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.

What are your top five sketchbook prompts and ideas?

For this week’s Q&A Monday, I asked this question on Quora. Here’s a list of 30 answers:

“What are your top five sketchbook prompts and ideas?”

Read Jade Kandel's answer to What are your top five sketchbook prompts and ideas? on Quora

Read Patrick Hochstenbach's answer to What are your top five sketchbook prompts and ideas? on Quora

Read Marc Holmes' answer to What are your top five sketchbook prompts and ideas? on Quora

Read Kathy Staton's answer to What are your top five sketchbook prompts and ideas? on Quora

Read Racer Maximiliano Rodriguez-Avellan's answer to What are your top five sketchbook prompts and ideas? on Quora

Read Nat Love's answer to What are your top five sketchbook prompts and ideas? on Quora

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

How do you start an art project?

I have an individual art project with the theme ‘change’, any ideas where to start, I’m new at this?”

Anonymous on Quora

Starting an art project can be an exciting adventure, but it can also be overwhelming, especially when you’re new to it. It’s easy to feel like you don’t know where to begin, and the fear of failure or not being good enough can be paralyzing. The good news is that you don’t have to have it all figured out from the beginning.

The key is to take it slow, take small steps, and be compassionate with yourself along the way. In this article, we will guide you through the process of starting an individual art project with a focus on compassion, self-compassion, and taking baby steps.

Whether you’re a seasoned artist or a beginner, this article will help you break down the process into simple, manageable steps.

Step 1: Getting the Mess Out! Don’t Overthink It, Let Your Ideas Flow on Paper.

To start your creative project, the first step is to capture all of your ideas. When I start an art project, I find that it can be helpful to just make a mess of ideas.

Try this: Take out a blank sheet of paper and scribble down anything and everything that comes to mind.

Quickly scribble words, doodles, and notes. Get everything that you could want to do with your art project and write it down. Once we write things down, it feels real.

And you’ll no longer be worried about where to start. Because you will have started! Write down the words and any related ideas that come to mind. Focus on getting the mess in your head onto paper.

Capture all of your goals-related ideas for your art project and keep an ongoing list. Use an app or paper and pencil, whichever works best for you. As you capture your thoughts, remember that the goal is to keep them out of your mind and free up mental space for new ideas and inspiration.

You may find it helpful to use a trigger list to spark new ideas to capture. A trigger list is simply a list of prompts or questions that can help you think outside the box and approach your art project from different angles. For example, you might write down prompts like “What if I used a new color palette?” or “How can I incorporate texture into this piece?”

In addition to a trigger list, it’s also useful to create an “areas of focus” list to keep track of the different aspects of your art project that require your attention. This list could include categories such as composition, subject, color scheme, and materials.

By regularly reviewing this list, you can ensure that you’re devoting enough time and energy to each area of your art project. These are more examples of ideas that you might capture or create prompts around:

  • Composition: experiment with different layouts or arrangements of your subject
  • Subject: explore different themes or concepts that interest you
  • Color scheme: play with different color combinations and palettes
  • Materials: try out new art supplies or techniques to create unique textures and effects

For a more detailed guide on how to work through a project, I have a longer guide – How to Plan Then Execute Goals – that offers a helpful framework for engaging in natural planning.

Step 2: Organize.

At this stage of your art project, it’s helpful to identify the exact “Next Action” for your goal. This means breaking down your project into manageable steps, such as gathering materials or sketching out your ideas. Being specific and detailed is key to making progress.

To keep track of your progress, you can keep an ongoing checklist to schedule your tasks. This will help you stay organized and focused on what needs to be done next. If you need to take a break, your list will be there to help you jump right back in.

“Next actions” help with that feeling of being overwhelmed. Rather than feeling like you have to complete the entire project at once, you can take small steps to make your vision start to develop.

In creative projects, it’s easy to get distracted by incomplete tasks. By writing out all of your reminders of what you might do, you can focus on the task at hand without being distracted.

As you work on your art project, you may come across ideas that you’re not sure if you’ll have time for. These tasks could include things like experimenting with different colors or techniques, or trying out a new art supply. If you feel like these tasks aren’t necessary for your project’s completion, you can add them to a “Someday/Maybe” list.

This “Someday/Maybe” list is a place where you can keep track of low-priority tasks that you’d like to revisit later. Perhaps you’re okay with the current progress of your project for now and want to focus on more pressing tasks. However, you don’t want to forget about these ideas either. By adding them to the Someday/Maybe list, you can review them later and determine if they are still relevant to your project.

Step 3: Keep lists and/or collections of reference material.

Starting an art project is just the beginning of the fun. One important part of the process is to keep track of all the ideas and inspiration that come to mind. Keeping lists and collections of reference material can help you stay organized and focused as you work on your project. These can be valuable resources when you need a creative boost or want to explore different ideas.

For example, you can create a doodles list to keep track of any spontaneous sketches or drawings that you want to create. You can also create an inspiration list to collect images or ideas that inspire you. Additionally, you can create an articles list to keep track of any articles or blog posts that provide helpful tips or techniques.

Start Small, Dream Big

Remember, these are just a few ideas to get you started. You can tailor your lists and collections to fit your unique creative process. By keeping track of your reference material, you can enhance your creativity and stay motivated throughout your art project.

Don’t let stress hold you back from enjoying new experiences! Instead, set yourself up for success by taking the necessary steps to prepare. With a bit of planning, you can dive into new activities and adventures with confidence and ease. Embrace the excitement of trying something new and focus on the fun, not the stress. You never know what amazing experiences await you on the other side!

What next? How do you keep your project going?

Next, you’ll want to manage your ongoing projects, define what makes the project complete, and move toward that goal:


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

Is imagination a gift or a curse? 9 Tips to Manage Yours

“Is imagination a gift or a curse?”
Anonymous via Quora

Worry is Imagination. And so is Hope.

Both are taking current events and guessing at a possible future. Usually without much thought about how likely the events are. And often without much thought on how we apply those thoughts to the present.

Our thoughts and imagination can be trained. We’re training them every day. From Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and Positive Psychology to Meditation and Yoga, there are many methods of training our thoughts.

We often live out the story we imagine for ourselves. To change your life for good or bad, all we have to do is imagine it.

“Everything you can imagine is real.”
Pablo Picasso

Tackling our negative imagination:

Tip 1: Compartmentalize. In his book How to Worry Less and Start Living Life, Dale Carnegie gave some great tips on how to minimize our worrying thoughts. One very strong thought is to contain bad events within the day they happen. Anything bad that happened yesterday has happened and can’t hurt us today. What happens today will be done and gone by tomorrow. And tomorrow can’t leak into today. Accept the events that happen and let them go.

“We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful about what we pretend to be.”
Kurt Vonnegut, Mother Night

Tip 2: Improve. Since we have an imagination, might as well use its powers for good. Learn what we can and look for opportunities to make our lives better. Sometimes the lesson is that we’ve put enough thought into something and even a moment more is not worth it. Plan a trip to getaway. Think of your life goals, career, and education. What have you always wanted to do?

“Imagination does not become great until human beings, given the courage and the strength, use it to create.”
Maria Montessori

Tip 3: Visit. Visit someone else’s imagination. Listen to your friends and family. Talk to people on Quora. Read a book or articles. Watch a television show or movie. Memorize the lyrics to your favorite songs. If you love your imagination, then put it to work by visiting fiction and nonfiction.

“Without leaps of imagination or dreaming, we lose the excitement of possibilities. Dreaming, after all is a form of planning.”
Gloria Steinem

Tip 4: Keep busy. Write down ideas of things you love to do or need to do. When you’re imagining problems, use that time to focus on other things. It’s the perfect time to start cleaning, working on projects, and organize your junk drawer. Your imagination is just looking for things to do. Apply it to some real tasks and you’ll start coming up with amazing solutions

Encouraging positive imagination:

Tip 5: Doodle. Research shows that doodling helps us focus. Get a sketchbook and doodle about all of the good things in your life. Food, shelter, love, health, minor and major kindnesses. If you let yourself be creative, you can train yourself to notice all of the things you have going well in your life. Have you ever had a moment of courage, hope, or peace? You can probably fill a sketchbook with images of your happy thoughts. Pull it out when you need a reminder and keep adding more.

“I am enough of an artist to draw freely upon my imagination. Imagination is more important than knowledge. Knowledge is limited. Imagination encircles the world.”
Albert Einstein

UC-Blog-Quote-GiftTip 6: Love your enemies. While you’re doodling, try making notes of all of the great qualities of people you have problems with. Even if the best you can come up with is “Not a murderer.” “Not here right now.” You’ll start to see yourself as someone who can see the good in anyone and any situation

“You may think I’m small, but I have a universe inside my mind.”
Yoko Ono

Tip 7: Project. We all often tend to project negatively on others. Projection in psychology is applying traits and motivations on others based on our biases and experiences. Practice imagining other people around you are happy thoughts about you and themselves. Even if they don’t say it out loud. For example: “My boss is grateful that I’m taking care of this! Even if he doesn’t know about the details, it’s one less thing he has to think about”

Tip 8: Transform criticism into compliments. Imagine that anything negative someone says to you is a compliment. If someone says you need to do something better, think to yourself “Wow, he must really think I’m capable of improvement if he decided to share that.” And for times when others don’t believe in you? It’s just a compliment to be noticed.

“Never be limited by other people’s limited imaginations.”
Dr. Mae Jemison, first African-American female astronaut

Tip 9: Change external circumstances. A study showed that students who transferred to a different University had an easier time changing other habits at the same time. Any time you have a new habit you’re working on, change your external world as much as possible. Consider ideas like always sit at your desk when you work on your art instead of sitting in bed with your laptop. Go to a coffee shop, art museum, or park to spark your imagination.

UC-Blog-Pinterest-Gift

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

Sharing Your Work Early and Often (Even When It Feels Scary)

Chances are you’ve felt a little hesitant to share your creative work in progress with others at times. I know it can be intimidating to share your creative work with others, especially when you feel like it’s not quite “perfect” yet. Trust me, I’ve been there. But I’ve found that sharing my work early and often can be incredibly beneficial for my creative process.

I like to share my early sketches with notes (or doodles!) or create a presentation slide or two of my ideas with comments to show what I’m thinking at this point in the process. I’ll also include images of my inspirations on the slides to give people context about the direction I’m considering.

For example, you might say something like: “I’m working on a new design and I’m at the sketching stage. I would love your feedback on the layout and composition. What do you think is working well and what could be improved?” Or, if you’re feeling a little stuck, you might ask: “I’m feeling a little stuck. Do you have any ideas for how I could approach it differently?”

I’ll often seek out the perspective of someone who is knowledgeable about the topic I’m working on, as well as an outsider to the project: “I’m really excited about this project I’m working on, and I think it would be helpful to get some feedback from someone who isn’t as familiar with it. I’m in the early stages and I could use some fresh perspectives. Do you have time to take a look?”

You’d be surprised at how valuable the insights of someone who isn’t as familiar with the project can be.

And sometimes, I’ll even share on my Instagram story (just with close friends) to get a wider range of reactions. Just make sure to choose a few trusted individuals to share your work with, like a mentor, colleague, or friend.

Meeting people at in person events especially can help making the process less lonely and intimidating. I love attending meetups or just heading to a coffee shop with someone who shares my interests. It’s a great way to connect with others in your field and build relationships that can be super beneficial for your creative process (or just really love your memes about local restaurants).

Consider creating an opportunity to connect with a friend or acquaintance: “I’m really excited about this project I’m working on, and I’d love to get your thoughts on it. Can we meet up at our favorite coffee shop and chat about it? I’d also love to hear about your thoughts on the latest episode of that Game of Thrones dragon prequel”

While it’s convenient to share your work online or through email, there’s something special about meeting with someone in person. For one thing, you can get a better sense of their body language and how they are responding to your work. You can also hear the tone of their voice, which can make feedback sound more human, gentle, and connected.

The next best thing for would be to get on a phone call: “I’ve been struggling to come up with new ideas for my creative work, and I thought it might be helpful to brainstorm with someone. Could I send you the file and then hop on the phone with you sometime in the next day or two?”

This also gives you a chance to hear their voice and check in with the person and your own emotions.

You might also meet people who are interested in what you create at local events such as at a meetup. This gives you a chance to both share your work and help you to connect with others in your field and build relationships that can be super beneficial for your creative work.

Sharing the process can help you to connect with your audience and community. By sharing your work in progress, you can give people a peek into your creative process and build an audience of folks who are interested in your work. I find this especially powerful on social media or through email newsletters

It’s natural to feel a little nervous when sharing your work with others, especially if you’re a perfectionist or if you’re not used to seeking feedback. But it’s important to remember that everyone feels this way at some point, and that seeking feedback is a crucial part of the creative process.

Try reframing your thoughts and reminding yourself of the benefits of sharing your work. Remind yourself that you are seeking feedback to improve your work, not because you are not good enough. And if you’re still feeling nervous, I like to share my work with just one or two trusted individuals first, rather than with a larger group. This can help you to build up your confidence and get used to the idea of sharing your work.

So, how do you go about asking for feedback? It can help to be specific about what you’re looking for and to be clear about where you are in the process.

Be clear that it’s an early draft or a work in progress: “I’m really looking for thoughts on the color palette. Do you have any recommendations for colors that might work well with this concept?”

By being specific, you can help the person giving feedback to understand your goals and focus on the most important aspects of your work. This can help the person giving feedback to understand that you’re still refining your work and that you’re looking for guidance, rather than a final critique.

Another helpful thought is to practice self-compassion. Remember that you are doing your best, and that it’s okay to make mistakes or to have work that is not perfect. Rather than beating yourself up, try to focus on your progress and the things you have accomplished. I’m not expecting my first draft to be perfect. I’ll try to be kind to myself and remember that the editing process is part of the creative process.

It’s also okay to feel stuck or uninspired sometimes. Give yourself permission to take a break and come back to my work with fresh eyes later. You’re allowed to have off days when you’re not as productive as you’d like to be. It’s okay to take some time to recharge and come back to my work with renewed energy.

And if you do receive negative feedback, try to see it as an opportunity to learn and grow, rather than as a personal attack. Make mistakes and experiment with different ideas. That’s how we learn and grow as someone who engages in creative work.

Be proud of yourself for trying, even if the work isn’t where you want it to be yet. Be patient with yourself and focus on making progress.

Finally, I love to let people know that you value their feedback and appreciate their help. By expressing your gratitude and making it clear that you’re open to hearing their thoughts, you can create a positive and supportive environment for receiving feedback.

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