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Do you keep a journal?

rommik profile image Roman Mikhailov ・2 min read

Do you keep a journal or diary of your day to day professional activities?
how do you do it? Pen and pad? word documents? dedicated software or tools?

I've been writing down a summary of my day since I started working as a developer.. for 13 years now. Ouch! Yet, I've never kept or archived any of them. I actually either surrendered them to my employers or destroyed them. Now, I regret it. They would have been good reads for self-reflection and just to measure the progress.

One of the reasons not to keep them around is the space, they take up a lot of it.
I'm wondering if there's a better way. Pen and notepad are a must for me, I like to draw and doodle. Doing it on a tablet or laptop is not the same thing.

When I heard about the reMarkable tablet, I got excited. It was the closest to pen and paper you can get, but the price tag and the battery are just unreasonable. $800 CAD for a tablet that is just another Kindle with a pen and runs for 2-3 hours on a charge, no thanks! Maybe if the price drops to $200-$300 I'll consider it again.

While at college, I've used Livescribe pen. It is a digital pen that records what you write and you can view it in a digital form (PDF or image). This was really great, but you had to have special notepads for it. That was a downer!

Now with smartphones and image recognition, I don't mind taking a photo of my notes and have them digitized.However, when it comes to journal notes, they are only good if you can search them. So, I'm not sure if this is the way to go.

What are your thoughts and experience?

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I keep a pen and paper journal. I work in a bureaucratic context, so having a record of who told me to do what, when, is an important CYA tool. Digital records, with metadata, have their place, but a pen and paper log is private and portable. If something goes wrong, I want to have an independent record of what I heard, and who was telling it to me. Email partially answers this, but not completely.

I haven't found an electronic technique that works for me.

The journal also gives me a bonus of having something to pull accomplishments out of, when it is time for my semi-annual performance write up and review.

I solve the searchability problem by using the Bullet Journal technique. Each page is numbered, each entry has a heading and a date, and after I make an entry, I add the page number to the index at the beginning, under the appropriate entry.

I also keep a monthly calendar at the front of the journal, so I can plan out a bit in the future. I skip the future log; tried it, didn't see much of a point. My daily logs are typically more like "meeting" or "project" logs - notes and action items.

Something I started doing recently is keeping a weekly summary. Every Monday, I write up a new page with the days of the week separated by a couple lines. As the week goes by, I put a couple high level comments about what happened each day in my weekly summary.


Thank you for sharing the Bullet Journal link! That is a great idea to keep an index and number pages. I'm definitely going to try that.


Took me a couple tries to get something I liked, but I really like it. There's a huge community around best practices and trying different things out.

My mom uses the bullet journaling. She loves it and swears by it. I couldn't get my head around it myself but i'm the kind of person who if I have an appointment i'll be there, otherwise i'd rather not schedule myself. I use todoist to keep myself organized.


I still don't have this habit down pat, but having a journal with me to write random notes on—that I rarely refer back to—is super helpful.

It helps my brain when I'm thinking. Map things out without being by my computer, and passively doodle during meetings as I listen. I have attention issues and this is helpful.

As I said, it's not an every day habit yet, but I'm working on it.


Same for me. Only once I had to go over two journals to get the info and reconstruct timelines. Thanks to the bureaucracy. However, I've improved my note taking skill and now the info I record is actually helpful. The problem is to find it when you need it in 2 -3 weeks/months/years?!...


Journaling is great, and teaching yourself the habit of keeping a log of your daily activities, pays off tremendously over time. Even better, sharing some or most of your thoughts with others.

Personally, I have been using various forms of note-taking for the past decade or so. I have tried always having a small notebook aside, but less so in the latest years, as I'm storing all of my notes electronically. For a few years, I was a strong Evernote user, going as far as to call it an extension of my brain. Eventually, due to Evernote’s feature bloat and growing complexity, I began searching again for a tool that would allow me to structure my thoughts in plain text with as little fuss as possible. Around that time I discovered Markdown. It’s been my best friend ever since.

Since I have a lot of ideas for side projects, I needed a way to keep my progress and findings up-to-date, since often, days or even weeks pass, before I get back to working on something. I started keeping detailed changelogs of all of the things I’ve been working on. The newest notes would end up on the top of the page, together with a date and time, of when a particular record was kept. Gradually, I realised that what makes those side projects valuable is not whether they will eventually get finished, but all the knowledge gathered while working on them. Having helped other people, gives me a rare sense of satisfaction and fulfilment. This is the reason that I have started outsourcing my journal out to my blog. Many of my posts are rough, some are unfinished, but if the knowledge I have gathered helps even one person today, it makes me happy. I started doing this around 2012, after reading Masters of Doom. As far back as during the mid-90s, John Carmack used to share his progress with the gaming and developer community in the form of rough .plan files, formatted as logs of his daily activities.

P.S. In case anyone is wondering what kind of editor I’m using right now, I eventually stopped on the minimalist, but genius Bear Notes for macOS and iOS.


Thanks for sharing and the link to Bear Notes! Posting the daily logs to the blog is not easy (in my case). That would require formatting, in case of sensitive or proprietary information.

Awesome Blog and I like that you added a pop-up chat, I've never seen it on blogs. I think that is a great idea!


I don't keep a journal nor have I thought to keep a journal. I do keep a listing of my hours, but that's just for billing purposes.

I sometimes scratch down stuff on the paper in front of me, but those are just short term reminders, nothing I couldn't risk losing. Ideas, insights, and other whatnots I think are of value will find there way into a relevent issue system.

Most of my ideas and thoughts during the day will however be lost forever, and rightfully so. Can't have too many past thoughts cluttering up my mind when I start a new day.


I do keep a short note/description next to the hours (when I do a consulting job). Rarely but it's happened that I had to justify the hours, and it happened 30-60 days after the bill. Without the notes, I would be lost. :) I started this habit after a book or blog on IT consulting that I'd read, but I can't remember now where it was.


I suppose I could just write "Programming" beside each entry in my billable hours log. :)

Most of my work is backed up by comments on issues, chat history, checkins, or other work-product. Though I suppose the moment I'd be requested to justify something I'd assume the relationship is no longer good and would seek new employment.


No journaling technique has ever really stuck with me -- the longest journal I ever kept was the SELF Journal. It's pretty rigid with daily & weekly goals but doesn't require you to use it every day. It also has you start/end the day with something you're grateful for. I tend to use it when tasks are harder to prioritize and I need to add organization to chaos.

I've definitely never successfully kept a digital journal. I need the satisfaction of crossing things off! Most days, I end up scribbling notes on a post-it.


what about note taking in meetings? How would you record that? Of course, every company is different... in my experience in the BigCorp world tends to have too many of those, and keeping notes is important. As Gunnar mentioned, mostly to "cover your ass"


Most of my notes are taken digitally for internal meetings, but I do carry around a pen & notebook for everything else :)


I found journaling helps a lot, in terms of tracking my work, referring back to notes when needed.

I use git command line + vscode + bitbucket repo combination for my journaling. I type the content using simple, 'markdown' format, which makes it beautiful when I review. I add screenshots, text files, pdfs, etc., to the notes and commit them to the repository.

Searching through the notes are simpler using vscode/bitbucket 'code aware' search.

One downside though is referring/editing the notes from mobile devices. But I rarely do that, and always has access to home/work macbook. So I refer my notes from the browser.

Directory structure

Notes format


an interesting use for git and IDE :) Thanks for sharing an example!


I journal (I call it logging) all day long. I have one for every project I'm working on, career goals, personal goals, and maybe 5 other niche goals.

Some I log more into than others, for example my career goals may get my attention once a month compared to my current project which gets hourly updates.

I do it all in Evernote. I can't imagine not doing it at this point.


I kept this habit from entering the workplace.I thought it's necessary.I would write down small ideas with online note tools, such as youdaoyun,GitHub.But this tools could not solve your problem,It could not save the contents of paintings.That was a downer!


I started a dev log / journal again 12 months ago. I had two requirements. First, it had to be digital first and leverage tooling I already had. And Second, journalling also had to teach me something useful.

What I landed on was this: A devlog.txt file that automatically opens in VIM when I first open my terminal for the day. The file itself lives in the root of my Google Drive folder so syncs automatically so my daily musings aren't lost.

I created a little key for myself, and every time a new task, question or thought crosses my mind I just add it to the file via VIM in the terminal.

This suits my criteria: It doesn't use any apps or other BS that isn't already on my machine. It's somewhere that I already spend a great deal of my time (iTerm), and it forces me to improve my VIM abilities.

It's supplemented by a plain notebook that I draw in while I think things through. It's very rare that those drawings are ever useful beyond the thought process, so I don't persist them.


I'm a big fan of the Vimwiki Diary and have been using it for a couple of years or so. You press a couple of keys in Vim and a buffer opens up with notes for that day.

I record what I do each day, and occasionally also use it to store quick notes on calls or investigations I made during the day.

The notes are all saved in a file named after the day, e.g. 2018-03-20.wiki. And because they're plain text, they search/sync almost effortlessly.


I keep a small, A5 notebook in my pocket.

I've just started my first job, my placement year, as a developer in a very corporate environment. It's my fault that I've got to carry it - I leave at 6 and get in at 6 so I'm always tired and always forgetting things.

It's basically a more permanent copy of my memories - I'm trialling it now, but I think it's going to stick.

It's great for working out how I intend a program to flow, or trying to work out how something should work - when debugging it.

If I could have a smaller solution, I would. I'd use my phone but it's a distraction and I can never find what I was doing well.

Recommended, if you actually feel the need for one, and not just because you want to join in.


I do keep a journal for work and I love to use pen and a notebook for it. I like the satisfaction of checking things off.

I believe in Evernote you can search text within images, this might be useful for you if you were to get rid of the journals but photograph some pages to archive Evernote?


My journal is a combination of GitHub, Bitbucket, OneNote, and Google Drive.