I’ve been into productivity journalling for a while, and I mention it in my monthly progress reports. I’ve been asked a few times what it is, how it works, and where to get one.
Productivity journalling is just writing a few sentences about what you did today, and what to do tomorrow. But I’ve always been a writer and thinker, so mine is a bit more than that. Before we get into how I do it, let’s take a look at some of the different kinds of books you might know about that can confuse the record keeping situation.
Types of Record Books
Aside from the productivity journal, these are the commonly mentioned books that I know about – there might be more!
A day book is technically an accounting book that records all incoming and outgoing transactions in chronological order before being transferred into the journal. While the day book is essentially the same thing as the journal, it records the transactions made through an individual whereas the journal includes the contents of all the day books. In movies set in the olden days, you often see store keepers or bank clerks using books – this is the kind of book they are using. It’s easy to see how this has translated through to being a book in which you record what happened today.
The word journal stems from jour the French word for day. As well as accounting, it describes the daily records of other fields as well including parliamentary proceedings, academic research, or even just the news of the day. (Can you guess the origin of the term “journalist”?) On a related note, the word gazette means more or less the same as journal, only this time, from the price of a Venetian newspaper. In some Commonwealth countries, it has come to mean information published by the government.
This is a dated blank notebook. Diary originally meant a newspaper column recording information on a particular topic, such as city gossip or entertainment. As time passed people started writing personal records of their daily events and dated notebooks became common gifts. These days people use them for keeping track of things like birthdays, meetings, and events. This type of book is also known as an agenda or date book.
Calendar originally referred to a dating system, for example, the modern Western calendar is the Gregorian. You might also have heard of the Chinese, Julian or Mayan calendars. It can also refer to a register or appointments such as listed court cases or bills to be brought before a legislative body. More commonly we think of it as a table depicting the days and weeks of the (calendar) year.
The Commonplace book is a kind of scrapbook or pre-computer Evernote. It’s a book for notes about things you find interesting and want to remember; recipes, quotations, racehorse form, whatever. They become a series of books containing all the research you have ever done about anything, which just leaves you with the problem of trying to find your notes.
John Locke developed an indexing system and made his notes alphabetically with topics on new pages so he could update them over time. I don’t know how this worked when you had to open a new book.
A logbook is a book for keeping particular kinds of records. If you drive for work, for example, you will probably be familiar with the motor vehicle logbook and the records you need to keep for expense claims and taxation requirements.
A ship’s log, on the other hand, keeps navigational, weather, and maintenance information. A professional ship might also include information about its purpose; a fisher would note details about schools and locations, as well as information to prove compliance with relevant regulations. Historically, ship’s logs also recorded the daily events onboard and in port, and these also provided evidence in legal proceedings. Some fleets also kept various officers logs; yes captain’s, but also Master’s, Lieutenant’s and Medical.
I first heard about the productivity journal through a Fizzle podcast. At the end of the day, you note what went well, what didn’t go as well as you hoped, and things you need to remember for later. While your memory of the day is fresh, you give yourself three tasks to complete tomorrow.
While this sort of approach has existed for some time, Ryder Carrol developed the Bullet Journal system because he couldn’t find anything that met his particular needs. You use one notebook to keep track of your appointments, to-dos and notes. He places an indexing system at the front to keep track of it all.
Alexandria’s Productivity Journalling
Phase 1: Journalling
I have kept what I refer to as a journal (but is technically a diary) on and off, since having to write one for an English class when I was 15. I have no idea whether the teacher read it or not, but I imagine she was less than interested in the news of 30 teenagers. My dates are erratic, but around June 1982 I wrote;
Toseland is once again going to plead my cause with Mrs M–, to see if I can get into the orchestra. I’m still trying to think of reasons to get out of physed. I might tell Mrs T– about bashing my knee and say I forgot my note. She’d say to bring it tomorrow, and how could I weasel my way out of that?… “Time to stop writing now”. I’m going to read my book. See you in 2 weeks time, ‘cos of the holidays you dummy.
And in June 1999
The Kosovo war is “over”, with NATO troops keeping the peace between the Serbs and the Albanians. I wonder why racial tolerance is so lacking. Somedays I stand smoking watching the streets kids of all races playing together. When they have team games they don’t split along race lines. I wonder if when they grow up they will hate each other?
When my father died, I claimed his journals (he wasn’t a big keeper). They are usually brief descriptions of the weather and his day, but he was an engineer, and those succinct entries are just who he was. Sometimes he wrote more intimately, and this is where I begin to understand him as a person independent of me.
Sunday 9th September 1990, Perth. I was up at 6 and finished my library book before I had a shower. Afterwards I went for the Sunday Times and read the paper until 11.30 AM then I went to the club. There was a bring and buy sale in aid of the bowls but it wasn’t very well supported.
Phase 2: Incorporating the Future
In the early nineties, I started temping so I had to start keeping track of future events. I used whatever diary my mother gave me for Christmas.
Sometimes I used them as journals, but I always had too much to say and wondered how other people kept to a single page. Like when you see pictures of Howard Carter’s Tutankhamun Diary (of course, he kept a separate dig log).
After a time, I needed to start keeping meeting notes, and reminders, and contact lists and other stuff, so I moved to a binder system with sections for notes, addresses, projects and other stuff.
Phase 3: All in one Notebook
For the first couple of years after stopping paid work, I continued to use a diary and a journal, but I didn’t need much more than a rudimentary date book. In the meantime, I was using other books as scrapbooks, commonplace books, and story ideas. Sometimes I got them mixed up and wrote or glued things in the wrong one.
At one point, I was going back looking for something and realised that some of the books were missing, so I started putting it all in my journal as well. And that left me with the problem of how to find information, so I started using the bullet journal principles to keep track.
Phase 4: My Productivity Journal
EVERYTHING is in my productivity journal (fewer places to look!). All my work (book, blog and editing), household (chores and maintenance) and personal planning (friends, family, and dogs) is in there. I use the bullet journal approach for what’s coming up, the productivity journal approach for planning tomorrow, and I journal, scrapbook and record research in it as well. When I am really happy with my achievements I give myself star or smiley face stickers.
I once saw a documentary about William Flinders Petrie (1853 – 1942, archaeologist). His father, a historically insignificant man, drew a brightly coloured sun in his journal to celebrate William’s birth – the only picture in any of his journals. There is a lot of interestingness to be found in people’s journals; much of what we know about fifteenth century England comes from Samuel Pepys who is more famous for his diaries than his parliamentary career. Similarly, Michel de Montaigne is better known for his journals and essays than his legal and diplomatic career.
So while other minimalist de-clutterers see no value in their journals, I see potential in mine (and my father’s). I reread them periodically and find it encouraging that I survived this crisis, or achieved that goal. And I like reading about the ends of things; it reminds me to live each moment as it passes. Sometimes I worry about their frankness but assuming anyone can read my writing, perhaps in two centuries, I will prove that the more things change, the more they stay the same.