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.

How do I make more rational decisions? 4 Steps from the book “Decisive: How to Make Better Choices in Life and Work”

Rational decision-making forms a big part of getting our projects completed. Today’s Q&A Monday asks:

“Are there any useful strategies to help in decision-making?”
Anonymous (via Quora)

Decisive: How to Make Better Choices in Life and Work

In the book “Decisive: How to Make Better Choices in Life and Work”, authors Chip and Dan Heath describe a four-step process for decision-making which they summarize with the acronym “WRAP”. The premise behind the decision process is that as humans we have illogical biases to overcome.

The very common pros and cons approach reveal our biases as we tend to self-select a limited set of options. Psychologists note that humans tend to look for confirmation for our untested beliefs. We rely on short-term emotions to make choices. We’re overconfident about our ability to make predictions for the future.

W – Widen your options.

Humans tend to present themselves with decisions as one option versus another: Do we try to make our current job work or find a new job? The last choice would most likely include parts of both options:

“The universe has no fixed agenda. Once you make any decision, it works around that decision. There is no right or wrong, only a series of possibilities that shift with each thought, feeling, and action that you experience.” Deepak Chopra, The Book of Secrets: Unlocking the Hidden Dimensions of Your Life

For example, if we’re having problems at work, consider fully discussing concerns with managers and coworkers. Continue to test new problem-solving strategies. At the same time, it could still be wise to look into other opportunities. The discussions at your current job both help in your work life and tell the questions and criteria for your search. If a concrete offer for a new job becomes a certain reality, then you’re making decisions with more evidence to know how each role meets your needs.

How the framing effect influences decisions

A field experiment by the University of Nottingham demonstrated narrow framing:

The framing effect is a mental process where conclusions are illogically drawn based on how choices are presented. A field experiment by the University of Nottingham demonstrated narrow framing showing that 93% of Ph.D. students registered early when informed of a penalty fee for late registration. Only 67% registered early when identical pricing was presented as a discount.

An experiment published in the Journal of Law, Economics, and Organization found that support for an economic policy was greater when presenting the numbers for the employment rate is emphasized. Giving the related unemployment rates garnered much less support. This is a common tactic used in politics to influence public opinion while not presenting the real potential outcomes.

How opportunity costs limit our options

To counter the framing effect and force ourselves to consider more options, we can explore the opportunity costs involved. What actions would, in fact, rule out other choices? If you must decide between:

  • Choice A: A friend’s party
  • Choice B: A movie on the same night with another friend

What would be the impact of each decision on your mood, friendships, and budget? Have you already accepted one invite, if so what would be the impact of a change of plans?

“In economics, one of the most important concepts is ‘opportunity cost’ – the idea that once you spend your money on something, you can’t spend it again on something else.” Malcolm Turnbull

In the book Decisive, the authors recommend adding the possibility for both actions. Rather than choices “A OR B”, are both “A AND B” possible? Could you bring your movie-loving friend to the party and/or ask to see the movie on a night when you don’t have an accepted invitation?

R – Reality test your assumptions.

Consider the opposite of your ideas and guesses as potentially valid. Is there evidence that contradicts your current thoughts on probable outcomes?

Overcoming confirmation bias

“When we hear news we should always wait for the sacrament of confirmation.” Voltaire

Confirmation bias is a common reasoning error. Experiments have shown that people search for evidence consistent with their current beliefs and predictions. The term “confirmation bias” was coined by English psychologist Peter Wason whose simple experiment in the 1960s showed that people tend to try to confirm their first ideas and not disprove them:

Given the sequence of “2-4-6”, participants would guess that the pattern was even numbers. Then they tried to test this rule by proposing more even numbers such as “4-8-10”, “6-8-12”, and “20-22-24”. Researchers would confirm that these all fit the pattern at which point participants would stop their attempts, satisfied that they had found the correct answer.

However the answer was not even numbering, it simply increased numbers. Participants tended not to try odd numbers to disprove their first guess.

Take action in small steps

With confirmation bias in mind, take small steps to give more evidence for one outcome or another. If you believe a person you’re dating is not reliable, for example, you might ask to commit to plans. Look for evidence that they are able to be relied on.

The next small step resulting from their response may be further discussion of the pattern of behavior. During this talk, you could look for evidence that they attempt to be more reliable.

“Great things are not done by impulse, but by a series of small things brought together.” Vincent van Gogh

If you contradict your first guess, you may decide this is someone you can easily spend time with and continue to date. Or you may find more anecdotes showing unreliability, which helps you decide whether relationship styles are incompatible. Taking small steps gives you more confidence in your final decision.

A – Attain distance before deciding.

In dealing with short-term emotions, it’s helpful to explore various perspectives. Our emotions impact us in unpredictable and irrational ways. Psychologists tested the tendency to perceive new events consistently with the involved emotions. They found fearful participants predict negative outcomes and when angry they presume positive ones.

“You can’t make decisions based on fear and the possibility of what might happen.” Michelle Obama

Writers Chip and Dan Heath recommend asking “How would you feel about this decision in 10 minutes? 10 days? 10 years?” If you were not involved, what advice would you give? In the short term, it might feel great to eat a bag of chips or skip that trip to the gym. By attaining distance and thinking about how we might feel in the future, it becomes a lot easier to act.

Identify your priorities

A decision often becomes emotionally difficult as we feel the conflict between various priorities. By identifying your distinct preferences, you’ll often be able to more clearly see. You’ll have a more clear idea of the best answer for your situation.

Is your long-term priority better health? Compared this to your short-term priority of instant gratification. You might decide to eat a balanced meal skipping fast food ultimately feels more satisfying.

P – Prepare to be wrong.

In preparing to be wrong, we acknowledge and take steps toward various likely outcomes. The overconfidence effect is a natural human bias. We tend to view our own actions as more certain to guarantee outcomes. More so than is likely or possible. We believe that we are more certain to know the truth than we really do.

In fact, the results of our decisions likely fall within a wide range. Some factors and events could not be predicted. Other possible outcomes that we could have predicted, we did not. Perfect decisions that give us perfect control are the least likely possibility.

Set a wide target

An example of overconfidence is demonstrated in the planning fallacy, first proposed by Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky. The planning fallacy is the tendency to guess a task takes less time than it likely will.

One 1997 survey of Canadian taxpayers showed that participants mailed taxes about a week later than they predicted. Even as those surveyed reported in the past that they mailed forms later than planned, they still estimated that would get it done earlier in the future.

A wide target is easier to predict. If these taxpayers guess that they’d mail their taxes sometime within the next year, they’d be more likely to be correct. Compared to if they guess that within the next week, they’d complete the task.

Set a tripwire

Prepare to revisit your decision by setting triggers. If X happens, at that point revisit your decisions. If you were investing or gambling, you might be comfortable with losing 10% of your money. Once you’ve lost 11%, it’s time to decide if it’s wise to continue with your current strategy or test something new.

Be ready for positive outcomes too. If the person we were dating in the earlier example on reality testing does become a reliable planner, what does this mean for the relationship?

Build a safety net

Since things happen that are hard to predict, it’s smart to prepare for the unexpected. For example, financial experts recommend emergency funds even as they discuss tracking spending and creating plans for how to pay your bills.

No plan is perfect. We often can’t predict what we’d need to use our savings for. We can guess that an unexpected event will happen. Many situations would be easier and less stressful if we have extra money available for it.

Next time you’re deciding to take that expensive vacation or buy a fancy dinner, consider a 2012 study cited by Vanguard that found that those surveyed had: unpaid medical bills (26%), overdrew their checking account (22%), took a loan from their retirement account (14%), took a hardship withdrawal from their retirement account (10%), had more than one late mortgage payment (13%), and filed for bankruptcy (3.5%). If you think this can’t happen to you, re-read the section on overconfidence. Then start to act and start your safety net.

Readers, what strategies have helped you make better decisions? Share below in the comments!

UC-Blog-Feature-Image-Decisions

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

Learn in Spare Moments: How I Learned to Make Games (with Godot Engine)

New Skill, No Time? You Might Still Find Ways to Pick Up a New Hobby

As creators, trying new things is a big part of the creative process. Whether it’s experimenting with new tools or techniques or exploring new styles and ideas. Join me as I add game-making to my never-ending list of hobbies!

While the focus of this article is making games, I hope the story of how I made room for my interest in making games can inspire you when you’re thinking about making room for any interest.

Godot Adventure Game Prototype uses dialog, inventory, and a very preliminary quest system.
Continue reading “Learn in Spare Moments: How I Learned to Make Games (with Godot Engine)”

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

Break Apart Ideas to Overcome Creative Blocks

How can we get past creative blocks?

Transform one piece of an idea at a time. We like stay with what we know. Regardless of whether it’s a first draft or a five-year-old work — once a thought exists it becomes harder to think about another.

Iris Shoor presents a neat and simple strategy to conquer blocks. Taking an idea and breaking it into smaller pieces. Quit seeing at your work as a single whole.

Create a rundown of components. After that, concentrate on one section and change only that. A fascinating thing about this strategy: simply isolating components helps thoughts to begin streaming.

Read more about Iris Shoor’s process in Why creativity blocks happen (and how to overcome them)

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

Artists Don’t Want to Work for Free, Facebook isn’t Email, and Secrets Behind Viral Hits

Artists Don’t Need Your Exposure

@forexposure_txt is a Twitter account of quotes from artists who were expected to work for free. Too many people don’t value art. Artist Ryan Estrada posts real quotes from real people who think we need to work for exposure. Especially now in the internet age, exposure is incredibly easy to get for anyone for free. My networking guide post contains better ideas for promoting your work and making healthy relationships as an artist.

I respond by explaining in detail how I design. I drew for years as a child. Educate others kindly that creating is truly difficult work. I’ve worked as a designer the moment I turned 18, while also studying Fine Art (and classical piano). I learned to love studying computer programs and reading books on design and productivity. Slowly putting that knowledge to use every day. Spent the last 17 years learning techniques from many amazing colleagues. That said when others (even clients) are excited to tackle a design project I encourage them to do so. If they can stick with it and do it themselves, good for them!

Facebook isn’t email

Most people don’t even see your posts. The FB algorithm shows only what they think will keep you on FB. All of your friends are hidden.

“I learned a real profound lesson with the Inside news app. You can get 500,000 people to download an app, but only 1 percent or less will use it a day. And then I realized, I took the same information that was in the app, I emailed it to the same audience and 40, 50, 60 percent opened it every day.” Jason Calacanis on Recode Media Podcast

On the user end, email is super easy to control. You own it. Most email programs make it easy for users to sort email automatically, search, and surface content when you want it.

Hit Makers make content popular, not viral sharing

Viral sharing is over rated. Tracking memes and “viral content”, analytics discussed in the new book Hit Makers show that they stay within small circles until famous hit makers and influences get involved. Distribution is more similar to traditional broadcast media than you think. And most people find out about content through the big broadcasters promoting.

“Facebook initially went ‘viral,’ not by building a product that every person might share with five other people, like a disease, but by using networks that existed. They digitized the Harvard network that existed, and the Ivy League networks that already existed.” Derek Thompson, Atlantic Senior Editor

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