Journaling and Reviews in Obsidian

In Dating Other Task Managers I identified a class of tasks I call Rituals. Rituals are recurring checklists that help shape my day and often have an output in the form of journaling.

I split the “Prompt” and the “Checklist.” The Prompt lives in my current Task Manager, and the Checklist lives in Obsidian. While they are all specialized, my rituals1 all have a family resemblance:

  • review the previous period
  • ask appropriate questions
  • log measurable goals and habits
  • summarize and plan

Review

My review is simple. Depending on how I'm feeling I'll usually write some quick bullet journal-style entries, or go freeform with paragraphs if it deserves it. usually has some prompts to guide me through the sources of information I ought to check: journals, task managers, time trackers.

Question

Observing your life in a review is useful. In order to grow and change you have to reflect and detach. If you can adopt only one habit to grow as a person, it should be some form of review with useful questions.

I typically have a few appropriate questions I ask myself at different time scales… it's possible to introspect too much, so I move the questions up and down the time-scales depending on what I'm working on.

Some randomized examples of questions I've found useful:

  • What is truly essential today?
  • What can you do to protect margin?
  • Are there any tasks I should delete?
  • Where are we going to block off time to spend outdoors as a family?
  • What adventure are you going to have this week?

I'm always collecting questions now. If you are looking for a way to invigorate your review/reflection process a great source of questions is The Personal Socrates by Marc Champagne. If you want a quick overview, Bookworm.fm did a great podcast on it.

Log

Because I interact with my "digital journal" at different times, it's useful to make some details of a day, week, month, or year easier to parse at longer time scales.

I log details at each review appropriate to that time… depending on the change I'm trying to make in my habits and thinking. For discrete quantitative entries I am really enjoying using the Dataview plugin. Some examples of how this works:

Summarize

Going through the exercise of review, questions, and logging usually has me well prepared to summarize and plan a new season. I'm usually entering new tasks or ideas as I move through the ritual, but I typically give myself space to plan and change here. There's usually some appropriate prompts and questions to help me be successful here. Some examples from my scattered Rituals:

  • Pray. Start humbly before the Lord.
  • Prioritize Family projects for this evening.
  • Check for projects and tasks with upcoming deadlines.
  • Write The Note.
  • Schedule in the most important task for tomorrow.
  • Shut Down. Leave work at work, go be a husband.

Often a review shows me a behavior I want to tweak, and the easiest path to that is a Ritual itself.2 An example: I noted with frustration that I had been late to some oddly timed meetings. I added a step to my Workday Shutdown Review to check for any early meetings the next day… and that problem has gone away. If you are a zero-based budgeter it should be familiar: adjusting Ritual checklists is like adding a category to a budget. A little planning, and a whole class of problems stops causing stress.

Examples

Treating my digital journal as a magic zoom lens from daily to yearly has been transformative. By bubbling up summaries and metrics from daily to yearly I can notice problems and engineer the change I want to see in my life.

Here are some highlights for how this plays out in my Obsidian digital journal:

Daily:

daily

I daily log my intentions (on a scale of 1 to 3) in each area of my life that I'm responsible for.

Weekly:

This was the weekend of Labor day, so Monday didn't have a note.

I take those daily intention logs and visualize them as a summary of the week. This gives me a "heatmap" of the week that invites me to explore good and bad to learn from what happened.

I also log weekly progress on 12WY goals, usually a boolean:

[[2022-Q3#Goal 1: _Breathe._|Breathe.]]
**Goal1**:: false
[[2022-Q2#Goal 2: _Critical Few:_ Personas and Proctoring Config|Critical Few]]
**Goal2**:: true

Quarterly (12WY):

I visualize that weekly progress on 12WY goals to see if actually executed against my plan. If I didn't see progress… and I didn't execute, that's an execution problem. If I executed faithfully and didn't see progress… time to change the strategy.

Looks like I've been relatively faithful with my goals this quarter so far. 👍

On a quarterly basis I rate my gut response to a "wheel of life"3. Using Obsidian Charts I compare this month's responses against the previous few.

I just started this particular visualization, and I'm super excited to learn and grow.

There’s no reason you can’t do similar patterns in any application or in an analog journal. Try applying the principles of Review, Question, Log, and Summarize to your systems and practices.

If you don’t do any of this stuff yet… don’t try to copy my stuff entirely. Start with simple journaling answering two questions: What went well? What didn’t go so well?

If you want more details about some of the chart/dataview stuff, shoot me an email. Happy to help or write a new blog post. 🙏


  1. I currently have a lot. Many of them only take five minutes, although some of the longer term reviews take quite a bit longer. 

    • Daily
      • Planning
      • Review
    • Weekly
      • Work Review / Planning
      • Family Week Review Planning
    • Monthly
      • Family Calendar Review / Planning
    • Quarterly
      • 12WY Review / Goalsetting
    • Yearly
      • Review / Theme
  2. I typically try to "dock" a change to a ritual for a whole month before I implement it. A lot of my ideas turn out to be useless by the time the next "change time" comes around. 

  3. I've pulled this basically from Plan Your Year and adapted it for this format. I think I need to revisit it more than once a year. 


Changelog
  • 2022-09-11 21:34:59 -0500
    Remove unused image markup

  • 2022-09-10 19:51:21 -0500
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  • 2022-09-10 19:50:24 -0500
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