I've been using (or more accurately, trying to use) different applications as a journal for a while now. Day One, TinderBox, plain text. It just hadn't stuck. The only thing that really did stick for me was writing short movie and book reviews in Day One, which I then moved to TinderBox, and finally back into TheBrain. You can read about that in the Jump Thought, How to Use TheBrain for a Book and Movie Database.

Anyway, I had effectively given up trying to write a journal. You know there has to be an Until coming up, because otherwise this post would be really short and boring. 

Until I was trying to remember what I did at work for the past week. What did I accomplish? I remembered the big stuff, but little stuff got lost. Hmmm, I thought to myself, perhaps I should write it down as I do it...

Stage 1

The first thing I did was create a thought for the month. My thinking behind it was to make it easy. If it ain't easy, I ain't going to do it.

As I did stuff I'd add bullet points to the thought notes and jot them down. It was usually big to medium stuff. This went on a few months, but after a while I found I was forgetting to write things down as or immediately after I did them. It became another search my mind, email and thought history to try and piece together what the hell happened in the past few weeks. So I pinned the thought.

This helped, a bit.

I found that at the end of the month it was still a bit of a scramble to remember. The items that I did write down as I did them were sort of useful as a summary, but a bit too granular for a monthly summary. Back to the drawing board.

Stage 2

So I kept the Monthly thought and then created a thought for each day formatted as YYYY-MM-DD (so it sorted correctly), and added them with the parent thought as the month. When I created the thought I'd pin it and also add it as an all day event to the calendar.At the end of the month I'd glance through my day's entries and add a bullet point summary in my month thought. Oh, and I added a daily reminder in my task manager to remind me to write a daily entry, aaaand...

Success!

At first I kept the entries to work work stuff, but then I started to want to add a few personal things every now and then. So I added a Work and Personal section, and because I wanted the notes to be formatted the same every time I created a template thought. It ended up looking like this.

This went on for quite a few months, and really worked well for me. At the end of the month I'd go through the daily thoughts and create the monthly summary, which was now a real and useful summary.

But then I read the article (child thought) Using TheBrain as a digital bullet journal and started reading about bullet journals.

Big Mistake.

If you are wondering, there's a lot o' information out there about bullet journaling. I didn't surface for air until a week later, after I had tried it and decided it wasn't for me.

Stage 3

One of the things that I really, really liked in my journaling/diary foray was a goal list. The Tiny Ray of Sunshine blog post (attached as a child thought - Warning: clicking on that web site may cause you to get lost in a vast, wonderful ocean of journaling porn) got me thinking about it, and I wanted to incorporate how I was doing on some goals and things I was working on in my... Well hell, I guess I have to call it a journal now.

For goals, daily entries seem too disjointed and a monthly thought seems like too long a period to effectively track them. So, I ditched my monthly thought, and created a weekly thought. In the notes I created a table for the goals I was working on. I then added a summary section below for my weekly bullet point accomplishments and tasks. I still write items in the daily thoughts, the big change is  that I now do a weekly review instead of a monthly one.

Much better. 

The weekly thought has become my barometer for how I am doing, and funnily enough it's a lot easier to summarize weekly than monthly. I started using the weekly thought so much I set it as the home thought of my database (and change it when a new week comes around). For the daily entries I just navigate down into the daily thought to write the days entry. 

After a few more weeks of use I added a reminder on what I want to focus on for this week in the weeks thought. Also, if I had a particularly interesting entry I started to create a sub entry for the daily thought and then add it's text and a local thought hyperlink to the notes of the weekly thought. This way I can immediately see it when glancing through the weeks.

My setup now looks almost exactly the same as the example I gave under the Unit of Time measurement in the How to Use The Brain section. 

Learnings

If you made it this far, there's a reasonable amount of chance you might want to do something similar. My advice for doing this is as follows:

  • Start small and easy. Do the least possible amount of work you have to in order to get started and don't fuss with formatting.
  • Set a daily reminder to write something. When the reminder comes up... Write something.
  • Modify your setup over time. Let it evolve into something that works for you, don't try to force yourself into something that doesn't.
  • Keep what's useful, let everything else go.
  • Link stuff to your daily thoughts, it's another way of finding things. For example, a restaurant you found. An article that affected you. Don't do this with everything, just the things that resonate with you and make sense to link to the daily thought.