A Four-Year Journal
social life & social media
Four years ago Morris Villarroel was inspired to start writing things down. He started with a simple Muji notebook and begun adding some structure such as daily logs, life events, and review of books and articles he had read. In the process of filling out over 130 journals, his process has evolved to include journaling about other important aspects of his life. In this talk, Morris explains his journaling in detail, gives a few examples of how he’s able to analyze the data he’s tracking in his journals, and explains how this process has improved his reflection and preparation for future events.
Journal | pen and paper
I started to do a logbook where I write down most things that happen to me during the day, and as I used to do when I was younger but for birds doing my thesis on copulating kestrels I also kept a logbook and this time it was for me.
My main aim was to do it ad lib it in writing, to write down everything that was happening to me during the day; events. Place, people, and keep it all in one place and to encourage also metacognition.
I noticed one important thing was the type of notebook itself. It had to be easy to take around, not too noticeable, and not too worried if somebody stole it or if I lost it. I chose a fairly cheap emoji notebook. So it was nice, it was light enough, not too many pages so I could finish it in a reasonable amount of time. The notebook has 60 pages which lasts me approximately 12 days and then I can file it.
So over the years I’ve completed about 133 books over four years. The first one lasted about six months. As far as the show and tell goes what did I do, well this is what I did I filled 133 notebooks.
In 2010/11 I filled approximately 25 a year, then about 30 in 2012 and about 40 in 2014. In 2012 was when I found out about Quantified Self and that motivated me to change something’s and probably made me do a bit more.
So I would like to share with you a bit about how the structure of the book evolves throughout the years, how I dealt with the blank pages, and the things that I learned while doing it.
As many other Quantified Self projects it’s about developing a habit and making it a bit more comfortable. So the first thing I added was structure to make the books a bit more easier to review like separate days, page numbers, numbers on the books, all to make it a bit easier to index and then I could put those things into Excel and then I can analyze it statistically.
I also found it useful to separate the daily logs from summaries of things I read like articles and books. So I summarize the information I read from back to front in the notebook, making it easier to separate the two.
So soon I found that the book was a great way to share things as well with people I carried around with me, and I keep a record of it asking people a lot of the times to draw what they mean and then I have a future memento as well.
Some of these drawings helping to remind me immediately of the ambience, the place, the person, and the process behind the event and some are just nice moments, like this one. My son, five year’s Oliver who likes to draw in my book.
It was only after about three years that I decided to make a separate food page to jot down everything I’ve eaten. That helped me to plan meals better, have a bit more of a variety and find out what not to eat at night of what I didn’t digest well.
Shortly after that I also reserved an idea page making it much easier to review ideas that come up. And I feel that both the food page and the idea page kind of came out of ideas from the Quantified Self videos on the web page.
Some of you may think that pen and paper are a bit archaic, but it’s scientific analysis isn’t that old. This is a graph of scientific papers that analyzed journaling over the recent decades, very few into the late 1990s, but it grew quite quickly and seemed to have stabilized.
Meanwhile scientific publications in life long are quite rare. Only 44 since 2010, but I think we can learn from both of them and tend to combine them. For example, both journaling and life logging involve analyzing events, which is the next thing I want to talk about. I place event titles on each page as a summary of the most important things on that page usually not more than five.
So what I’ve analyzed in more detail in 2013 the number of events here on the y-axis and some days with more than 30 events. As you will see it’s not really the number of events but the types of events that really matter or are more interesting to me.
Many friends say I should go more digital, but it’s fairly difficult to copy all my notebooks and the number of issues but I can copy my index from every book quite easily into Excel and then analyze them a bit better.
I can classify them into several ways instead of just one, but in 2013 fall into work events, personal life, reading and writing than approximately these percentages; I personally thought I spent more time writing than 10%.
Within those groups the event types and what I call personal life are more varied and not always fair. I spend a lot of time with my wife and with my kids now so than my wife, and my wife is lower down here on the scale.
I spend a lot of time listening to music but I rarely write about it.
Looking on a weekly basis there are more events on a Tuesday and Wednesday typically at work and much less on a weekend. Saturday would be the least eventful day, also reported by other authors like Nicholai Sveltin in his yearly report.
Regarding what I read from back to front I was surprised by work creep, in other words I thought I was reading for pleasure most of the time, but a lot of the time I’m reading for work. More than 50% of those pages have to do with work. I teach by the way so a lot of them are class preparations.
I’ve also read my events to steps and to floors to day of the week, to week of the year to the number of events and the pages used in the notebook using Fitbit data. So here’s a graph of steps taken per day and event during the week, but I really found little direct relation. There’s like a little correlation if I analyze it statistically between steps and events.
Surprisingly there was a bit of a better result if I included floors which are much lower on the weekend and much more related to events. So floors were much more related to events than steps were in this case.
I mentioned before about metacognition and definitely starting the books I think much more about the beginning, the middle, and the end of things. about the run up to something, how it will play out and what I can get out of it or learn from it.
I spend much more time preparing things and I’m more aware of the process itself and then at the end since I spend so much time preparing it and the event itself was more intense, my brain needs to reuse that information and then it gets recycled more easily.
Using notebook and quantifying things also provides me with something we normally lack in large quantities which is enough feedback. So if I need more feedback all I have to do is go back to my black notebook friends.
Lastly I’d like to report a hit or two unnoticed effect of marriage; last year I got married in June and since then I’ve had even more events per page, so that might be an idea of future study in the effect of human bonding and the efficiency in productivity.