Musings of a Data professional

Stuart Moore

Month: June 2020

Journaling, my year so far

No, this isn’t an in depth discussion of various *nix filesystem internals. This is about the old fashioned idea of keeping a written journal on a regular basis.

I’ve been journaling for most of 2020 so far, 158 days of entries so you can work out the miss/hit ratio yourself 🙂

I started on the first of January, wanting to capture what I actually do and achieve over a year. And also as a way to record things like mood, sleep and my running. Not because of any great historical legacy, but just because I wanted to see how things correlated and see if I could improve things

Starting off

I started off as cheaply and easily as I could, with a £1 reporters notebook and the first pen I could find with ink in it.

My original journal. Cheap as chips from Wilkos

The first entries were very perfunctory, and usually just a single side of writing. Picking a random day in February I seem to have been concerned about Project ‘X’ at work, the chance of getting rained on during the next day’s run to the office, and if I needed a smaller notebook for my ToDo list so I was more likely to carry it around.

So, no Earth shattering revelations or Zen like wisdom seeping out 38 days in then.

Getting into it

It really has come into it’s own as we’ve been locked down for COVID. Looking back now I can see we started out personal lock down on 14th Mach (we’re so cool, we started early) as that was the first mention of C’s illness. In that way it’s been good to keep track of that happens when time and life seem to go very slow or almost stop.

Not being in the office, and having to rely on the magic that is Teams to talk anything through it’s not always possible to gauge what’s going on or what the end game is, and to simmering over insignificant issues.

Often, just writing something down is enough to see a solution or take some weight off. I’d quite often find it wasn’t as big an issue as I expected, or that it’s something I need to flag up for a more senior answer. Not having anyone looking over my shoulder I’m freer to write down the first answer that comes to mind, and then to negate that in the next sentence as I spot why it was a stupid idea. Gradually inching my way to a solution

The longer I’ve been journaling, the longer my entries have become and the easier I’ve found to just put down anything that comes to mind. When I started there was a bit of hesitancy that you’re ‘oversharing’, but the realisation creeps in that you’re only sharing what you already know with yourself.

Occasionally I’ll throw in a prompt to make me think about something. Nothing to deep, so I stick to the 3 standards that all Journaling sites recommend:

  • What are you grateful for today
  • What do you want to achieve tomorrow
  • What went well today

I tend to throw these in if the entry seems to be a bit of a downer. Just because I’ve been struggling with a SQL Server bug for hours, it doesn’t mean that the day was a complete write off, so this forces me to think back and look for something good in the day. Or if the day has been a hell storm of despair, I can acknowledge that but try to give myself something to look forward to tomorrow.

It’s also a great way to spend 15-20 minutes concentrating on something that doesn’t involve either your work or home life. You might be writing about them, but the action is completely separate. I tend to finish the kitchen chores in the evening and then spend the time before I head up to bed sitting at the kitchen table writing it out. I find it leaves me calmer and a bit more peaceful as I head upstairs.

You don’t need to handwrite it! I’m sure, like myself, and a lot of people reading this don’t write long hand much outside of meetings. I wanted to improve my handwriting this year, so writing things out in long had to make sure I practiced regularly. I also wanted to make sure I wasn’t distracted by any incoming alerts or the ‘Oh, I could fix that quickly’ thoughts. If you want to just write a daily .txt file in your Journal folder, that’s great as well.

To me the real benefit just comes from the doing, not how you do it. My journal is pretty plain, maybe a horizontal line between entries, but that’s about it, but it works for me. If you prefer some drawing, or more colour a la Bullet Journals then that’s great as well

I don’t beat myself up if I miss a night. Real Life crops up a lot, if we’ve been out then it might too late by the time we get back. Or if I’ve been out for a couple of pints my handwriting goes from bad to unreadable pretty quickly. I’ll try not to miss more than one night on the trot though. With Covid we’ve not been anywhere, but I’d take my journal with me in future.


Like all habits, once you’re on the treadmill and have a routine then it becomes second nature. I look forward to writing each evening now, and even treated myself to my first fountain pen since High School 28 years ago, some quality ink and a nice Lamy notebook

my current journalling

Now I have the routine, I’m not sure if I’d want to stop really. It has been good to flick back to see what’s happening or remind myself that things are changing. And there will always been something to write about

Give it a go

So, go find an old notebook and a biro, or fire up your text editor of choice, and give it a go for a couple of weeks, you might find up you enjoy it and keep on going for a lot longer.

The ‘Done It’ list

I love my todo lists. Writing down everything I need to do stops me worrying that I’ve forgotten something. I even put on todo items to remind me to strop working and take a break or do some exercise.

But, just like every other IT worker, something new will crop up. Your Boss wants some information on a spreadsheet, an urgent all hands Teams call crops up or that misbehaving app on your machine that takes an hour to fix.

There things pop up and throw your entire day out of whack, and your To Do list looks more and more like a wish list than a plan. After a few days of this it can start to get really disheartening as you fall further and further back from where you want to be. I was finding this more and more as I’ve settled into working from home during lock down

So now my To Do list also has a ‘Done It’ section. Anything that comes in and has to be done that day gets added to the list, but prefixed with ‘+’. This means I have an easy way to see what has come in and bumped things off of my list.

If it doesn’t need to be actioned the same day the it goes onto my planner list for actioning at a more appropriate time in the future

At the end of the day, if I have tasks that I haven’t ticked off on my to do list, then I can quickly see if they were pushed off by too many incoming tasks. I also have a better list of what I HAVE done, not just what I had planned to do that day.

After a couple of days I get a better feel for how much overhead I need to leave each day to cope with these unknown tasks that are going to come in. So I can make an allowance in how much I commit to each day to make sure I get things done. If I’m strike lucky and noting unseen come in, then I just pick more task off of my planning list to fill up the rest of the day.

Remember that your to do list should be a good indication of not only what you want to achieve on the day, but also a realistic list of what you CAN achieve that day. If you’ve listed more to do than you can, they you have a wish list not a to do list.

Break in service

First off, apologies to everyone who who was following the 31 days of dbatools Backup and Restores, I will finish it off! Just need to get back into a bit more of a stable routine so I’ve got time to finish it off.

Like everyone else my life has had a big change with the current COVID lockdown in the UK. I’m pretty lucky that I can work from home and that my employer wants us to keep working so no risk of redundancy or furloughing (yet 🤞)

Not having a proper home office made the first couple of weeks quite painful, as long days at the kitchen table weren’t kind on my back. But with some luck on eBay, I’ve now got myself somewhere more ergonomic to work.

Getting used to this new way of working, and also having to pick up some new skills (today I’ve been debugging a JS app) has meant working on my setup, planning skills and the software I have available to me. So there’s going to be some posts on those topics coming up over the next couple of weeks as they’re easier to fit in around my current schedules.

Hope everyone else is doing well in lock down, and look forward to when we can start getting back to meeting up at Data Platform events.

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