I am tomorrow, or some future day, what I establish today. I am today what I established yesterday or some previous day. – James Joyce
Many of us have probably taken the opportunity afforded by this pandemic to reconnect with paper.
Digital is convenient.
When you’re traveling from place to place, commuting to work, it’s easier to keep everything in text files, in the cloud, so you don’t have to carry anything with you.
But when you’re in one place you start to see what’s around you again.
For example, I have a pot of fountain pens in front of me – seven pens in the pot, one that I am using, and a few more in the drawer.
I remember buying those pens, testing the nibs, looking for the smooth, frictionless movement over paper, the controlled flow of ink.
Here’s the thing.
The medium you use channels and constrains what you can do.
How you do something is as important as what you do.
For example, why is so much writing so excruciatingly boring – why did people, and why do they still, think that writing big words and going on for ages is the way to do things.
It probably has to do with the limitations of type setting.
If you write with a pen in a notebook there are no limits to what you can do – you can go in any direction on the page, draw and add text, put circles around text, connect different ideas with lines and arrows and go all around the page if you want to.
Text, on the other hand, is typeset, word processed – and it’s just that much harder to do anything other than write the next word.
And so we are given words – words, words and more words.
Don’t get me wrong – words are important.
It turns out there is an Art of Letters – which I guess is basically writing…
Now, where I am trying to go is continue with an exploration of methods to follow and record information – and today I want to look at the daily logbook.
In my previous post I looked at commonplace books – a way to keep notes and quotes by topic.
Commmonplace books are about content, not about time – but time matters to us as well.
After all, do you think about what you do each day – and how many days you have to do those things?
Your days will pass. Inexorably.
In my case, a few years back I realized that if I worked every day for the next 40 years I would have around 14,600 days available to me, ignoring leap years.
So, on the 15th of July 2017 I started a countdown – every day a small script calculates the number of days left and appends it to the filenames of specific files that I use for daily work.
Today, for example, is day 13,366.
But, being a digital way of looking at things, that number is easy to ignore – it’s just something else that’s there.
So, I’m going to try keeping a logbook for a while.
I already do, really, digitally, but I’m going to move back to paper.
If you want to see what that might look like in ten years time, Austin Kleon’s stack is a good example.
To start your logbook, buy a day to a page diary and at the end of the day or first thing the next day note down brief points about what happened the previous day.
A logbook is different from a diary or a journal, really, because what’s important to record are the facts – what happened, where you went, who you met.
A diary or journal may record more – your feelings, reflections, angst.
Whether you go with the brief jottings of a log or the longer entries of a diary, the point is to prompt you – to remind you of what happened so that your brain can pull up the memories that matter.
In fact, you should probably separate the two, because a logbook can help point you to when you did something – a chronological index of your life.
For example, for the second half of this year I’ve been experimenting with drafting content for book projects in these posts.
It means that I can weave together the thinking about what I want to write and the actual content, hoping that it will work its way through in the editing process.
The writing is easy, the editing, so far, has been less so – I need to work out how to get into it.
When you’re working through an idea, what matters really is the idea before and the idea after – and if ideas split and go off in different directions.
Corralling all these ideas might seem difficult, if you’re going down a narrow path it should be straightforward, but it’s less so when you start to wander off the trail or when the landscape opens up.
Still, you have to take things one day at a time and what I’m realizing is that keeping a log of where you’ve been helps you look back quickly and see the whole picture without having to go through the details.
For example, I could go through my blog to remind myself about what I’ve written, but wouldn’t it be much faster to page through the logbook?
We think of diaries as ways to schedule our lives, but if you really want to do creative work what you have to do is leave great, gaping holes in your calendar.
Leave time to fill with the work that matters to you, not the tasks you have to do.
If you spend each day doing something that matters – then over a lifetime you will have tens of thousands of things that you’ve done.
Isn’t that worth logging?
But, of course, you have to have something to log in the first place.
And that comes down to the work you do every day – the stuff you capture in your daily notebook.
Let’s look at that next.