My done-diary

I’ve really enjoyed listening to podcasts of people talking about their bullet journal journeys recently: including Inger and Jason Downes’ On the Reg podcast (particularly 4 April 2021, ‘A Bullet Journal Love Fest’–thanks for the shoutout too!) and the Productivity Alchemy backlist (the bullet journal tag has three pages of results!)

The more I listen to people talking about the #bujo, the more I’m convinced it isn’t for me personally. But it’s also been very helpful for me to see how many of the elements of my productivity workflow are achieving similar ends. For example, when I talk about the different kinds of calendar I use, my done list, my white board, my Cornell notes strategy, I’m actually doing a lot of things that are part of Ryder Caroll’s method.

In the post back at the beginning of the year on ‘Not forgetting everything you did last year’ I talked about a new reflective notebook strategy. Half a year later, this is a quick update on how I’m using it right now.

Back in January, I wrote:

I’m using a super-cute Midori notebook and a new fountain pen (do whatever works for you to be motivated!). I’m marking days when I work on each project in the little calendar block, and then using the notebook sections to record lists of what I did, anything I achieved, any positive feedback that I’ll want to remember, and anything else about the month that I want to remember. I’m hoping this mix of daily detail and monthly reflection will be sustainable, but also help me to tell the story of the year… if only to myself.

I started in December and it’s now June, so I’ve ironed out some of the early bumps in the system, and tried it out when I’m on holiday, at work without students, and during semester. So I think it’s ready to share, at least as a work in progress.

The done diary is a two-part system that I update monthly. I put an hour in my diary called ‘Monthly reflection’ in the first week of each month. In that hour, I go through my online diary and my inbox, and identify every relevant task, meeting, email and event. On the one hand, it feels very fiddly and time-consuming. But it doesn’t actually take that much time, it’s just boring, and also terrifying. I send a lot of emails, I receive a lot of emails, I do a lot of things each month! But acknowledging that is the whole purpose of the done-diary, so it’s good to actually face it. As Inger remembered on her podcast episode, I like the fact that writing things on on paper introduces friction into the process. The friction helps you slow down and take time and notice the work of it, which is perfect for reflective practices like a done-diary!

In the diary section, I pop in the initials of the writing project on any day that I did work on it. Sent an email to my publicist for Level Up Your Writing, and to my editor for Your PhD Survival Guide on a Monday? I write LU and PSG on the day. This is also where I keep a record of days I spent actually writing, researching or editing, and any word counts or other tracking data. This tells me that I wrote 15,000 words in two weeks in early January for upcoming publications; about 1,500 in Feb; and nothing in March. I forgot to track blogging, so that’s something I’ll be adding from now on!

I started using a pen, but have found that a very sharp pencil works better for me (either a Staedtler Mars micro 0.7mm mechanical pencil with 2B lead; or a Midori drawing kit pencil in HB).

In the notebook section, I write down a list of things that I did, under a variety of headings. I identified what aspects make up, for me, a ‘balanced’ and ‘good’ life, and aspire to have something in each of those baskets each month.

Currently, my headings are:

  • CV, for things that I achieved that should go on my CV like publications, committees joined etc.
  • Professional Development, for any training I’ve done
  • Teaching, for any one-off workshops I’ve done
  • Work, for anything notable that happened in my day-to-day professional job
  • Life admin, things like taking the cat to the vet or getting the phone line fixed
  • Chats, for coffees or Zooms I’ve done with people in my professional networks
  • Friends, for catch ups with people in my personal networks
  • Family, for catch ups with family members
  • Art, for any cultural experiences I’ve had
  • Garden, for any big organisational or planting work
  • Sometimes I include another section like ‘Food’ or ‘Other

I haven’t included lists of what I read/listened to, or how I was physically active, but I think that is something I should add to the diary in future.

I do use a fountain pen for this part of the project, and am currently particularly liking the Lamy Safari in medium (with blue-black ink if possible). Using an ink pen feels like I am writing down something permanent for the future, and my fancy shiny pen feels like I’m making the reflective process a little bit of an event.

Midori paper was especially designed for fountain pens, and you really do notice the fact that it doesn’t bleed or splotch. I am using the Midori A6 Notebook Diary with lines. If you’d like a full review of the notebook, PenNoob has one with pictures! Partly I like the little book feel of it, but I think an A5 size would make it easier to fit all the information in, and to see a month at a glance.

I am really enjoying tracking my life this way for a year. It will be interesting to see if this is a strategy I want to maintain longer term, and if so, how I do that.

As you can tell from the intro to this post, I love hearing about how other people think about, and use, tools. From the response on Twitter when I first tried out the Midori pencils, I know you do too! And please always drop me a line when you find an amazing pencil sharpener or notebook, and tell me why you love it!


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