

Where to keep your lists

When deciding whether to keep a physical notebook or use a digital app to log your life, it’s important to consider how easily you can access your log.

If you opt for a physical notebook, make sure it’s small enough to carry with you wherever you go, and that you have a pen or pencil readily available to jot down notes.

Alternatively, if you choose a digital app, ensure that it’s easy to access on your phone, tablet, or computer and that it syncs across devices to avoid any potential loss of data.

In the past, I used Google Drive and Google Docs to keep my daily log and that worked well. However, I have recently switched to Obsidian.md, a similar text-based note-taking app that allows me to organize my notes and ideas.

By making your daily log convenient to use, you’ll be more likely to stick with it and reap the benefits of keeping a record of your experiences and reflections.

Plan to “fail” and catch up later

Starting a daily log can feel intimidating, but my philosophy is to stay flexible and forgiving. It’s okay to miss a day or two, or even several weeks.

In fact, missing a few days can be a fun exercise to try to fill in the gaps later on, and the catch-up process can encourage you to keep logging more often. You’ll be surprised at how much you forget when you don’t keep up with it!

When filling in gaps in your daily log:

  • Try to recall as much as you can about the missing day or days. Think about where you were, who you were with, and what you did.
  • Don’t worry too much about getting every detail right. The point of a daily log is to help you reflect and learn, not to create a perfect record of your life.
  • If you’re having trouble remembering what happened, try looking at your calendar, social media accounts, or other sources of information to jog your memory.
  • Be honest with yourself about what you remember and what you don’t. If you can’t recall certain details, that’s okay. Just record what you do remember and move on.
  • Don’t let the fear of missing a day or two prevent you from starting or continuing your daily log.

Reasons to keep a daily log

As someone who follows ideas borrowed from the Getting Things Done (GTD) productivity method, my daily log stays part of my weekly review process. This helps me to stay on top of my commitments and feel confident that I’m making progress toward my goals.

I can double-check that I’ve captured all of my next action tasks and then update my plans. Even if you’re not familiar with this weekly review process, you can use a daily log as a simple way to start noticing your progress toward your goals.

A few reasons why you might consider starting your own daily log:

  • Daily logging can be a fun and nostalgic activity, allowing you to easily look back on your memories and appreciate the moments that have shaped your life.
  • This creates a concrete way to celebrate your accomplishments and motivate you to keep going.
  • By keeping a record of your daily life, you can also gain a deeper appreciation for the small moments and experiences that may have gone unnoticed otherwise.
  • You can practice and notice your goal progress and the status of your desired habits.
  • This serves as a tool to improve your memory and help you remember and savor important events and details.
  • Writing down your behavior over time helps you discover patterns – such as when you tend to be most productive or when and why you experience the most stress.
  • This gives you a chance to practice self-reflection and self-awareness, which can aid in personal growth and development as you know yourself better.
  • It’s a great way to experiment with different tracking methods and take on new focuses by noticing what’s worked for you before
  • Finally, keeping a daily log can be fun!

Here’s an example to illustrate how these reasons can surface: one day I might feel disconnected. But then I can see on my log that I’ve had a lot of social events recently. I might notice that I was really into yoga for a week and then forgot all about the new habit.

It can also be a place where I can relive the joy of a big work accomplishment. With these documents I can quickly search for information about what I have done, who I was with, and when I last saw a friend. This helps me appreciate my experiences and identify patterns in my behavior.

Easy Mode: Incorporate Reminder Prompts

Over time, you may develop a list of prompts and reminders of what you want to log. Your reminders might note that you want to track your mood, what you’re grateful for, activities and hobbies, reflections for each day, and any progress on your goals.

This is a reminder list or a trigger list (in Obisidian) that I use to remember what I want to make note of.

Having a list of reminder prompts can reduce friction and the brain power needed to get in and out of your note.

If you’d like, feel free to borrow from my sample list from which I only pick one or two of these each day:

  1. List what you’ve done every day. It is essential to keep track of what you have accomplished each day, no matter how small or big.
  2. Focus on the good sides of any situation. Even in difficult or challenging situations, there are always positive things to focus on. I write down what I am grateful for and what I can change about my attitude or approach to avoid stressing myself out.
  3. Write down three good moments that happened each day. I also like to write down three good things that happened each day and reflect on why they happened.
  4. Identify your most important task of the day. This is the one thing that, if you accomplish it, will make your day a success.
  5. Track your activities. I like to plan out my day and write down what I need to accomplish. For me, this includes hobbies like practicing the piano or singing and chores like cleaning my apartment for one minute. I also sometimes track my meals, when and how I exercise, and what’s rewarding at work and home.
  6. List your stresses and negative thoughts. Acknowledge and validate your negative emotions and thoughts. By writing them down, you can identify patterns and work on reframing them in helpful and realistic terms.
  7. Keep a log of your moods. I track my mood each day and use this information to identify patterns and triggers. I also remind myself of positive affirmations, such as “positives matter,” “stay present,” “clear communication” and “gather input.”
  8. Maintain relationships. I also make a note of my interactions with friends, family, and relationships. This helps me stay connected and identify areas where I need to improve my communication and plan social events.

Tracking Your Areas of Focus

In addition or instead, you can create more specific and entirely separate, focused daily logs. These logs can be tailored to different areas that occur regularly and that you want to record more attention and specifics.

As a creative professional, maintaining a daily log can be a useful tool for staying motivated in your career. For example, if you’re a writer, you can log your daily word count, note your progress on individual projects, and record any creative breakthroughs you have throughout the day.

If you’re a visual artist, you can log the time you spend on specific pieces, document your creative process through sketches or photographs, and reflect on the decisions you made during each stage of a project.

Photographers can log the locations they visited and the time of day they captured their best shots. Musicians can log their practice time, progress on learning new pieces, and any new musical ideas they have throughout the day.

When I’m practicing piano every day, a dedicated piano practice log with its own prompts and ideas can help me see my progress. My reminder list includes theory, sight-reading new music, recording practices more often, and a reminder to play for fun. This helps me notice areas where I’m struggling and make adjustments to my practice plan. Sometimes I’m practicing fun things or too focused on the technical parts, when what I really want is a good balance. Now I know what questions to ask of other musicians or if I need a book, class, or even need to aid of private lessons.

The last step: Try daily logging for yourself

By keeping a record of your daily life, habits, and goals, you can gain insights into your strengths and weaknesses, and identify areas that you can work to change.

And perhaps most importantly, daily logging can help you cultivate a sense of gratitude and appreciation for the present moment, as you become more aware of the gifts and opportunities that surround you each day.

So why not give it a try? Start small and stay flexible, and see where the process takes you. You might be surprised by what you learn about yourself and your creative process. Daily logging is about celebrating your accomplishments.

Embrace the journey and appreciate all that you’ve done.

Brian E. Young is a graphic designer and artist in Baltimore, MD.

Inner & Outer Peace: 3 Ways Art Can Help

Saturday, helicopter speakers above my apartment blasted unintelligible words. Streams of protesters took to the streets right outside of my window chanting, drumming together, pleading for hope.

Driving through the streets later that day, I saw many more streams of protesting groups all throughout the city. There has been turmoil and uncertainty here in Baltimore for the past week which was heavily splashed on national news. It’s not a new problem for the city which has a clash of different cultures, income levels, and neighborhood geography.

In Baltimore’s decidedly upper-class neighborhood of Guilford, there is a beautiful garden of tens of thousands of tulips. While we could think this was an oasis among the trees and mansions of the city, my thoughts drifted as I experimented with my second plein air painting.

Sherwood Gardens is as much an illustration of the national discussion about the city’s inequality as the stretches of vacant homes and food deserts just a mile or two away. How do we appreciate value and beauty during inner and outer turmoil?

1. Art Helps with Stress and Anxiety

Visual art’s relationship to anxiety have been studied: increasing positive emotions and reducing stress. This is according to a six month study testing how creative arts intervention can assist cancer caregivers by Barry University School of Nursing. The creative activities were designed to be easily completed while at their loved ones bedside so that the caregiver would be available to assist the family when needed.

Even a family member dealing with care during distressing illness can make time for themselves. The lesson here is that self care can put us in the position to help others. There is evidence that art therapy can ease symptoms in cancer patience themselves as well.

2. Love Helps with Creativity

Our thoughts about love can help us think of new ideas. The hypothesis that romance causes us to think differently was studied at the University of Amesterdam who found love does truly alter our thoughts. The results suggest that romantic thoughts inspire long-term thinking, wishful attachment, and fantasties beyond the present.

How is this linked to our creative passions? The experiments found that love and desire have an influence over how we think of all aspects of our lives. The halo effect that helps us see the positive or even idealized qualities of loved ones also was then shown to apply to unrelated contexts suchas inanimate objects. Thinking about love makes us generally more imaginative.

3. Painting Helps Depression and Fatigue

Weekly art therapy sessions creating paintings in a study at Technion-Israel Institute of Technology resulted in reduced levels of depression during chemotherapy. After only four appointments of art therapy, there was a measurable change in both depression and fatigue. In patients with Parkinsins disease, another study also found positive affects on depression levels. The could be one reason that the most productive artists tend to practice positivity.

 

I’ve often turned to painting as a way to become more introspective about my inner world. I find creating art can be sometimes challenging, yet mostly rewarding and I feel happy about the end results which makes for a better day. Even if the result isn’t always amazing, there still is a certain joy in knowing I tried. I don’t think that my painting of Sherwood Gardens in my favorite. Getting out of my comfort zone and attempting plein air painting created for me a chance to try some new techniques and see the city of Baltimore in a new way during a week of protesting and riots. We know that our creative habits can impact our levels of creativity. Painting channeled my energy and thoughts into something visual. This painting has already began to inspire some new ideas for future paintings.

Has your art helped you in times of stress and anxiety? Do you think you’re more creative when you’re in love? Try out some of these ideas and let us know how they worked for you in the comments.

Brian E. Young is a graphic designer and artist in Baltimore, MD.

Why you’d want to be a design volunteer

Every year, new designers prepare themselves to enter the workforce. Some of you are new college graduates. Others are making either a big or shift in their career path. Perhaps you’re experienced in publishing design and now you’ve trained to tackle a position in the web. You’re smart, you have the skills. While that may be true, there is a difference between simply having knowledge a skill and having demonstrated your ability to use that skill to accomplish a task.

With some smart decison making, volunteering can be the first step in becoming a well-paid freelancer or full-time employed designer. Becoming a volunteer is not just for new designers either. An experienced designer can get to do things they can’t do in their regular job. Why would you want to volunteer?

Work Experience

Many jobs and even internships are looking for people with some experience, a real world portfolio, and professional references. New job seekers tend to ask the question: How can we get a job in a new field without already having some connections?

If you don’t have connections, then you need to find and make them. If you don’t have the necessary experience, then you need to start experiencing. Volunteer work or unpaid internships is one of the methods for new job seekers to start translating their newly acquired skills into real world accomplishments for an organization.

It won’t catch my eye as an art director if you say in your cover letter, “I know InDesign” since anyone can install and use a computer program. It will be far more impressive if your cover letter has the intriguing story of how you “designed a brochure for the local branch of the American Red Cross that was distributed to 12 events.” I talked in an episode of my podcast about how having a story to tell makes your creative work interesting; having a story also helps make you an interesting person, a grounded friend, and an impressive employee. 

Portfolio

As an art director, I can assure you that we’re not overly convinced by student work. Sure, showing that you can create a beautiful design effectively with your tools is a telling step which we do like to see. It’s true that having the creativity to produce an imaginary student project is useful as a working designer often will have to invent details that aren’t provided. At the same time, most of us work to implement the visions of our clients and coworkers. We are constrained by the real world needs of a project. 

Volunteering will place you in the position of having to deal with outside interests, organizational limitations, and a real world audience which will often be discerning. If you after all of that, you’re able to come up with a stunning portfolio piece, then hiring managers will be impressed. Having the skill to create is a great piece of the puzzle, while still the focus of a hiring manager or a client is to see if you can use those skills to create what they need. Your resume, portfolio, and cover letters will ideally reinforce the story that you would help serve the business needs of your employers.

Education

Being a print designer, I found volunteering to be a great way to solidify my web design abilities and gain confidence. Many charitable organizations would love for you to give them an awesome new website. If you’re looking for less of a commitment, you could offer training to do web updates or assist in maintainence.  

For one organization, I simply created some basic graphics for their websites. For another, using their existing templates and CMS to enter content was a way to learn from those who had worked on those sites before me. These are the kinds of demonstrations of accomplishments that employers are looking for. These are also the types of case studies that we often pay professors to provide when we can also get them for free and get more value out of them

Facing your fear

Going into a new field is scary. In an episode of The Uncanny Creativity Podcast titled Face the Fear of Failure in 6 Steps, I talked about how success requires moving forward with something that might not be perfect. One way to face your fear of failure and gain confidence is to simply practice. When you practice using your skills in a a volunteer environment, they will be tested. You will be challenged and from those challenges, you’ll learn something and those are lessons that you’ll apply to your work and life.

Every time you volunteer for a new organization, you’re signing up for a new experience. Rather than paying for the movie version, you’re getting a new situation first hand. The places you get to see and work for might feel scary, silly, weird, funny, or crazy. There could be interesting people who you’d never want to see again. There could be interesting people who you’d want to become best friends with.

Professional Friendships

Networking has a bad reputation. That’s due to the many networkers who seem to selfishly want to take advantage of others. If you’re just out to use people, it’s unlikely they’ll want to help you. Instead, successful networkers form professional friendships. They’re quality friends like any other, they just have the common interest of some overlapping career goals. Treat others as friends who you admire and like. Volunteering provides a way to practice being charitable and positive when meeting new contacts. Depending on the organization, your new friend may have some solid advice for your career. 

If that sounds more appealing to you than what you’ve known about networking, then banish the word from your mind and look for friendship or acquaintence-ship. Find kindered spirits who you genuinely like and admire. Help them not because you need them, but because there is something you want to share with them. If that’s something that appeals to you, be sure to check out my post How to Get Started: Artist and Designer Networking Guide Part 1 for more details.

Collaboration

Even if you don’t meet friends or even a professional contact, volunteering still provides a real world situation where you can practice collaborating with others.  I’ve talked a lot about the importance of collaboration in both my blog (6 Dos and Don’t for Killer Creative Teams: Confessions of a Bad Team Player) and on the podcast (How to Collaborate More Effectively). This is a skill you’ll be practicing you’re entire life, so having more chances to work with others will give you valuable insights in all of your relationships.

A word of caution

If you’re going in looking for professional friendships that’s certainly possible. However, don’t mistake a volunteer opportunity or even an unpaid intership as a replacement for your job search. A coworker talked to me about how one of Baltimore’s major museums had employed her friend full-time for over a year. Her friend believed this would somehow translate into a paid position which was quite foolhardy and a recipe for resentment.

Being charitable is not your full-time position in life, especially not professionally. Set a clear and short-term limit for the amount that you are willing to do for free. A one semester internship is reasonable considering your vast lifetime, though years of full-time free service probably would not make sense for most people who have will bills and expenses.

Find reasons to be involved that are charitable and fun. If it ever stops being that, reconsider whether this works for you. If not, walk away without burning bridges. You may even take the opportunity to ask for a letter of recommendation. Be clear about what you are getting out of the situation. Ultimately, know your worth and know that your work is worth a lot of money. A You’re worth being paid tens of thousands of dollars a year.  

Finding volunteer opportunities 

The process of getting volunteer work isn’t that unlike applying for a job or finding freelance work. You contact an organization, tell them what services that you would hope to provide for them, and discuss any details. Your committment could be as small as an hour or as large as a full project requiring more regular committment. As you might in a job search or a friendship, focus on what you can do for your contact and their organization rather than what you’re getting out of it.

I’ve participated in some interesting opportunities through Volunteer Match. They have many big and small opportunities. For example, when I search the site I’ll see the prestigious Kennedy Center in DC, local government, and charitable organizations. Not only are these great names to add to your resume, they’re just interesting places to visit and contribute to. Volunteer Match also has virtual opportunities where you can help from your home computer.

You might also think about looking through listings on Craigslist. You could also freelance for work, and sure do that too. But as a volunteer you can help out some pretty worthy causes and often get a nice letter of recommendation or thank you letter. These are great for references without the hassle of dealing with the business side of freelance.

If you’re involved or want to be involved with your church, student organizations, or any organizations in your community contact them with ideas. You might suggest a flyer of upcoming event, re-designing their website, or see some other need that you can help with.

Have you had any successful volunteer experiences that you’re proud of?

Brian E. Young is a graphic designer and artist in Baltimore, MD.

The State of Web Analytics: Infographic

As you might know, the term analytics refers to online software used to understand how viewers like you visit a web site. If you’re a web site owner or web designer, you’d use these tools to figure out what your audience wants and how best to serve them. I designed this infographic explaining the terms used by web analytics sites a few years ago and I think it’s still fairly relevant. Feel free to download and reshare, creative commons license is below.

Is there any web terminology that isn’t covered that could help you design your web site? What industry terms have caused confusion for you?

Tweet this post: Do you understand these web analytic terms? #infographic

This post was originally written as a guest post for a site that has since closed. I wanted to make sure the graphic was still available for all of you.

Analyzing Web Analytics Infographic by Brian E. Young is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

Brian E. Young is a graphic designer and artist in Baltimore, MD.

4 Shocking Reasons Why The Best Artists are So Productive

1. Positivity

If you work in a creative job as I do, you won’t be surprised by the latest findings that morale impacts our ability to get things done. According to the study published in the Journal of Applied Psychology, focusing on negative aspects will cause defensiveness and fatigue. Instead, focus on actionable solutions and ideas that improve the situation.

As a graphic designer, I have more ideas when clients and staff have a positive attitude. When the inevitable changes come through, I feel most productive when the client focuses on the next step rather than lamenting on what’s wrong with an earlier version.

2. Privacy

In a study on the trade off between office privacy and communication published in the Journal of Environmental Psychology, found that a sense of privacy changed the perceived level of workplace satisfaction. Authors Jungsoo Kim and Richard de Dear of The University of Sydney noted that each type of office layouts had noted similar quality issues with their work. Those who had private offices were most likely to be satisfied with the level of distraction and proximity. Making interaction between team members easier was a small benefit to open floor plans, yet this minimal gain wasn’t offset by the many problems that arise.

Even if you happen to work in an open office space, it’s helpful to be able to have some private areas. I happen to have a private office and have found that others who are in more open areas tend to use my office or the conference room when they need an escape

3. Diet

You might be surprised to find out that your diet can make you more or less creative. A study from British Psychological Society found a diet higher in fruit and vegetable consumption correlates with a greater sense of curiosity and creativity. On days when they ate more fruits and vegetables, the sample group of 405 young adults reported a greater feeling of creativity compared to when they ate less. The data analysis found no carry-over of consumption to the next day.

4. Humor

Humor and laughter during regular team meetings was found to increase productivity. Not just in the immediate sense, either. This continues to help with performance up to two years later according to the study published in the Journal of Applied Psychology. How can you apply this to your work as an artists? I’ve found that building the ideas of improv, lightening up about my work, and yeah even making jokes about myself have made me more likely to tackle my art. When I’m working on art, I’ll remember a joke and laugh. Give it a try.

 

If that helped you any, then you’ll definitely enjoy reading my post about how our habits, gender, and brain waves change how we produce art. In the meantime, here’s AsapSCIENCE’s video on The Science of Productivity:

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lHfjvYzr-3g&w=560&h=315]

Brian E. Young is a graphic designer and artist in Baltimore, MD.