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 to Plan Then Execute Goals with Getting Things Done (GTD) by David Allen: Free Downloadable Poster PDF

This Get It Done downloadable poster pdf, based on the book Getting Things Done by David Allen, is the perfect way to get your goals in motion.

Are you struggling to set your daily, monthly, and yearly goals? I know that feeling well! It can be overwhelming to figure out where to begin, but don’t worry, I’m here to help.

Have you ever heard of the book Getting Things Done by David Allen? If you have, perhaps you’re looking for a refresher. Or, if this is an entirely new concept for you, you’re in the right place – I’ll explain everything in detail. Getting Things Done aims to engage in natural planning: noticing and working with the way your brain naturally wanders.

We begin by capturing: brainstorming with enthusiasm to find ideas that already exist in your head. Then, you can organize: divide your ideas into types of tasks and notes for future reference. Finally and most importantly, you can then identify the next action: the next step you need to take to get your project moving. Planning can be fun and easy!

Making decisions can be daunting. Use this Choose-Your-Own-Adventure style strategy for making the creative process less stressful:

Get It Done Process Poster: Based on the Book Getting Things Done
Get It Done Process Poster: Based on the Book Getting Things Done

Capture: Write down all of your ideas

Write down all of your goals-related ideas 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.

Continue reading “How to Plan Then Execute Goals with Getting Things Done (GTD) by David Allen: Free Downloadable Poster PDF”

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.

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.

How do you store your ideas to be organized and easily accessible to use as raw material in different projects?

In today’s Q&A Monday, methods for organizing your ideas that make it so much more convenient to act:

How do you store your ideas to be organised and easily accessible to use as raw material in different projects?
Anonymous (via Quora)

I find ways to make storing ideas fun and rewarding. I have little “rules” (ie guidelines) that help it feel like a game. The basic outline of my system includes sketching, lists, and a calendar. I keep as little in my brain as possible. Delegate remembering any thoughts and ideas to the system.

Getting Things Done

I’m a big fan of Getting Things Done (GTD) by David Allen and base some organizational ideas on that. One of the main ideas of Getting Things Done is to write down anything you think of. Then put it in a place where you can remember it. The other principle is separating an actionable task from reference material. Actionable items are broken down into small tasks and included on project task lists.

Then the only habit I have to have is to check the lists or calendar. It’s a lot more freeform than it may sound, basically just write things down. I have designed this “Choose Your Own Adventure” style Getting Things Done cheat sheet that I’ve hung up at my desk at work:

Getting Things Done Process Poster

The system shown here helps with my graphic design work as I decide how to accomplish all of my daily priorities. At the same time, when thoughts drift to personal tasks and ideas that could be distracting I can quickly make a note on my shopping list.

I keep a Google Tasks app on my phone to keep lists of various thoughts, quotes, and links to articles I’ve found. It’s a pretty simple system with some basic categories like painting ideas and quotes. Within each category, a lot of what is captured is in random order.

Step 1: Brainstorm using a trigger list

A trigger list is a short list of keywords that helps with brainstorming even more thoughts. It reminds me to write down ideas I may not have written yet: Boss, Painting, Bills, Important Dates, Weekly Events, Projects, and Unfinished tasks. The words themselves jog memories. I jot downanyl thoughts that come to mind when reading my list. Then organize them into the above systems

Sketch when you can

How do you organize your ideas? 5 Steps

Sketching and doodling are fun ways I get ideas to paper. I like to get ideas out of my head where they can seem perfect and large onto paper where they’re small and can be thrown away. I scribble sketches. I like cheap spiral notebooks. I have sketchbooks where I move up to a different level of finished artwork and design. The cheapness of the notebooks helps me feel less precious and anxious about whatever I’m putting down.

A study published in Applied Cognitive Psychology found that doodlers remember more than non doodlers when told to tediously delivered information (via Time.com). Participants had to listen to a fake voicemail filled with rambling information. We’ve all had to do this at some point. Even after they were removed from their papers, doodlers were able to retain more details. The researchers conclude that doodling helps focus and prevents daydreaming.

Step 2: Sort Reference Material and Inspiration

For any thought or idea that isn’t related directly to an action, task, or project I keep on lists by various categories.  Joan Rivers was known to use index cards to store every joke, as she explained in the documentary “Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work”. She would type each on index cards and file them by the subject of the joke. If it’s an idea related to landscape paintings, I have a list for that. I keep lists of quotes, articles, and all kinds of thoughts.

Blogging and social media can help!

As Austin Kleon wrote in his book Steal Like An Artist, “Do good work and put it where people can see it”. I’ll often write a short blog post combining ideas from various articles, studies, and inspiration. That way they’re available for me when I need them. Often others will have new points which help with my creative process.

Steal-Like-An-Artist-Cover
Steal Like an Artist: 10 Things Nobody Told You About Being Creative by Austin Kleon

Pinterest is a nice tool for storing inspiration. Anything inspiring me on the web gets pinned. I also use it to search for visuals. Anything that has an image associated with it gets pinned.

Step 3: Keeping lists of actions

Project Lists

When I have decided on a project, I sift through the lists and put the items in priority order. For example, if I’ve decided to paint any tasks involved in making the painting onto my task list. You’d be surprised how much putting things in a single place can create inspiration and motivation. It makes difficult and complex tasks suddenly feel easy

Actions include sketching out thumbnails, working out any drawings, and finally any ideas that might work through the painting. It’s almost magical how separating references from actual tasks helps me to focus. Suddenly it becomes convenient and easy since I have a clear next step to take.

A lot of procrastination happens when I don’t have a clear direction. I dread having to think through a project after each step. Figuring out the whole scope within 15 seconds of typing makes it all go by quickly

Someday Maybe Lists

It’s also worthwhile to set aside ideas that aren’t happening any time soon. It’s a relief to let them go here. When you have free time, having a bunch of ideas that might suddenly become possible or appealing is also a lifesaver.

Context lists

Another type of organizational tool I use is having lists based on location or context. This could be “When I’m on my computer”, which I’ll abbreviate @computer. This would have lists reminding me to read a website, pay a bill, or order art supplies from Amazon. Other examples of contexts: Home, Car, Work, Bathroom, TV, Microsoft Word, During Monday’s Meeting.

Step 4: Schedule what you can on your calendars

Some ideas belong in the realm of scheduling. If you can schedule it, then schedule it. Setting simple reminders of days that would be great to sketch helps me get on track. Google Calendar lets me set phone notifications, so I don’t even need to actively check for most things

Perhaps I have an idea to do plein aire painting. Not very useful in the winter. I could leave a note on my calendar reminding myself not to waste the summer and look back into this. Having a loose plan for your day, week, or year is an amazing way to spark creativity

Step 5: Forget the rest

In a recent episode of her podcast Happier, habits researcher Gretchen Rubin suggests instead not organizing and getting rid of clutter. Some ideas may never happen or won’t be useful. Learn when to let them go as you’re going through this whole process. If any ideas are timely or have a shelf life, make that clear in your system.

Readers, how do you organize your thoughts and ideas?

How do you organize your ideas? 5 Steps

 

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