Sampler #3: Why I use reviews (Part 1: Introduction to Journaling)

linkGoals don't start in January

👋 Hello everyone, Lucian speaking.

In December of last year, I polled the Amplenote community on their approach to Annual Reviews. What I discovered was that - despite my best predictions - a majority of people don't employ a big, fancy system specifically for December 31st. Instead, when it comes to planning the year ahead, the heavy lifting is done by the smaller, more frequent Reviews that happen throughout the year.

In this mini-series on Reviews, we'll cover what a Minimum Viable Review is, how to check in with yourself every week and how that helps you tame your long-term projects and goals. This first part will go over the first component of the system, that is Journaling.

You can jump ahead to the most interesting sections using these links:

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Reading time: 7 minutes

linkStart structuring your time

If you're in the business of goal-setting, you'll know that tackling big problems in their entirety is asking for trouble. For better or worse, your brain will pull the necessary strings to make you feel discouraged or even tired at the very sight of a long to-do list. In this "to-do list overwhelm", it's hard to distinguish between "I have too many things to do" and "I'm looking at too many things at once".

With very high chances of the latter being true, the antidote is to start dividing your time into smaller, more manageable chunks. Under this framework, "Reviews" are the things that happen in-between the small chunks of your time that you are in control of.

Chunk #1

Chunkly Review #1

Chunk #2

Chunkly Review #2

Chunk #3

Thus, Reviews are meant to answer two main questions:

With respect to my Goal, what happened in the previous Chunk of time?

To keep making progress towards my Goal, what should happen in the next Chunk of time?

If you're thinking "OK, but what is the duration of a "Chunk?" - the answer is almost always to start with Daily, Weekly and Monthly Reviews.

linkMore structure is sometimes more freedom

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Everyone is different in a myriad of unmeasurable ways. You might be going "Well d'uh, of course I should plan every week", or you might be thinking the exact opposite: "Won't all of this limit my freedom and creativity?".

And to that latter concern: the truth is that your experience may vary. What I have personally found is that when I spend 15 minutes in the morning to write down what's on my mind and to make a short plan, my morale is appreciably higher for the rest of the day.

In my case, this level of structure produces this amount of value because it allows me to decouple "planning" from "doing". With this little trick, I ensure that decision making happens when I am most qualified to do it. But also worth noting is that writing down what's important every morning means I don't have to carry it around in my head for the rest of the day, every day 💡.

If this slight shift in mindset sounds convincing to you, let's talk about how to carry out the Minimum Viable Review.

linkReviews are about Retrospectives + Planning

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So, the minimal effort for your Weekly Review looks something like the following:

Look back and retrospect on what happened during that past week;

Determine your top priorities and make a plan for the next week.

Pretty straight-forward, right? Let's cover Retrospectives in the rest of this blog and touch base in upcoming Samplers to talk about the last piece of the puzzle: Planning.

linkRetrospectives are powered by Daily Logs

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During any review, you need to first survey what happened since your previous review. This helps you check if you're doing what you've established is important to you, or - well - not that 🙈.

But how can you remember what happened every day?

In Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, the Pensieve was Dumbledore's basin-shaped device that allows its user to conveniently replay their memories. Alas, nowadays Pensieves are rare and antique contraptions that require a lot of maintenance and don't encrypt your data.

Back in the realm of the pragmatic, though, the solution I personally swear by is keeping a Journal. Daily Journaling or Daily Logging gives you a clear record that you can refer to during your reviews.

If you've tried journaling before and it didn't stick, chances are that you didn't connect it to a clear goal. In the rest of this segment, I will go over a few techniques that will make Logs more useful and Logging more reliable ✨.

link⚙️ Only write things you would read again in a week

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When you start journaling, it's very tempting to write too much. But journaling isn't about capturing everything. Instead, we should think about it as the tool that makes reviews easier.

With that in mind, you only need to write about things that would be useful to see a week from now, when you're reviewing the most recent progress towards your Goal.

One example of a useful log entry is related to areas of your life that you want to track every day, for example health check-ins, sleep ratings or mood measurements. For such situations - where the list of log prompts is the same every day - I encourage you to use a template to avoid having to remember it on a daily basis. Here's how such a template might look like in Amplenote:

[09:06:41] Morning check-in


Slept for 7 hours, felt rested when I woke up

Physical activity:

Had a busy day, so I skipped gym

I did go for a run in the morning, though


Stayed in the calorie range

Ate at irregular intervals due to hectic day

Mood meter:

Felt pretty motivated throughout the day 👍

You can create a similar template for yourself and use it in your Daily Jot either every morning for the past day or every evening for the current day.

The best kind of template includes all of the things that you are interested in achieving (eg. better sleep, healthier eating), but only the things that you are interested in revisiting later.

link⚙️ Your Journal is your Dashboard

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If the "morning checklist" methodology described above lends itself very well to tracking habits and lifestyle changes, the other very common object of journaling is related to goals and projects. If you're writing a thesis, renovating a room or editing a video, how can you remember to write journal entries about these things?

The best answer might be to turn your Journal into a Dashboard. Instead of writing a chapter of your thesis and then logging about it in your journal, open a log entry first, and then start doing the work itself. If the traditional journal is like a short story of what happened during your day, the "Dashboard Journal" is analogous to the narrator of that story. That is, you don't start "doing" until the "narrator" (you) declares it in writing first.

Here's how logging about a project might look in Amplenote:

[15:31:53] Reading Field Experiment:

The remaining seed tubers were planted today in Blocks 1 & 2;

The earth around the rows was pushed over the tubers to make small ridges;

This should help prevent greening and lodging.

Optional, but consider adding a timestamp to your logs by typing {now} in Amplenote.

Source of this example

Another example of a possible log entry to create is for your social interactions:

[19:04:17] Meeting with Alexander today over tea

He's planning to do a working trip to France this summer;

Should ask him about this the next time we meet.

Decided to stay accountable by checking in once a month with our fitness goals.

"Projects" and "People" are just two possible categories you might want to journal about. Feel free to introduce more of them, based on what you want to review every week/month.


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In the spirit of keeping this a short read, we'll stop here. If in this first part we've covered an introduction to the concept of Reviews and why you should start logging your day, the next part will go over the how behind journaling. Tune in next week if you want to read about how to tag your journal entries in order to make Reviews as efficient as possible.

Until next time!

Plot twist

Thanks for stopping by the Amplenote blog. Did you know that the content of this "blog post" is just a plain old note, lifted from the author's Amplenote notebook? Rich footnotes, industry-leading to-do lists, and a security-first mindset make us a solid option for modern writers. Try it out yourself.