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Journals and Distributed Cognition

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  • Journals and Distributed Cognition

    First of all, I have to say that I feel really sorry for the audience on the Getting Things Done Fast CDs. Why? Because I have listened and re-listened quite a few times to these CDs, and every time I do, a new nugget jumps into my head and causes a major light bulb moment. How did those people take it all in with just one listen? Beats me ...but hopefully they all now have the CDs to listen to.

    Anyway, my latest light bulb is the combined potential effect of journaling and distributed cognition.

    David coaches us through the mindsweep, which helps us get all our open loops down on paper so that we can consider what to do with them. This “distributed cognition” will produce a lot of items for us to consider.

    But there are bigger questions to deal with. I am starting to taste the possibilities of really, and I mean really digging in deep to see what long-term obligations or commitments have become buried under the day to day stuff; also I think some thirty to fifty thousand foot issues will also emerge – and I anticipate that this will result from journaling.

    To a small extent in the early part of GTD Fast, and to a greater extent in the article linked from the Press Links section of this website to an article entitled "Finding Your Inside Time" in Writer's Digest Magazine, David hints at the deep-cleansing benefits of journal writing.

    It occurred to me that of the dozens upon dozens of the “notes to self” that I write, the majority are observations about how and why I do things. When I sit down to process them, they don’t turn into next actions, but I certainly don’t want to throw them away. I feel that quite a few of them are glimpses of the forest floor. I suspect this is journaling.

    I have ordered "Journal to the Self” by Kathleen Adams to give me some pointers in journal writing. Maybe 80% of my writing will just be fluff, but I am sure that some overgrown signposts are going to emerge to give me some better insights as to why I feel obliged to hang on to some of my commitments.


  • #2
    As a long-time keeper of journals and owner of (probably too) many books on journaling, I congratulate you on your selection of Journal to the Self by Adams -- it's one of the best.


    • #3
      Thanks Day Owl. Amazon gave me a lot of suggestions on the topic, but sifting through the reviews persuaded me towards Kathleen Adams. Glad to hear I made a good choice!



      • #4
        Journaling can definitely be a big help in helping to "organize the mind". I've noticed that when I'm not writing in my journal, I sometimes get overwhelmed with personal thoughts and feelings. My life can be organized, but my own feelings sometimes need a good mind sweep too.

        I've been trying to make it a point to journal at least every couple of days, even if it's just a mind mapping kind of journal entry of my thoughts. Sometimes even just a few minutes of that can be refreshing.

        Thanks for reminding us how important it can be to keep our hearts and mind organized as well as life.


        • #5
          Originally posted by Tspall
          but my own feelings sometimes need a good mind sweep too.
          Originally posted by Tspall
          even if it's just a mind mapping kind of journal entry of my thoughts.
          Good tips!

          I’m hoping that Kathleen Adams' book will give me other similar pointers to get me past that staring-at-a-blank-page stage.



          • #6
            time involved?

            How much time do folks who journal spend writing and re-reading? When I try to re-read things I have writenn about, like my activites or reactions or states of mind, I don't understand what I was writing about unless I spent a lot of time writing about the context, so I am more in favor of using logs or checklists of various types,but even that doesn't get me very far. Am I missing something fundamental in the process?


            • #7
              Not necessarily. Some of it depends on the purpose for your journaling. I rarely reread my journals. It's a chance for my mind to dump some of the emotional baggage that I'm carrying. These can be both good and bad thoughts. For me, journaling is a place for me to process, in my own mind, the events that have happened.

              For things that are more about organizing or recording activities & events, I'll go with a log that I keep in KeyNote. To me, these are two seperate things because they have different purposes. Some people will reread their journals, some won't, some will reread them sometimes when they want to do it. They all can be helpful to the writer.


              • #8
                Journaling reasons and rereading

                Originally posted by Tspall
                Some of it depends on the purpose for your journaling. I rarely reread my journals. It's a chance for my mind to dump some of the emotional baggage that I'm carrying. These can be both good and bad thoughts. For me, journaling is a place for me to process, in my own mind, the events that have happened.
                When I journal, it's for those same reasons -- to get thoughts and feelings out of my head and down on paper where I can deal with them better. In times of personal stress, I journal more, because I have more "background" stuff going on in my head.

                When I worked for a startup a few years ago, I was under tons of stress, and my journal helped keep me sane. I regularly came up with new observations about how my mind was working, and having those things down on paper let me keep working with them so I could change (and treat myself better).

                I don't usually reread my journals either, but in that same startup time period I reread my journals from the beginning, trying to find the roots of some of the mental habits that caused me trouble -- I was very interesting to see how my feelings and memories about some things in my past didn't match up with what I wrote at the time.

                I don't journal on a regular basis -- I basically write when I have something that's bugging me, or when I have free time and I'm aware that I haven't written in a long time. (A quick look shows that my last journal entry was in October.)


                • #9
                  It seems to me that journaling is one of the key tools for higher altitude thinking.

                  Let’s say you sit down to do a higher altitude review of your life, and let’s say you haven’t done one for about a year. There is a very good chance that you will make some adjustments as a result of that review. The result will be a refreshed sense of alignment.

                  Now, in the days and weeks leading up to that review there were pressures on your life due to the lesser alignment. Chances are, like me, you will have been writing “notes to self” for a while as you try to make sense of the imbalances you are experiencing. I think journaling would give greater clarity, especially in identifying the things you are not doing that you really feel you should be doing.

                  Even if you deliberately scheduled a day for higher altitude reviews, I don’t think it could be done in one single sitting. Rather, the subtle discomforts and pressures of the previous weeks need to be evaluated, and the appropriate remedies identified.

                  And when you can really drill down to the right NA, you just know you are back on track.



                  • #10
                    I'm new to this 'Journaling' concept. Can anyone suggest some resources (web sites etc) to help me understand what it's all about? Thanks in advance.



                    • #11
                      I really appreciate this thread! I used to only journal when I was "in trouble" - under a lot of stress or a big issue hit. But in the past several months, I've made it into a nearly-daily discipline.

                      Pre GTD, the stuff that kept me up at night or rolled around in my brain all the time was runway stuff - -are we out of milk? What was the deadline for that project? I don't think I have so-and-so's phone number. I'm doing a much better job of managing that sort of thing, so now I find that the stuff that causes the mental clutter is higher altitude - "I'm not sure if I'm being a good friend, boss, co-worker", "so and so said something today that angered me/hurt me/made me think (whatever) but I didn't have time to process it in the moment", "is this job still going to fit me in another 6-12 months".

                      What I'm finding is that if I just tell myself in those moments that I'm going to journal about that when at my next opportunity - or just do a quick written dump of those thoughts - I feel a lot better and get a lot more insight.

                      I need to give myself a "place" for that type of mental/emotional processing - a journal does that.


                      • #12

                        I am interested in people's thoughts on what medium they find best for journals. Are there advantages to journalling on a computer as opposed to a notebook? If done on a computer do you prefer the Journal in Outlook or is there another program used?......MS Word?


                        • #13
                          Journaling is such a personal and even physical activity that the choice of medium depends on what you are most comfortable with. If you type easily, then the computer is for you, and a simple Word document is more than adequate. If you write easily by hand, then a notebook is advisable and also has the advantage of being easily portable.

                          Like many others, I use both the computer and a notebook, depending on where I am at the time and what feels best under the fingers.

                          Notebook choices are endless: large spiral, small spiral, lined, unlined, bound (like the black artist's sketchbooks), even loose sheets of paper that you then file or punch for insertion in a binder. If you like, you can leave room in the margin or on the opposite page for key words or later comments.

                          Pen or pencil? It's up to you. If you are new to journaling, then try various media until you discover what fits. I would advise against gorgeous leather-bound journals, handmade paper, etc. They can make a person feel that every word has to be profound and immortal -- and you're looking for insight, not necessarily profundity (although you may well discover sprinkles of profundity on the page after you have written).

                          There's only one "rule" -- date everything, so you can locate the journal entry later in the book or file, and also locate it in your life.


                          • #14
                            Some interesting software is available here:


                            I haven't tried it, but the reviews are good. I may give the 15-day free trial a whirl.