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The more senior your job title, the more you need to keep a journal (2017) (hbr.org)
344 points by shekhardesigner 26 days ago | hide | past | favorite | 132 comments



I'm a software engineer, and I've been keeping a "lab journal" on and off for the past decade or so. A single markdown file per day, with the date as filename. First thing I do every day is copy the previous day's entry, give it a once over & remove what's no longer relevant. This helps me remember what I've been working on, and it's a track record of sorts.

There's a todo list at the top of each day's entry. But the rest is mostly free-form. Some days don't contain anything. Others contain meeting notes. Design ideas. Results of experiments. It's all plain text, so it's easily grep-able. Sometimes I look back at them to answer "why did I do that"-type questions. Sometimes $manager wonders what I've been working on or why it's taking so much time. I can just point at the journal and say "I've been doing 3 meetings every day and I've been onboarding people so I haven't had time to work on XYZ".

It's not much effort. And imho it's definitely worth it.


I do the same-ish thing. Main highlights on mine: 1) I start off the day with things I should be working on (samesies) 2) I use ### to demarcate different "working sessions" ... one for each meeting, etc. 3) I struggle with finding something that lets me: encrypt, search, big notes, and use multi platform easily :( Closest I've found was google keep so far .. but i hate relying on it like that. I'm pretty sure "something" plus encrypted sqlite will work once i find it. 4) I name it Today.YYYYMMDD ... I'm trying to get into the habit of retroing once a month, creating a Month.YYYYMMDD to try to be more reflective and understand high level impact I had and systemic issues I'm running into.

The number of times this has saved me time figuring out "Oh .. i saw that error before .. how did I fix it?" and "who did i talk to about X and what did they say" months to years later has proven to be super helpful and I will be continuing indefinitely.


I started using Joplin https://joplinapp.org/ some time ago.

Open-source. Encrypted if you want. Synchronized using WebDAV (also Dropbox, NextCloud and OneDrive). Uses markdown. Has tags. And apps for everything (Windows/macOS/Linux/Android/iOS/terminal).


The monthly retro is a great idea. I think I'll be stealing that one, thanks!

I use Zettlr as a markdown editor, with the underlying directory being in git. It's not encrypted, though doing that should be pretty easy with something like EncFS.


Standard Notes is my Google Keep replacement. Fully encrypted, straightforward business model, works great, apps available on iOS and Android.


Thank you for this suggestion. I hadn't heard of Standard Notes before and had stopped using Evernote in 2016 to switch to just Markdown files on disk w/ Git. I've migrated everything into it and this looks pretty much perfect for what I need (better tag management would be my only ask).


Thank you for the recommendation. Looks like it has all the security features I’m desperately missing from all Google products and would make their products an easy default go-to.


Thanks. That was next on my list :)


I've done similar. I used to use Quiver[1] for years. It's MacOS only. Then in October, I was forced onto a Windows machine for work. I tried Joplin as it was the closest in features, and it has built in encryption.

What I eventually ended up doing was moving to vscode. I use it my main IDE for the last couple years. I have a linux vm running for all my development, with vscode remote ssh.

- I keep a folder for each month - I have a file in each month called YYYYMM-dailies.md, level 2 headings for each day - Notes that grow too complex for the "dailies" get their own file in the folder. A number of these might get polished and copied into a document site somewhere. - Sometimes I'll make a subdirectory of "snips" with small scripts or pseudo-scripts (stuff to copy/paste) - The integrated shell lets me paste commands into my dev vm and copy the results back into my notes.

A feature of this is that while it's not really "synchronized", I can vscode-remote-ssh from multiple machines, or just ssh into the vm to get my notes. You can use rclone or keybase+rsync to backup the notes directory (or keybase's git if you want to check notes in).

Another

[1]: https://happenapps.com/


Vimwiki works great for this! Hyperlinks and diary management, all plain text and able to be opened in anything.


I can second using Vimwiki! I have mine set up to automatically sync with Gitlab every so often too, so it’s automatically backed up.


I use https://github.com/gitwatch/gitwatch to do this.

I'm curious if there is something you are using on mobile for vimwiki? I've been using termux on Android, which works well enough.


Sadly I don’t have a solution for mobile. The truth is that I mostly use it on the computer though so it really hasn’t been a problem.

My backup method is pretty simple but it’s been silently chugging along for months now without a single hiccup. It’s just a git commit via cron job: https://thelinell.com/using-vimwiki/


There are many markdown based journal programs, some with encryption. Do these not work for you?


My bits were on MacOS, Linux, Win, iOS, and required usage w/o internet (so I could work on airplanes, etc.).. so _something_ was always missing (between those + encrypted + searching).


Can you suggest any in particular?


My personal choice for markdown notes is https://github.com/glushchenko/fsnotes


If you’re a Vim user, Vimwiki is awesome:

- https://github.com/vimwiki/vimwiki

- https://thelinell.com/using-vimwiki/


I don't have much experiences with them (flat text files aren't my style), but a friend seems happy with Joplin.

A HN search illustrates the amount of markdown note apps available: https://hn.algolia.com/?dateRange=all&page=0&prefix=true&que...


Joplin would be perfect if it allowed quick inter-note linking. Obsidian and Zettlr seem to do this much better. But for journaling I love Joplin.


> I'm a software engineer, and I've been keeping a "lab journal" on and off for the past decade or so.

I studied (a mix of EE/CS) in the EE dept., and we were actually taught to do keep such notebooks/journals, as in electronics labs were assessed on what the contents of your lab book, not on what you'd produced or measured (or at least not 'hey lab assistant look at my 'scope, see, done it' - obviously measurements would be recorded, but then the assessment's more 'why' and 'was that expected' than just a copied value from a neighbour).

I hated it at the time and wasn't particularly good at it ('writing what I'm doing just slows me down and distracts me from doing') but I've worked in software engineering since and wished I'd stuck at it. I've briefly tried in fits and bursts but never maintained it as 'this is how I work', despite having a former colleague who did.

Probably time I tried again, I agree it's worth it.


You can use git to do it in a way that's fairly natural for software development.


Absolutely. I did something slightly simpler: a single file with a per-day section. This helped immensely with quarterly reviews (I'd forget a lot of things I'd accomplished), and REALLY helped when I hit an obscure bug (typically a configuration thing) that I'd seen several months previously.


I'm glad to see I'm not alone! I also had ~/Work.MD stored for the past few years. Each day I add the date as a new top-level heading, and write notes of what I did.

I've recently started contracting (and billing hourly) so I've switched to using an org-mode file, which contains commands, links to internal stories, and other things.

As I'm contracting I figured I might be asked to justify the hours-billed, etc. So for the first time I'm explicitly writing the daily-log with the expectation that I'll share it, and the employer will see what I write.

That (perceived) level of scrutiny has really improved the detail and coverage of what I document.


only share if you have to. and better negotiate on outcomes instead of hours. just a tip :-) took me a while to understand why


I'd mostly share the specific details of what I'd done with my peers, rather than the "higher up" who hired me. It's like documentation, or knowledge-sharing, which is an important part of team-work.

But good comment, thank you!


Yup this is exactly what I do as well. In physics you are required to keep a detailed lab log. I kept doing it when I started my coop and slowly it evolved to the single file with day entries. I also keep a separate file for ongoing personal todos.


Same here. After a year or so i got tired of actually 'vi ~/worklog.txt' and made an alias. The alias opens up that txt file in VI, goes to end of the file, and starts a newline in insert mode haha. LOVE IT


As I started to get more experienced (also software development) I noticed that more and more people were seeking out my help - which was frustrating, because I had goals I was supposed to be working toward myself. I found that keeping a log of each interruption and how long I spent on it eased my anxiety quite a bit: although I've never actually been asked to justify why it took "so long" to complete a task, having that documentation handy just in case made me a lot more pleasant to work with.


That's quite interesting, turning the work tracking on its head and tracking interruptions instead.

Some days I wonder where the day goes, with interruptions and getting back in the zone, it's a miracle anything gets done.


I've been doing something very similar to this for the past year and a half. I was inspired by one of my coworkers who has a long running list of notes in a google doc.

I run "vim `date -I`", which opens a file for the current day in the form `YYYY-MM-DD`. I keep it in a git repo that I commit and push to every time I add a note.

I separate topics using `===` surrounded by blank lines. When I go back to update a topic I already wrote something about, I separate it with `--` surrounded by blank lines.

The main thing this ends up being useful to me for is that I put off filing my timesheets until the end of the month, and then when our accounting lady gets after me, I can go back and actually write down semi-accurate notes on what I did each day.


Thanks for the tip! For anyone else who misread the `date` command and used a lowercase L, here's the command in monospace. It's an uppercase I.

    vim $(date -I)


Try this alias.

  alias jim=' \
    journaldir="/home/myusername/journal/" ; \
    jfile="log_`date -I`.txt" ;       \
    jfilepath="$journaldir$jfile" ;   \
    echo "Creating log: $jfilepath" ; \ 
    vi $jfilepath ; '
Instructions:

(1) Copy to your .bash_aliases file.

(2) Edit the journaldir, and replace myusername with your name.

(3) Create a journal directory somewhere for #2.

(4) Source it. source ~/.bash_aliases

(5) jim will open up today's note in Vi.

Try it out, and let me know.


Or, here's an even better alias.

  alias jim=' \
    journaldir="$HOME/journal" ;   \
    year="`date +%Y`" ;            \
    yearpath="$journaldir/$year" ; \
    [[ -d "$yearpath" ]] || mkdir -p $yearpath ; \
    jfile="log_`date -I`.md" ;                \
    jfilepath="$journaldir/$year/$jfile" ;    \
    header="# log_`date -I`\n\n# Highlights:\n\n" ; \
    [[ -f "$jfilepath" ]] && echo "Opening log: $jfilepath" || { echo "Creating new log: $jfilepath" ; echo -e "$header" >  $jfilepath ; } ; \
    vi $jfilepath ; '
Copy this to your .bash_aliases file. It's fully automatic. It'll create the directories automatically.

This will now create a /home/user/journal/YEAR/journalfile.md. It's now separated by year, so that you can run this forever, and have a maximum of 365 files per year directory.

This is a markdown file. And in the header variable, I had it fill in the new file with some basic headers. You can edit this yourself to add more.

Try it out, and let me know.


jim date: illegal option -- I

on macos


It seems Bash on Mac doesn't work quite the same as Linux.

Try this instead. It works for me. Let me know.

Copy it to your ~/.bash_aliases. And source it.

  alias jim='
    function _jim() {
        journaldir="$HOME/journal"
        year=`date "+%Y"`
        today=`date "+%Y-%m-%d"`
        yearpath="$journaldir/$year"
        [[ -d "$yearpath" ]] || mkdir -p $yearpath         
        jfile="log_$today.md"
        jfilepath="$journaldir/$year/$jfile"
        header="# Log: $today\n\n# Highlights:\n\n" 
        [[ -f "$jfilepath" ]] && echo "Opening log: $jfilepath" || { echo "Creating new log: $jfilepath" ; echo -e "$header" >  $jfilepath ; } 
        vi "$jfilepath"
    }; _jim'


I have something similar, with the folder syncing to google drive, you could encrypt if you want to before hand but I never got to it, I separate one file per month.

  alias journal="vim ~/workspace/google-drive/journal/$(date "+%Y-%m")"
Then in vim I have this mapping, by pressing F2 it opens a new line at the end of the file so you can just start typing. I add goals to the beggining of the week with the F3 map.

  nnoremap <F2> Go<NL><Esc>i<Esc>"=strftime("\%A, \%Y-\%m-\%d \%H:\%M:\%S")<CR>po    - 
  nnoremap <F3> Go<NL><NL><Esc>iWeek <Esc>"=strftime("\%V ")<CR>p<Esc>i goals:<CR>    - 
Monday -> Press F3 -> like a bujo, review what is still relevant and move to next week or drop it.

  Week 10 goals:
      - [ ] check connectivity with service x, splunk and service Y, from new environment
      - [ ] xxxx
Then whenever I will change context in my mind I just go back to the open buffer and press F2. I normally start my day looking at what happened over the other remote branches, and update my weekly goals task list

  Thursday, 2020-07-09 08:25:52
      - emails / slack

  Thursday, 2020-07-09 08:36:13
      - support x person

  Thursday, 2020-07-09 10:00:00
      - dog break

  Thursday, 2020-07-09 10:00:00
      - HN

Then at then end of the year I create a folder `archive/201X/` and move all the files under it.

I had a calendar event reminding me to review what happened over the week on Friday afternoon, but that is just lying to myself. I got to do once or twice over the last couple of years, that is something I need to improve on which is the whole point of article, review it while it is fresh and learn from it.

edit: code format


Neat. I'll try this out. I had never remapped a key in Vi before.

Check out my other alias, in the sibling comment. I improved on it.


I do something like this too. I keep markdown files related to projects I'm working on. I never really made the connection between what I do and lab journals, although I'm familiar with the concept. This makes me think that I could be more organized with my own markdown files. I never thought to create a new one each day and copy the useful stuff from the day before, but that would probably help me be more organized. It can be overwhelming to sort through days worth of missteps just to figure out where you left off on a project.


I'm pretty disorganized by nature, so I need something to help me stay on track. The simple act of reading through that todo list first thing in the morning helps a lot. "Oh yeah, I finished that, that needs a bit more work, that's half way done". Depending on what it is I'm working on, it can be as simple as 5 bullet points, or it can be headings and paragraphs.

I try not to be strict about the format, and it's certainly evolved over the years.

For instance, we have a weekly department meeting. There's now a section "Dept Meeting" in today's file with a few points I want to bring up. Maybe they'll get resolved by then, or maybe I'll add more points. The simple act of copying that file each day and removing what's no longer relevant means I have refreshed my memory, don't have to worry about stuff that's no longer relevant, and have a track record of what I thought was relevant.


I do the same, but using paper notebooks. I was able to accurately fill out a financial report because of the notes I took over a year ago on a large processing job. It's very helpful to do and organizes my thoughts. Using paper also lets you draw when needed and sketch out how an algorithm should work.


Spot on. The evidential value of a consistently written log can be huge and important for a wide variety of reasons. I have had two situations in my life where my having kept dated notes spared me a whole lot of grief.


I'm curious as to how to implement this ?

I mean, i currently put everything that needs doing into org-mode, clock in on the task when i'm working on it, and clock out when i'm done. Mark the task completed, and archive done tasks daily to an archive file.

I guess that's the limit of my daily "todo" activities. It's mostly in point form "x needs doing", "request confirmation from x", "send status on project x to y".

If i'd have to do it in a "daily file" i have no idea how to structure it. Todo'ish lists probably wouldn't work. They're either done or they're not. I guess it would have to be more like "short stories".


I went the opposite direction as you may be going: from daily markdown files, to 1 giant org mode file where the date is the top header, to 1 giant org mode file where my TODOs etc. are the top header.

I think what works best depends upon how you plan to use them and what your workflow looks like. But I have tended to find the "1 giant file" is a better fit for me.


Might I suggest checking out org-journal? It's a natural extension of the org-mode way of things, and integrates quite well with the agenda too.


Because of my lousy memory I've been doing several versions of the same for a long time. It's the most impactful thing I've done in my various jobs. Early in my career, a reputation for good records put me in charge of projects, with remarkable levels of autonomy. Early career $manager tends to appreciate junior reports who invest in their own accountability.


Smart. And you use grep to search through your archives. Simple, elegant, effective. I like it.


We use that and then post it in slack at the end of day as a kind of async status/standup update.


I'm thinking I probably need more organization than simple note-taking. I tried daily journals but it's hard to find stuff later unless you happen to land on the perfect cross-linking or search system, or somehow integrate with a reminders app, and have the system support every type of document or diagram you need from your markdown...

I get caught up trying to design the best system, and end up with something that only half works -- I just post notes to myself in Slack, particularly in the @you channel, the one it sets up for you at your username. Downside: every time I switch jobs, I lose a TON of context. Upside: everything's in Slack and I don't have to worry immediately. :) Plus, it's always possible that I'd lose the computer I was taking notes on, or not allowed to sync notes to my own private repo, or whatnot.

If I need to write longer-form notes than Slack allows, though, I often turn to Notes app or OneNote (if on Windows). But ... it's constrained because I end up not being able to stick with one cross-platform note taking tool -- the tools I use are too different. Still waiting for the perfect tool that has yet to arrive... I suspect the answer lies in the operating system -- to track what I work on in any app and helping me surface and record metadata better. To move from tracking files and folders to helping me track activities and outputs/decisions. Integrating git commit logs with macOS-like app-based revision history with operating system file browsing (for other kinds of cloud storage) seems like the right level of abstraction to work at, but I'm not sure what the right UI would be. :)


I still use paper as I find the act of writing down is more useful than search. About once a year I dig into my stack of pocket paper moleskine notebooks to look something up.

I make entries for each meeting, date, participant, notes, incoming and outgoing tasks. Also adding in sketches, designs, and other stuff that I wanted to write when I didn’t have a computer near.

I started this because I found having a laptop or phone out during a discussion with someone off putting. People would open up if I was jotting small notes but would not if I had a laptop open.

I can keep the notebook in my front pocket. Started out with hardcover moleskines but am not trying out rhodia, leuchtturm, and others.

Each one lasts about 3 months and I have a stack 4 feet high so probably 10 years or so.


Paper logs are critical for ideas.

One just cannot be as expressive in markdown as one can be on a blank dotted-grid page and a pen-pot of Tombow double ended brush pens and Pilot V5s.

Anything important can be digested into markdown, but with a note to the journal page where the magic actually happened.

(It’s too bad that magic usually turns out to be gibberish thought spam.)


I also strongly prefer paper journals. For those of you in the US, checkout Vela [1], a little company in Michigan that makes outstanding journals. The paper is excellent quality for fountain pens and they have many choices for page setup - ruled, grid, dot grid, etc. A little pricy though.

[1] https://velasciences.com


My wallet does not like you right now. Good quality hardback journals for 'cheap' (Office Depot prices), and made by a small US-Based company? Sign me up.

EDIT: Does anyone else know of any companies like this for office supplies? Notebooks, pens, inks etc.? I support Noodler's Ink since they are entirely US-based, but even they have some of their pens made in India etc.


> One just cannot be as expressive in markdown as one can be on a blank dotted-grid page and a pen-pot of Tombow double ended brush pens and Pilot V5s.

Counterpoint: Yes they can.

There’s this weird fetishization about paper notebooks. It’s like the people who say that vinyl is unequivocally better (it’s not).

For some people the end result of digital notes is vastly superior to anything they can scribble in a notebook.


Except, vinyl fundamentally solves the same problem as another medium of storing audio.

Paper offers a different level of expression. The comparison is thus not equivalent.

Usually when you offer a counter point you don’t just disagree, but provide some basis or example to show the statement or proposition in question is false.

Fetishising notebooks aside, parent mentioned expressiveness. Clearly everything that can be _expressed_ in Markdown can be expressed on paper, but it’s not clear that the opposite is true.


As far as end results go, obviously My Life And What I Learned Along The Way.pdf is obviously going to win out over a pile of scribbles.

Regarding my original point, it’s what you use to get to the finished product that counts, and I maintain that hacking markdown is inferior to freeform pen and paper thinking.


The difference is there is literature and research to support paper note taking as superior to digital in terms of comprehension and creative thought. If you've indexed your notebooks, it isn't hard to go back find relevant info years later.


Do you have a good system for drawing diagrams and plotting graphs in Markdown? Maybe some hybrid of dot, octave, and latex?


I use mermaid.js for graphs and charts in markdown. It takes a long time, related to pen and paper, so I don’t use it for note taking. But it’s really nice for procedural documentation.


I like dotted grid as well. However I like Pilot Juice Up 03 gel tip .3mm. They are very precise, write in many conditions, and I’ve never had one run out of ink.


If you like fine points Uniball's Signo RT1 write very well with 0.28mm tips. Ink capacity is not their strong point though. Pretty sure I was going through several a semester.


agree but zebra 401 here


I found that the Zebras, while certainly attractive and satisfying in the hand, write like crap (rough feel, inconsistent ink flow). My favorite pen these days is the Pilot V5 RT, but I wish I could throw the refill for it in a body more like the Zebra 401.


I also really like those refills but hate the pen body.

Pilot V5 RT refills fit into the Everyman Grafton pen ($35)

I used that for a while but found the pen a bit too large.

Nowadays I either use an Energel [2] or the classic Pilot V5.

[1]: https://everyman.co/collections/frontpage/products/grafton-p... [2]: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B0776M8VY1


I used the zebras for many years but like the smaller point on the JuiceUps and the gel seems to work better than ball point. I miss the metal body, but I would fiddle with the clip and eventually break them off.


BIC Velocity 1.6 mm. Yeah, I like that fat, juicy writing.


A digital system like GoodNotes on an iPad is a pretty good hybrid system. I can type, write by hand, sketch, paste in code and graphics, embed hyperlinks, etc...

It has built in OCR so a search will find my handwritten notes as well.


I use paper for the short (fast) 'news' with a size as 'big' as a business card -but the note has to fit the sheet of paper - and digital notes for storing all the collected stuff... since one of the notes became osbsolete.

Actually having 5 lying in front of me, 5 ideas (remarkable in my opinion) One sayin: "Cumulative acting 'deductive'"? P-:

Somebody told me: 'Fine, than I am now able to shred all my documents, conserve a digital copy and further taking only small sheets of notes.'

> dear But... ^^


I keep a stack of paper on my desk. I don't keep a journal with it, but I've always found that blank printer paper is the best tool for fleshing out ideas and keeping quick notes on what your thought process is.


I love this quote from the article:

> The novelist Paul Theroux has said that he writes long-hand because, “The speed with which I write with a pen seems to be the speed with which my imagination finds the best… words.”


As someone who "recently" (couple of years or more) switched from "senior developer" to architect and at the same time got handed responsibility for 5-10 independent software systems, i completely agree.

Before this switch i would default to using memory. It was easy, it worked, and i have a rather good memory. Most things worth remembering somehow just "sticks" without any mnemonics.

After the switch, i got 10x the information i used to get before, and while i initially settled on using my inbox as a "todo list", flagging items that needed attention, this also became rather inefficient after a while.

I started keeping a journal. Every meeting i go to, i jot down notes, every agreement is written down. I still keep my todo list, but it's in Emacs org-mode now. Notes are handwritten.

As the author also hints, handwriting helps commit things to memory, so the times i actually consult my notes are rather rare. Instead, by simply having written them down, my brain somehow accepts that "it's under control", and focuses on something else, but still remembers it.


For this reason I try to write everything down twice. Once roughly by hand, and then a day or two later tidied up and put on the computer.


I was taught some 30 years ago that best practise is to write clear contemporary notes because transcribing them later can lead to self-censorship, deciding to omit what might seem irrelevant at the (new) time, but subsequently becomes important, or incorrect re-interpretation.


I am not sure I follow this line of thinking? You are saying that after the fact you somehow understand the context less than you did at the time of initial writing?

I find the absolute opposite to be true- At the time of the lecture or meeting or whatever, I am just trying to capture everything. What is truly important and what is noise is not clear to me at that point. Also in the beginning stages of a class or project certain concepts or decisions seem very new or foreign, and a few months later they are deeply ingrained and no more likely to be forgotten than understanding what gravity is.

By far the most successful study technique I have ever used is recopying my initial notes. The second set is much more coherent, organized, and focused on the tricky bits while removing things that I thought might be important at the time but ended up not being important.

I think someone did you a major disservice 30 years ago.


This is an interesting idea, and I will chew on it for a bit.

I'm not sure how I would achieve it though? The right initial structure isn't usually clear at the beginning of a conversation/research session/whatever I am taking notes on.


How do you find time for that?


I have a personal "shut down" period at the end of the day where I close out my browser tabs that are no longer relevant, and review all the scribbles I've written down in a notebook, transfering the few important ideas to the relevant longterm storage, or to the appropriate project file's todo list, etc.... I also write down the first thing I'm going to do in the morning (because I don't believe the first thing to do should just be "catch up on Slack" or "read email").

Helps me clear my mind, and it saves me a lot of time in the morning, because I can start work and have some wins for the day within 15 minutes...and that momentum carries me through....

Also, the shut-down period is nice, because when I'm tired at the end of the day, it doesn't take a lot of energy.


In the words of the Merovingian: "Yes, of course. Who has time? Who has time? But then if we never take time, how can we ever have time?"


I do the same, and transcribing notes doesn't take all that long. You tend to summarize in the process, so it's not usually a 1:1 copy.

I also put references to my (page-numbered) paper notebooks in my notes file, and vice versa, so stuff that would be very long to transcribe doesn't usually have to be transcribed at all.


I guess I prioritize it over other things which I would otherwise be spending the time on. You might just be a more busy person than me?

I also have a pretty strong aversion to headless-chicken-mode, having seen it as a pathological disaster spiral at a couple of places where everything is urgent all the time, and so you never have time for anything. Being in too much of a rush to do things properly is a trap.

I find as an employee I have to fill and empty my head a lot. I have a good short-term memory, but things that I don't write down tend to slip out after a week or two. "Oh, I worked on that thing? I don't remember that."


I'm not expert in meetings, but increasingly I feel like the modern approach of "everyone invited to the meeting is there to say something" doesn't work.

Someone who has nothing to directly contribute to the meeting needs to be present to keep the goal of the meeting in focus and ensure a single shared outcome at the end. Yes it's slower, sometimes less efficient and sometimes deep subject matter knowledge is important, but six people leaving a meeting with their own accounts of what happened is almost worse than no account. Wherefore art thou minute takers?

Once that is in place, then many of the comments in this thread about needing personal notes to remind them about what to do and when, or what the team agreed to do next, surely are no longer necessary?

When everyone can rely on that, then by all means keep personal meta-meeting notes about emotional response, etc. for reflection. I think that's something I would like to work on.


An approach that I've used in stakeholder meetings (e.g. a project review with external customers) is to have a designated note-taker who creates a record of decisions and actions. They can add additional content as they so wish. At the end of the meeting they quickly summarise the decisions / actions. This helps to ensure that sure everyone leaves the meeting on the same page and also allows people to comment if they thing something has been omitted. This record can be distributed almost immediately including to people who couldn't make it or who have an interest. If everyone keeps track themselves it is easy with the best will in the world for actions to get forgotten or misinterpreted.

If the meeting is complex and the chair has to get involved (e.g. to adjudicate) then they often will be too busy to take the notes themselves; I for one cannot steer a discussion and take notes at the same time. This is also a good way to introduce competent juniors to meetings - make them the record taker (they need to be be briefed first on what is expected). Even tracking who people are can be quite challenging. If there are lots of new faces (e.g. external reviewers) the chair may need to get people to introduce themselves (name and role only, not a bio), and the meeting recorder can concentrate on matching faces with the names on the invite list. If the meeting is in a conference room, writing names around a little picture representing the table can help with this.

Finally, in the sense that history is written by the victors, owning the minutes can be quite a powerful position.


This is why secretaries were so great. I remember a thread a few months ago here talking about it, and how most senior professionals had a secretary decades ago. Now, people are expected to type their own notes, make their own meetings, AND produce the same amount of work. Half the time I see people talking about "productivity tips" I laugh imagining what engineers decades ago would think of it. Other than a lab notebook, why do you care about what format you take your meeting notes in? That's the secretaries' job!

Seriously, a good secretary, even one shared amongst a team, could be a huge time saver. Meeting minutes, meeting invites, catering, visitors, errands. Why did this role disappear?


I’ve tried that but find the minutes have too much and too little. They do help me mix in my own notes.

I’ve experimented with having a meeting wiki where everyone keeps notes in a single file, that was pretty good. But suffers from “open laptop syndrome.”

I heard someone suggest, and want to try, assigning the note taker at the end of the meeting. I’m not sure if it’s cruelty:effectiveness ratio may be too high.


For now, I simply email my notes to everyone each meeting.

According to Roberts Rules, the #1 order of every meeting is everyone agreeing that the previous meeting notes are correct. Only after the previous meeting's minutes are finalized do you proceed with the current meeting.

----------

A surprising number of people do not know how to run meetings. As such, most meetings wander off unfocused. And since most people fail to solidify meeting notes, action items from previous meetings are "lost".

It takes work to ensure that meetings are worthwhile. And very, very few people seem to know the secrets (despite them being very obvious and well documented).


This has the added benefit of:

- creating a short recap of what happened

- the above recap can also be shared with team members who couldn't attend (e.g. home sick or APAC based)

The latter has been incredibly useful during COVID specifically and for remote management in general.


Keeping a journal is important to anybody trying to realize something new. There are tons of senior positions that don’t require a lot of creativity. And there are tons of low level positions that do.

Habit is the main journaling challenge, a fact barely touched in the article. There are two habits that need developing simultaneously: taking notes and reviewing notes. It’s true that simply writing something down leads to better recall, but that’s not what the article is about. The article is about creativity.

To make something based on your past observations you have to review and synthesize. That skill is much different than taking notes to remember stuff.

I agree with the author that there is nothing better than pen and paper. But There are scenarios where all I have is my phone and I still want to take notes. This leads to another can of worms: how to organize all the notes you generate on a daily basis.

I built a general purpose note-taking tool [0] to help me develop the habit of taking and reviewing notes. It has also become my repository of snippets of information generated from my phone.

I use the snippets I create to inform writing I do elsewhere: documents, outlines, letters, etc.

[0]. https://www.tatatap.com


Tatatap looks like a really nice straight-forward/utilitarian tool, thanks! As an aside, as someone interested in building similar (focused on solving one problem hopefully well) tools and earning some modest income from them, would you mind sharing (roughly) what your distribution of free/paid users looks like?


Around 3%. There are people that use it a lot and the rest aren't that engaged.


Taptap looks really cool and I would like to use it, unfortunately my workplace doesn't allow 3rd parties to store the information that would be in my notes. Have you thought about a self-hosted version?


Highly recommend reading the book "The Cuckoo's Egg" by Cliff Stoll. This book started as a journal by Cliff when he worked at Berkeley Labs in the late 80's. He was an astronomer-turned-IT, and in science I guess they are just in the habit of writing things down.

A few months and teletraces later his journal was thick enough to publish into a book, so he did exactly that.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Cuckoo%27s_Egg


When my dev team started at a company that was basically run by biochemists (we were all hired to start up a specific product), they gave us all really nice lab notebooks, I guess out of habit.

Ten years later, I had used about 5 pages of mine. My two teammates wrote more, but none of us went past page 50 or so. OTOH, the scientists we worked with had gone through multiple books by that time.

It's not an easy habit to get into.


Lab notebooks can be important for patent purposes. No surprise the chemists are meticulous.


I really enjoyed reading this book too. It's an interesting story about finding a hacker and Cliff has a great writing style.


Independently of the title I suggest keeping private employment journal. I had so many situations when one wanted to do scapegoat out of me. But I had meeting notes made few months/years ago and could defend myself very well. Of course, there is this productivity topic too, but I treat it as a secondary benefit.


A while back I fell out of love with Evernote and migrated all my years of notes out to txt files which are synced to Dropbox. Huge nested folder structures but easily searched via grep or whatever. And then I have a folder called “Captains Log” and I make txt files for as many things as I can during the day. Code snippets, reminders to buy eggs at the store, urls to some dumb thing I want to remember to read later on but can’t bother with right now. Often the only content of the txt file is the title and no content if it was just a quick jot. And now you can use the Dropbox app edit txt files directly inside it which makes for easy note taking when mobile. Been using this method for years now, still going strong.


I am considering getting a Remarkable tablet just to be able to have the best of both worlds: hand writing and searching. Has anyone used Remarkable extensively and want to share their experience?


I use the Remarkable. I love it for marking up documents and writing brief notes/sketches. Also (you may already know this if you've researched it) it exposes ssh and you can get root, so you can pretty much put any program you want on it. I've used https://github.com/canselcik/libremarkable to write some basic apps for it.

One thing I'll note is that the hand-writing -> text converter never really worked that well for me. I have messy handwriting so YMMV. I would still recommend it, but if that's the killer feature for you it's something to keep in mind


I'll second this; I love mine, but have written off OCR and searchability completely.

I bought it to be an e-reader, but ended up taking a ton of notes in it. I have notebooks for projects, for recurring meetings, a single-page "task list" and a page-per-week notebook tracking what I plan to do, what I did, and what I learned, which I use to inform my part of weekly standup meetings.

I prefer to keep most notes ephemeral; if it matters, I should be transcribing it elsewhere (preferably to something typed; I have some shame about my handwriting quality). I do keep all past weeks of my standup notes, and I expect to draw on them heavily to inform performance reviews and promotions, but I can go through them in order, so even there searchability is not a big loss.


It's good to see someone mention they use it and they're happy with it. The aggressive marketing they do kind of puts me off, coupled with the fact that they just released the ReMarkable recently and are already taking pre-orders for the version 2 later this year?

I've been thinking about getting an iPad to take notes on, but I see the ReMarkable tablet pop up all the time (thanks to their marketing, I guess it's working), have you tried taking notes on something else?

I'm mainly just thinking that if I'm getting a tablet for notes, should I get one that's practically _only_ for taking notes (ReMarkable) or one that has much more functionality (iPad). I guess that also depends a little bit on the "syncability", does the ReMarkable have integrations to sync notes and documents to third party services or do they roll their own thing?


I had one preordered, but I cancelled my order once I got a Rocketbook. I usually phone-scan everything from the previous day the following morning. Their handwriting transcription is 98% accurate for my handwriting and the process of checking for and fixing errors helps remind me of what I’d just written. Then it all goes into either a text file or, more recently, WorkFlowy. I even can handwrite Markdown and use hashtags for searching later. Best of both worlds for me.


I currently have the remarkable V1 and have used it "extensively" (211 pages in 19 notebooks, plus 10 books like PHB 5e, CISSP guide book, and various other nerd things and white papers). I am super happy with the product as it solved my use case of wanting to keep my notes handwritten yet on my person without having to carry around multiple notebooks. I also love the fact that I can have a notebook that goes from us legal lined paper background to large grid background, and back multiple times.

It's PDF capabilities are fine, and you can write on the pages which is nice, but I've not really tried to access any of these notes outside of the device. The did roll their own cloud sync capabilities though so you can use their apps on devices for that. There's also the 3rd party options that exist for that too.

As mentioned by jagraff they expose ssh and allow you to login as root. The whole device is a linux machine so if you want to setup syncthing to run on it you can[1]. If you want something else like zotero, or google drive, I suggest checking their wiki[2] and the github repos[3] dedicated to curating some of the stuff written for it

TLDR; Super happy with remarkable v1. So happy pre ordered V2. It gives you root on a linux box.

[1]: https://github.com/evidlo/remarkable_syncthing

[2]: https://remarkablewiki.com/tips/start

[3]: https://github.com/reHackable/awesome-reMarkable


I'm also curious to know if anyone has used the Remarkable in depth, especially with their second model coming out. From what I've read it seems like it has some limitations, but it seems like if it was a bit cheaper it'd be a great buy.


I just want to recommend https://jrnl.sh/ which is a neat little terminal tool for keeping journals. I am sure most here could built it them-self over the weekend, but why reinvent the wheel. It works great with tags, dates (both displaying journal entries from date or date ranges and making an entry for a date or a time "yesterday"). It also support encryption and has a wide range of export options.

Funnily enough I actually love notebooks, but I cannot for the death of me keep a neat and nice design when keeping notes using a physical notebook, which means that I loose all motivation. However, having a minimalist tool like jrnl helps me to actually write, not just collect blank notebooks.


Vscode has a nice journal plugin that uses a simple year month day directory structure, has convenient actions like open today, tomorrow and yesterday.

Defaults to markdown which is ideal.

There is also a nice insert date time plugin so you can time stamp your entries more easily.

It's a fluent setup.


Do you know the name of the plugin?


Vscode-journal and vscode-journal-view I think, not at my PC.


A large whiteboard in my home office, on wheels. Two sided, one is blank for brainstorming, the other always full of things I have up in the air. Some lines remain there for months, some for days, until the subject is done.

I use the blank side during calls to jot down notes which I transform into meeting summaries and email later. Then I clear it.

I find whiteboard writing very satisfying and the the fact it’s always out there in the room with you - can’t minimize it or just not open it - keeps you always synced to your tasks. Space is limited so it’s always relevant. You’re at some point forced to take care of things to make room for new things - can’t scroll down.


I've been using Apple Notes for the past several years. I create a folder for the team I'm on and then a new note for a new project or task I'm working on at the moment. Search works pretty well and it automatically saves and syncs with my phone. I also maintain a TODO note that I update with what I'm working on, usually on a daily basis, and things I need to look at.

I used to use Evernote, but it got unwieldy and Apple Notes did everything I needed it to.


File a ticket. I file so many tickets for work I do. Sometimes after the fact ("oh... they'll wonder why I ..."). A journal is good, but using whatever institutionalized knowledge system your company relies upon (usually some form of ticketing and documentation system). The tickets are good for timelines/notes, and if they need to become something recurring, that's when you document it.


Something that I didn't see called out in the article is who owns your journal.

Very likely, if you write down notes about work-related activities they are the property of the business.

So, who has physical journals from current and previous jobs at home, and how many people have electronic ones on systems other than corporate approved/internal ones!?

I'm not judging, just saying!


This is a great idea / application for writing.

Last year I took a senior manager position at a fairly large company. I am also building a side project (not competing, totally unrelated). Between those 2 things my mind is constantly full.

I depend on my project plan to move through time / between tasks. But I still depend on my memory and a high volume of unstructured notes to move through small increments of time. You simply can’t plan every single sub task.

I have noticed when things get really busy and I start getting tired, everything around me speeds up. I really like the idea in this article that writing a journal by hand slows life down.

I’m going to try structured journaling. This year’s Big Project is about to go live, and I need a way to slow it all down for a few minutes each day.


My journaling habit started with Ohlife.com way back in 2014. I found the idea of quickly recapping my week to be therapeutic., plus it was great to see entries over time.

I ended up building a product (https://www.friday.app/) to make this easy and automated. While it's built for teams to share updates and reflect (think weekly updates, retros, etc), there's "single-player" mode available too.

I like the digital journal format because I could never start the habit with paper. The automated reminders were critical to establish the habit. I still keep a regular notebook where I'll document thoughts, but it's more ephemeral.


Not specifically because of job title, but I've found that I've tended to keep notes during the first few weeks/months of any new job/engagement. There are always curveballs and stressful moments, and writing them down has helped me calm down a bit and 'step back' from the situation (not a lot, but it helps some). I am not diligent/daily about it, nor do I keep it up for more than few months at the most, but as another tool to keep notes while getting to know people, it helps to be able to double check my recollection of their behavior, our interactions, etc outside of whatever corporate note-taking system is in place.


I have to say that when I was working in biosciences I did this and it was very helpful for me and I'm sure for my successor, but the culture of working around scientists was more conducive of it and I find the corporate world less open to it or more likely to use it in ways it shouldn't be, so I've not been doing it.

At the time I was using raw yaml, but eventually transitioned to emacs org-mode.

I still do it personally and find it invaluable. I still heavily use moleskins, but regularly sit down to transcibe them into digital form, but don't throw the physical notebooks away, just in case.


I'm now in technical sales working with clients, meetings, deliverables, etc. I've migrated from paper to Evernote, to emacs, out of emacs, and now journal and take notes in emacs with org-mode and org-roam, and use evernote for reference material. Searching notes is now a snap, and I can trust that my reference material is indexed. I'd like to quit evernote, but the OCR, web clipping, and mobile application are still working well enough for me. (although I do monthly exports from evernote and import _what_I_can_ into emacs and file system)


I got a 5 dollar Wordpress droplet on digital ocean for my work journal. I also use it to keep up with Wordpress, even tho I don’t actually extend it

The most feature thing for me is I can use my tablet. Dealbreaker otherwise. I’ve been looking at Notion but their iPad app was trash last time I used it

Besides don’t hunch and don’t get fat, “keep a journal” is what I would tell my younger self


Shameless plug: https://github.com/Aperocky/termlife/blob/master/diaryman.sh

This is how I get to keep journal, by having it as a 5 letter command in the terminal.


My title’s never gotten higher than “research scientist”, and i’ve more or less fastidiously kept a lab notebook for as long as i’ve been working.

For the past several years it’s been in the form of a git repo of text files, more or less by date append only.

I can’t imagine not having one now.


It's worth noting that journals can and will be subpoenaed as evidence during civil cases in certain jurisdictions. If you don't want something coming out in a court then don't put it in your journal.


On Linux, i use rednotebook for that.

It started as a simple Todo/done log, but then I started using for notes and general scratchpad.


I've been using oneNote for about 10 years now at work, one page per week.. the ability to search is really helpful.

OneNote is also now free.


I use a combination of sending myself emails and the Calendar system in outlook.


Great Article on journaling.


Hmmm... the most important "paper skill" at my work is learning to "promote" papers across the tiers of journals.

1. Loose-paper and Whiteboards -- Sketches and concepts that rarely last longer than 5 minutes before being erased or trashed.

2. Short-term journal -- When a concept needs to stick with me for 1-day or so, I write it down into my short-term journal. This is a tiny Field Notes journal I keep in my pocket, always accessible. This journal is extremely tiny, and thrown away on a regular basis (Well... more like thrown into a bin. I don't think I've re-read any of my old ones, but I do keep them just in case). I rarely visit anything aside from the most recent 3 or 4 pages.

3. Long-term journal -- Some concepts need to stick with me for more than a day. These I copy into my long-term journal. Anything in the Long-term journal is indexed... yes, documenting your documentation. If its important enough to be long-term archived, its important enough to be thoughtfully organized and categorized for quick recall. I suggest a journal with multiple bookmarks and pre-numbered pages, such as the Leuchtturm1917.

My first "long term journal" was a standard $1 80-page spiral notebook. If you manually number all the pages, then you're going to be well organized. Once you're familiar with an organizational scheme, upgrade to a Leuchtturm. (Moleskins don't have numbered pages...). Some people prefer dates instead of numbers: it really depends on what organizational scheme works for you.

4. Team Activity -- Anything requiring coordination with others becomes a team event. Usually an email, but it could be a note on a desk, or a message left on their whiteboard. Or a formal Jira issue ticket.

---------

The important thing to note is the hierarchy... from ephemeral whiteboard all the way up to formal team coordination.

Generally speaking, your notes should traverse the tiers up and down as needed. This means copying notes over-and-over.

As computer wizards, we are often familiar with the computer automatically copying our work for us. In the paper world, you must copy notes manually. Despite its tedium, copying notes from one tier to another is extremely important.

Writing a note directly into your long-term journal probably means getting the concept wrong. You should get a first-draft figured out somewhere else first (whiteboards). Or, maybe a concept isn't "deserving" of a slot in your long-term journal yet. Keeping it in your short-term journal first helps "reduce the noise" found in your long term journal. Even if you know something is important enough for the long-term journal, keeping it in the short-term journal first can help you figure out how to properly organize it.

Finally: Copying notes within the tiers is a form of meditation that helps solidify and memorize ideas. If something is truly important enough to traverse the tiers of organization, then its probably something you want to store into brain-space.

-------

Teammate communication is simply another tier. You definitely want to get your thoughts and concepts figured out before communicating.


I sincerely appreciate you writing up your thoughts about notes and paper hierarchy.

I tend to use a lot of paper for notes as well, and this hierarchy is interesting.

My biggest issue is I do not regularly review my notes. And I know that there are valuable pieces in my notes.

And I hate copying notes over, because of the time taken.

Your post is giving me pause and I am reconsidering the value of rewriting.


The biggest issue for me as a frontline developer is the backroom decisions that get made by seniors and architecture, that are subsequently poorly documented or communicated.

Every meeting should have a TLDR summary of what was accomplished that is shared with everyone that needs to know.


I agree, and maybe to help you out here, I'll suggest that whenever you use the word "should" as in a value judgment, ask yourself what footwork you need to do in order to make it happen. Merely suggesting it as as a value judgment however is not footwork. Fully define the problem and bring them something they can use, and I guarantee it'll facilitate way more than just getting you what you wanted.


Isn't it also because of ageing?


No. I've had an excellent memory all my life and I have noticed it's not quite the reliable cache for everything important that it used to be. But the journalling the article discusses is a process to condense learnings and reveal insights much more effectively than just idly reviewing your memory of the day's events mentally.


You mean losing memory over time? Not in my case. I switched from doing things in memory to keeping a notebook at the ripe old age of 24. For two reasons.

The first is that I simply couldn't hold everything in my head anymore because I had to track 5-10 different projects at any time, and context switching without something written down sucks when you have to context switch multiple times a day.

The second is that writing things down was a great way to force myself to clarify my thinking. I became more articulate across the board, not because I got better at bullshitting, but because I was now reserving time in advance to think through open issues in a structured way.


But with age come more responsibility and stuff to take care of.




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