A journaling workflow for better GTD higher altitude focus

The challenge of journaling

For those of you who ever tried their hand at journaling, you probably found out it is hard, especially after a while. It takes time and it takes effort. It requires commitment. Not unlike blogging or any other writing activity. And like GTD, it’s a wagon you can very easily fall off. So why bother?

The relevance of journaling

Journaling is a wonderful practice if you want to get to know yourself. By taking the time to understand what drives you, you may discover you are not what everyone else ever told you you were. If you get to that very realization, by the way, you are already further in your quest for self-understanding than most people will ever get. Knowing that you don’t know “you” is a very sobering realization. It should also put you on the road to finding a trustworthy way of meeting yourself.

Now, and that’s the good part, you are the only “you” around, and thus you are ideally placed to determine what “you” are about. No one else can get to know you better than you. Pretty much because you are going to be the one who will be spending the most time with you. And that’s quite a lot of you’s in a single paragraph.

A whole new you

In order to get to know yourself, you need to take the time to listen to yourself. To listen to yourself, you could try meditation. Again, not an easy practice. Journaling is another excellent way to get to know yourself. And you may actually surprise you. Isn’t it wonderful that there is someone so close to you you now can get to know?

But remember I said journaling was not easy? There are ways to make it easier.

Day One as the first step

For me, the first step was to start using good journaling software. Now, in a pitch, a text editor will do, but I really like the Day One application. It provides you with multiple ways of getting your information into the system.

Now, most of what you will read below is thanks to the following excellent post by Sven Fechner (SimplicityBliss) in which he refers to this post by Rob Trew. Bear with me while I explain how I use what they built:

My journaling set-up

Let me take you through my setup. I use Day One in combination with two “customizations”. The first is about getting what I have done that day into the Day One application. As my GTD system is built on OmniFocus, I needed a way to get completed OmniFocus tasks into Day One. Combining Hazel, Day One’s CLI (Command Line Interface) and Rob Trew’s excellent shell script which loads an overview of my done Omnifocus tasks into Day One. Read Sven’s blog post and Rob’s detailed explaination on how to set it up.

My journaling workflow

Now, based on this script, I get a markdown formatted entry in Day One for every done task I checked off in OmniFocus during the day.
And every evening, usually on the train back home, I go through this list of completed tasks and I add some information on the relevance and my personal appreciation of the task. This is very important: it is not about the task, but about how I felt about it. To be complex about it, it’s meta reflection time. And a train ride is often the best moment for meta reflection. But the workflow does not end there.

Each evening, or sometimes early the next morning, I launch a textexpander snippet in Day One. The snippet is based on this Lifehack article by Paul Sloane. The article provides you with a set of five questions to ask yourself each day. What I do is I try to go through these questions and answer them totally honestly. Honest answers to these questions allow you to get to know your deep drivers.

The relevance of journaling for GTD: better understanding of 50K and 40K levels through better understanding yourself

What really pays is to revisit what you have written during your weekly review. It may take some time, but it allows you to get to a point where you really better understand yourself and why you do the things you do. Understanding your own motivation to me is an important road into defining what really matters to you, and refocusing yourself.

And after all, if GTD has any value, it should not only make us more effective, but it should help us achieve what is truly close to us.