Keep A One Sentence Journal

Until recently I’ve never kept a journal, either for business or personal reasons. I’ve often tried – usually starting with a short burst of energy which then fizzled out fairly soon. However, in an attempt to find out where all my time was going, I’ve kept a daily journal for over a year now (without even a day slipping). It covers all aspects of my life.

I use bullet points rather than sentences and I use Circus Ponies NoteBook (I’m on a Mac) as the outlining feature is very handy for this (there are lots of other products of course).

As I do about 3-5 things a day, this amounts to well over 1,000 items in a year. In hindsight, and skimming through, some were important and others not. However whilst I’ve found the journal indispensable for daily and weekly work, it’s not been so successful when viewed over longer timescales. Dealing with such large numbers of items is cumbersome as well as time-consuming and structure can often evolve in complex inter-connected ways!

To make more progress, and being realistic with my aspirations, I’ve now decided to write one sentence a day on the most important ‘thing’ that happened. This might be a task, an insight (on anything), a feeling (about anything) or a significant meeting/event. The simple point is that it forces me to think through, on a daily basis, whether something of note has happened (physically or emotionally) and then summarise it in a catchy manner (a skill in it’s own right). It’ll be interesting to see what this produces longer term and how it compares to my standard ‘task’ list.

When I worked full-time, in a large and fast-moving company, I always thought I had no time to take daily notes. I had Outlook and I used this to collect (in a rather random way) the usual oddball collection of contacts, tasks and events. When I left I thought it might be useful to take this file with me but I was surprised to discover just how unhelpful it was (information wise). I realised (a little too late) that most things were in my head, coupled with a fuzzy memory of details the further back I went.

It would have been fascinating to have these one-liners to illuminate me on what I’d done and when and how I felt about things at the time. Even the decision on what I wrote on a given day would be enlightening – things at the time and in hindsight are often quite different. I can’t think of any reason why I couldn’t have found the time to think about and then write just one sentence (more is allowed of course, if the opportunity arises). I’m sure I would have got better at it in time as well (as it’s not as easy at it sounds!).

In a way, the one-sentence journal is an attempt to see some simplicity in the complexity that usually surrounds me, even if it is misleading or a little naive at times.

Anyway, I’l let you know how it goes!

I got the idea for this from a variety of quite different sources over a period of time. Here are two of them:

Day One

A desktop Mac application that also has a synced iPhone companion, so there’s no excuse not to write! There’s also a handy reminder function. So at 6 pm everyday a little box pops up encouraging me to write my line! I still have to do the thinking/reflection of course.

Notebooks (1970 − 2003) by Murray Bail

I found this book a number of years ago in a small, local ‘reduced price’ bookstore. Murray Bail is an Australian writer. The book is a collection of snippets collected along the way, presumably for use in future books. It’s quite tantalising, and gives an interesting insight into a writer’s mind. Here are some typical entries (most are longer; there are over 2,000 of them)

From London June 1970 – November 1974:

‘Tossing his head, he laughed like a horse and kept on slapping his thigh to keep galloping.’

‘The only exercise he took was shaving.’

He makes an observation and then translates it into a short memorable phrase. Out of context this might seem a little strange but it does work!


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