(Warning: Intermittent gooey personal details inside)

I'm surprised I haven't seen this topic brought up before, but I haven't, and cursory searches of "diary" and "journal" came up with nothing, albeit largely because the latter got a bunch of hits for scientific journals. But I digress. I have recently started a journal. So recently, in fact, that there are only two entries. There were a number of motivating factors that went into this decision, which correlate rather directly with the number of goals I have for this project.

First, I think it will help me be less stressed. I estimate that at least 60% of my stress is due to the fact that I refuse to even think about the things I need to do until I actually start on them. Because I haven't actually thought through what I need to do, I often feel swamped and very stressed, even when I have comparatively little that needs done. When I actually start working on it, I realize that I don't have as much as I thought, and worried for nothing. One of the things I want to do in this (and haven't in my first two entries, very well) is briefly mention things I know I am procrastinating on. I haven't done this yet, because I forgot for the first two entries, but I intend to have a section of "What am I procrastinating on" for every entry.

Speaking of which: Secondly, I want to stop procrastinating so much. Stopping to actually think about what I need to do will naturally make me more productive. I've noticed that whenever I actually start thinking about things I need to do, I start doing it immediately. I also want to have a section "Productive things I've done today". This will give me some kind of incentive system to actually be productive, since I won't want to acknowledge when I haven't done anything I didn't have to.

Third, I have a terrible memory for things that don't matter that much. I don't know if this will help that or not, but at least I'll have some record of what I've done. And it only stands to reason that reviewing one's activities in a day would help one remember them. I first got an idea of this when I made this comment. I doubt this would specifically address that problem, but at least I would have a record of something.

Fourth, I want data on what makes me happy. Part of what I'm doing is keeping a companion Excel file to my OneNote folder. For each entry, I assess my emotional levels on a scale of 0-100, with 50 designed to be what I perceive an average day to be like. Emotional levels I'm currently using are: Happiness, Stress, Motivation, Energy, Relationship Satisfaction, and an arbitrary category called "Winningness". I'm sure everyone on LW understands what I mean. :-) I also record about how much time I spent doing various things that day. Under the productive category, I have going to class, homework/studying, Extracurricular Activities, Work, and a total category. Under the social category, I have time spent with my girlfriend, and time spent with general friends, and another total category. Under recreation, I record time spent watching Television, reading, and playing various games I enjoy, as well as a total category. Lastly, I'm recording miscellaneous things:

  • Sleep the previous night (hours)
  • Current length of To-Do list
  • Tasks added to To-Do
  • Items checked off the To-Do
  • Day of the Week
  • Where I am that day (Rather, where I'm sleeping that night)
  • How much I've eaten that day (Again on a scale of 0-100, 50 average)
    • This is somewhat of a problem for me, I don't really eat as much as I should. I considered recording specific foods, but that seems like it would get out of hand very quickly, even though it makes a lot of sense, neurologically, that the type of food I would eat would be correlated with happiness levels. It feels wrong not recording the difference in the gooey butter cake that I ate for breakfast this morning (It was fast, and I needed to study, don't judge me!) and a bowl of oatmeal. I'd also like a better scale, like an exact caloric count, but that would really take too much effort.
  • How much I've exercised that day (Same scale)

I will probably post again on this topic once I actually have some form of history doing it, including evaluations of the practice, recommendations, things I would change etc. But right now, I would like advice from you all. What am I missing that I should be doing? Does anyone Journal? Is it as involved in this? Has anyone tried and failed? I would particularly like advice on things I might include in the Excel file.

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Looks potentially over-detailed for something you're just starting out on - you might have more longterm success by starting out with a smaller number of things to record and then step it up after a month or so.

Also beware journalling turning into either another thing to procrastinate from or a tool to procrastinate from other tasks.

Thanks for the warning - I don't think it will be. I'm going to make myself do it right before I go to bed, which helps with that. Yesterday, I didn't have the time to write anything detailed, so I wrote two sentences to that effect, filled out my spreadsheet and went to bed. It took maybe two minutes. The previous day I wrote about two pages. So it all just depends.


I think that unless you get the data easily (ie., automatic), it will be very hard to maintain such a detailed journal (well, unless you're neurotically obsessed). I have been using some tools to help me deal with this:

  • For endurance sports (in my case: running), I've been quite happy with Sports Tracker to record my times/distance etc.
  • To maintain lists of todos, tracking their states, clocking them etc., I'm using org-mode. It's incredibly powerful once you get the hang of it.
  • For overall time-management, I'm using something inspired by David Allen's Getting things done. Works pretty well for me.

In general, I don't think there is any ultimate answer to battle procrastination, but you can get better at it. Reading a book about it (say, David Allen's or The 7 Habits) now and then helps a bit, even if the effect is only short-lived.

To maintain lists of todos, tracking their states, clocking them etc., I'm using org-mode. It's incredibly powerful once you get the hang of it.

On behalf of my fellow Vimmers, I hereby declare a blood feud against you.

Isn't there a good desktop tool or a web-based tool that does the same thing?

The battle lines are drawn!

Google also turns up Vim OrgMode. I've got no idea how good it is (in absolute terms, or relative to VimOrganizer).

(And as an Emacs-er, I wouldn't dare to venture any deeper into enemy territory to investigate :P )

Org-mode made me switch from Vim to Emacs. It's very hard to compete against, since using the same large set to interface idioms for everything is a pretty big win, and any dedicated solution to just one aspect will probably fail to provide all of a spreadsheet, embedded LaTeX, time tracking and a programmable TODO list all usable without any context switching.


There's VimOrganizer, which aspires to be org-mode-for-vim. Judging from the video, it seems like a nice tool.

There are many todo-list/organizers online (Remember The Milk is a nice one), but I don't think there is any tool that does what org-mode does.

Perhaps it will be difficult to keep up with, but I really, really, wouldn't expect so. Filling out the numbers takes at most a minute, and there's no real reason not to do it.


If that works for you, that's excellent of course.

For me, it'd be hard to keep the routine -- it's not so much the little time it takes, but simply the fact I would need to systematically do it. So, when designing my own 'support-system' (various tools, scripts, habits etc.) I try to take my own imperfections into account.

inspired by this post: http://lesswrong.com/r/discussion/lw/9t2/what_are_you_working_on_february_2012/5u5g

I recently started tracking any time I interrupt my work. What I do is write down in my e-journal what time I stopped working (dog needs to be walked, check reddit, bathroom break, etc.) and what time I resumed work. I also write next to each stop time the cumulative time I've been working (on that day). It's really helpful to see how much time of pure solid work you've done and has helped me work for longer.

Quick question, what website do you use for your journal?

I use a google docs spreadsheet, and I also track the (real) reason for the task switching. As I said, sometimes having to write an honest reason for switching is enough to prevent switching to a low-priority or a totally unnecessary task (e.g. "I want to check the forum to see if my karma went up, and I cannot wait till the end of the day because I'm so vain")

I'm using OneNote/Excel. I just keep it on my Windows Skydrive.

I've been journaling more or less continuously since 2003 by simply writing short timestamped entries about whatever ideas or notable stuff there is going on at the moment. There's pretty much no index beyond this, and being just about as simple as possible is what keeps the habit going. There's currently around 4M of plaintext in this journal.

Since I started using org-mode, I also use the org-mode clock-in feature to track time spent in various programming projects I have, both as a way to keep me focused on the task and as a project tracking tool. The project files are otherwise pretty much similar lists of time-stamped short entries as the general journal is.

I've tried to do TODO lists several times, but I always end up not maintaining them and then clearing out the months out of date items much later.

I've had some specific systems for tracking sleep times and running times using org-mode's spreadsheet feature, but I haven't maintained any of these nearly as consistently as the main journal.

So a complex front-loaded system doesn't seem to work for me nearly as well as a free-form thing. I wonder if there was a way to track quantitative data using a lightweight markup in the main journal instead of setting a burdensome separate system for it, so that it could still be recovered using some sort of clever parser afterwards.

I just started keeping a journal/planner about a week ago. I found that I constantly forgot when I had an appointment or place to be, so I started using my phone (built in apps) to track where I need to be and what I need to do. In addition to that, I downloaded an app that allows me to take photos/mark where I've been, but keep the information private. Personally, I found that it has improved my mood and lowered stress levels. (Though your mileage may vary.)


There were gooey details? I don't see any.

There weren't too many gooey details, but there were certainly personal things. I thought it was better safe than sorry. The entire post was essentially about me, which is why I put it.


Darn. I only read LW for the sex, drugs, and rock n' roll, you see.

Looks pretty good, I have a somewhat similar system. Yours is maybe a little bit more detailed.

What you could do is measure everything multiple times per day. E.g. my category "mental alertness" varies widely across the day and was often pretty low in the morning, but huge breakfasts have changed this.

Just experiment, only so you can see what's important to you.

“A complex system that works is invariably found to have evolved from a simple system that worked. A complex system designed from scratch never works and cannot be patched up to make it work. You have to start over, beginning with a working simple system. - John Gall

In other words, the things you record should not be an exhaustive list of everything you can think of; rather, it should build itself out of necessity.

Also - don't measure things simply because you can measure them. (for example, you're counting calories because you can count them, but it's really a waste of time when you can instead recite to yourself every morning, "I will eat healthier foods")

I instintively agree, but wonder what evidence exists (beyond anecdotal) for asserting successful systems which are complex only evolve from simple systems.

Did you misread that? I'm not counting calories. I said I'd like it, but it would take too much work.