Work journals

This is one of those things I hesitate to post about here - only tangentially about akrasia - where I can’t resist it because I appreciate the thoughts and opinions of this crowd. Also I’m sure I’ve posted about it before. But maybe others have the same preoccupation?

I’m a heavy note-taker, mostly about ideas and thoughts trying to work things out and piece things together. I keep a journal with notes about whatever I’m working on in my day job. They start out useful, then things tend to get lost in them and I can’t find what I’m looking for.

That’s what I’m trying to figure out - how to do that better. But that’s tangled up with all the other places I write notes:

  • A personal kind of ticket system where I’ll create a file for a meeting or a particular task or an official work ticket.

  • If I’m sharing something I’ll keep notes in various wikis and git repositories.

  • Another log where I write down very briefly one short line for each thing I did today so I can remember the next day (or I’ll forget what I did 5 minutes later).

  • Zettelkasten (I want to call it wiki really, I feel like if you think there’s a difference it’s just because “zettelkasten” to you means “good wiki” – same as “UX” means “good UI” – no, really). I’m still not great at putting time into linking nodes together, but I’m using it.

I’ve gradually figured out that these things are important in my main work journal:

  • While writing in this work journal, and soonish after (days? weeks? sometimes months even), long notes are good because they’re my working memory
  • Later, short notes are good because they are less cluttered, which are better as long-term memory
  • The journal is great for finding old notes if I can add a link to all notes, significant files, etc. outside of the journal that I edited that day (org-mode is great for this). But I’m not really doing this consistently still, and the “working things out” function seems to conflict a bit with the “where are those notes” function.
  • Of course I also move things out into my personal to do list and various official work to do lists

This all seems to conflict with itself.

So I’m asking myself how I can get better at this. My thoughts:

  • Move things to zettelkasten right after noting them down in the journal. But that’s time consuming and I don’t want to dump my crappy half-baked thoughts and workings out into there. This part is a little akratic sometimes, but it seems also just hard to find the time often. So it’s hard to see how to change this in a decisive way.
  • Move things into to do lists: this can be hit-and-miss for the same reasons.
  • Take opportunities to tidy up old days too. I mention this because mostly I try not to edit old days because that loses the advantages of a journal (if I do, I sometimes use org-mode’s date insert command to make it clear that I did it). But moving things out and then editing - rather than editing them in-place in the journal - if they are clear enough to have a permanent place to live seems good (leaving a link behind in the journal to where they got moved).
  • Keep the links to files-I-touched/created today not in the often very verbose “working things out” journal, but instead in the always short “what did I do today” journal (duh)

Any thoughts?

The only one that seems obviously easy to change in that last list is the last one, the others are quite sticky: all of them are hit-and-miss because it often takes me some time for ideas to get worked out, by which time they’ve scrolled up the screen and get less attention, and are also less likely to be relevant as time passes. I guess this is unavoidable the same way that any thinking about anything is unreliable. But I’m sure I can get better somehow.

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