Apr 27, 2022

Why You Should Journal Between the Key Moments of Your Day

Why You Should Journal Between the Key Moments of Your Day

Why You Should Journal Between the Key Moments of Your Day

Nathan King

A day at the office – even the virtual office – injects enough disruption to send me spinning out to space: out of control, out of orbit.

Buzzed by instant/text messages, interrupted by "drive-bys," demands for attention comes from all directions. At one moment I am pulled towards a project that requires analysis. The next I am stretched by an initiative that requires communication. Later, an even emerges that requires conflict resolution skills.

To avoid that lost in space feeling, I use a simple centering action to provide stability and end that out of orbit, dizzy sensation.

It requires no special skill – no training. It requires no new technology. The ROI is extraordinarily high. And almost no one does it.

But this practice quickly and easily brings my mind into calmer waters, and it promises to do the same for you.

It's a form of journaling. Instead of adhering to the common concept of journaling as an activity done in quiet moments at the start or end of the day, this journaling is done in the midst of the action, in between your last activity and your next one. It's called interstitial journaling.

When done throughout the day, I experience greater focus and productivity in my work.

I take a minute or two and write down what, specifically, I just completed. And I note what I am trying to accomplish next. What are the immediate, discrete, clear steps I can take next that will move me in that direction? I repeat this every time I finish something. It's like putting a period on the last sentence and inserting a space before the first letter of the next sentence.

It turns out that interstitial journaling has a profound psychological effect on the human mind. It brings the competing demands on our attention to our consciousness. It clarifies what we are committing to in the moment. It heightens both attention and intention. The swirl at work has a kind of numbing effect. All the emails on different themes, interruptions from other people, deadlines from bosses, result in a kind of multi-tasking with rapid task-switching. And multi-tasking results in a 40% or more reduction in cognitive performance.

How Interstitial Journaling Works

In a notebook or in your digital app of choice (more on that in a moment), write down the time and 1-2 sentences or a few bullet points about what you were working on at that moment. It's helpful to ask yourself, as: “What project did I just finish? Are there any parts of that project that I’m still thinking about?" Write a few sentences about what you’re about to work on. “What is the first action of the project I’m about to start? How should I approach getting the project done?” These are questions suggested by Tony Stubblebine, who has done much to popularize the concept of interstitial journaling.

As I've grown more habitual with this myself, it's become clear that it is a powerful way for me to reorient myself. First, writing this down is private, “for my eyes only.” I can be completely transparent about what has happened, how I've blown it, and what needs to happen next.

Consider this example from my own journaling. Here, you can see that on one day at 9:22 I summarized what I did, and then took a second to note my state of mind and then identify 2 proximate tasks. And then, after completing the first task, I wrote out more thought about what I needed to do to develop the topic in more detail.

Doing this throughout the day brings a spirit of intentionality that can easily be missing, and allows for logic and emotion to interplay.

You can and should customize this to your own style. Writer Anne-Laure Le Cunff notes that she begins each work day journaling briefly on “how I feel, anything that’s been sometimes literally keeping me up at night, any major roadblock I’m anticipating for the day. It’s rarely longer than one bullet point, but it’s a great way to take care of my general well-being.”

All of my journaling is a mishmash of tasks, sentiments, outlines, and random ideas with timestamps. Taken together, my interstitial journal is a running conversation with myself that helps me stay more focused. On one recent occasion I got a text from my wife, which prompted me to look something up on Google, which reminded me to send a text to someone else. 18 minutes disappeared. I realized I got totally lost.

Recording this use of time is humbling. It results in greater awareness, and increased intentionality, the next time I get a text.

Also, by noting the time - if you consistently use the practice - you build a record of where your time is going, which you can easily review at the end of the day or week. The core of effectiveness at work is understanding where your time is going before you organize the use of your time. As Peter Drucker notes in the The Effective Executive,

Effective executives...start with their time. And they do not start out with planning. They find out where their time goes...this three step process:
Recording time
Managing time
Consolidating time

Recommendations for Implementation

If you work at home or in an office without traveling, I recommend incorporating this practice into your daily routine by either:

1. If you already use a notebook, do it there. Every time you switch tasks, note the time, what you did, and what you are about to do.

2. If you aren't in the habit of taking notes, or already do so digitally, I recommend using a dedicated note-taking app, such as Evernote, OneNote, or Obsidian. I personally use, love, and recommend Obsidian. Make a daily notes page (Obsidian does this for you), and quickly make notes throughout the day.

If you travel, this can be tricky. I recently was on a 3 day trip where I was interacting with clients and using a laptop was not possible. I used my iPhone and a great app called Drafts that allows for rapid entry to a note. Even while I was with clients, it worked without being a distraction to make notes.

These files can be saved later in the app of choice that you use.

As you've read this, you probably realize that this technique is familiar to you already, in that you've done it in specific moments when handling a complex task. Examples include:

  • When you have to give a presentation at work, you write out what you will put in the presentation.

  • When builind an analysis, you note the files you need, how you will connect the data together, and the outcomes you will produce

  • After an important sales meeting, you write down what you will do differently

The concept of interstitial journalism takes event-driven concentration and incorporates it systematically into your routine. The "cost" of implementing it is low: it takes only a few moments before and after each substantial activity, but the gain of it is high: it brings more intentionally, greater awareness, and together that will improve the quality of how you spend your time at work.




I help leaders and teams achieve clarity and alignment so they can reach their potential


Sign up for my newsletter and I will send you a Life Review and Planning Guide to help you create a better future.

© King Strategic Consulting, LLC 2023