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Some Things I’ve Learned After Writing Over 4,000 Daily Journal Entries

Do you ever have those moments when you realize just how quickly the days seem to pass? Days turn into months and years faster than I can believe, but fortunately I have some ways I manage this. In fact, earlier this week I crossed a major personal milestone: On January 2nd I logged my final entry in the daily journal that I’ve kept for the last 11 years! That’s 4018 entries that span nearly 400 pages of a specially-designed journal that I received as a gift from my Aunt back in 2005.

daily journal pages

Here I am flipping through the pages of the daily journal that I just finished filling up.

Not only does this journal help assemble a chronicle that spans years of my life, but the simple act of journaling forces me to actively think about (and then write down) the little things that make up the many little steps along the way.

As I reflected on my accomplishment, and look ahead to starting the first pages of my next journal, I realized how much I’ve learned through the journaling habit. There are a few that stand out, which I’d like to share with you.

  • There’s something about a written journal that a digital one can’t compete with
  • There’s big value in a DAILY journal habit–and keeping up can sometimes be hard
  • It’s not the destination, but the journey–and the journal lets me look back and remember the little details

There’s something about a written journal that a digital one can’t compete with

When I take out my journal and put it on the desk, I hear an earthy [thud] as I let it go and it lands. It’s the same sound an ancient book would make, except the details inside are ones that I’m very closely tied to.

There’s also something very satisfying about flipping through the pages of a big book and seeing all of the memories that have been captured. Sorting lists of posts just can’t compete with that tactile experience.

Writing the day’s entry down helps better commit the details to memory–and I mean the physical act of putting pen to paper–much more effectively than just trying to remember the experience. The short entries I log in the journal allow me to pick out a few highlights (or sometimes lowlights) of any given day.

Daily journaling can be hard, but leverage some good tools to help make that easier

Typically I find some time on the weekend to look back at the week and scribble out a few lines for each day. Unfortunately, sometimes life gets busy with travel (usually work travel), commitments with family and friends, and other priorities that get in the way. Over the course of 11 years, I’ve fallen behind on my journaling a good handful of times.

Fortunately there are some great ways to piece back together what happened last Tuesday (or any day)–and this is a place where technology can help. Here’s a list of some of the different ways I catch back up:

  • Emails – I’ll sort my email (Outlook for work email, Gmail for the personal stuff) by date and look for the date in question. After reading a few emails I’m usually able to remember some other things that were going on that day.
  • Social media – while I’m not much of a Facebook user, I do use Twitter, Instagram, and other social media services. It’s pretty easy to go back through my timeline to find something worth writing about
  • Evernote – I’ve mentioned before that I love using Evernote–and one of the powerful capabilities it has is its search. I’ll search for items created or modified on the day I’m missing
  • Text messages – I will check the history with some of the important people in my life to see what we communicated about

There are certainly others, but you get the idea. These tools are actually helping me keep my classic paper journal filled with interesting stories.

It’s not the destination, but the journey–and the journal lets me look back and remember the little details

One of the best things about this specific journal is that it represents a very low time commitment each day.

picture showing the journal page format

You can see the layout of the journal with the page-per-day that is built out slowly over the years.

The per-day entry length is only 4-lines of a standard letter-sized page, which most days takes under 5 minutes to log.

Because it takes so little time and effort each day, I’m able to spend an extra couple of minutes looking back at “what happened this day 3 years ago”.

Much in the way Google or Facebook give reminders of old posts and pictures, the journal is set up so each day has its own page, making it very easy to look further up the page at “this day in my history”.

I look back and see entries that span from when my wife and I hadn’t even considered dating, through marriage, cross-country moves, and the birth of our wonderful daughter. I see my progression through different job roles–the many opportunities and lessons learned. I see little moments I captured after making new friends and keeping in touch with old. I see some of my thoughts on current events (and also the trends that didn’t last).

Today (January 5th) 5 years ago I wrote about taking my grandmother to the airport. I remember that time together, and as fate would have it that was our last time together before she had a stroke only days later. Would I remember that car ride, acting as “Matthew the chauffeur”, if I didn’t have this little reminder every year?

Each entry sparks another memory of related stories, some of which I didn’t even journal about, but I still remember when I take that walk back through my own past.

Final thoughts

My aunt, who gave me the Journal 10+ over a decade ago, was over at the house during the holidays and I pulled out the journal to show her that it was nearly complete. After we swapped some stories about journaling, she asked me if I had a new one to continue in the new year. My answer was “of course”!

If you’re interested in the specific journal I use, you can find more information and order it here (non-affiliate link). If you do order one, or if you want to keep a regular journal, I’d love to hear about it in the comments section below.

My “Everyday Carry” – Solutions Architect Toolkit 2016 Edition

I’ve been intrigued by the concept of “everyday carry” for years now. If you’re not familiar, you may know it as simply “what’s in your bag“, but the idea is to get people to share a photo and a description of the contents of the bag/briefcase/fanny pack/backpack that you regularly bring with you to work/school/wherever. Today, I’m posting my solutions architect toolkit for 2016 to highlight some of the tools that help support the success I’ve had this year.

Solutions architect is one of the most generic-sounding titles, so here’s a little more context (and if you just want to get to the picture, scroll past this list):

  • I’m primarily a presales solutions architect, so many of my discussions have been with prospective clients who are early in their project (if they even have a formalized project at this point)
  • My company focuses on business software solutions that include some combination of customer relationship management, resourcing, project management, document collaboration, internal communication, sales/service/marketing management.
  • Our targets are typically using the Microsoft platform, especially Exchange for email and Office 365 for productivity software. That said, the audiences I have are a spectrum ranging from non-technical to overly-technical so I switch hats pretty regularly
  • I have discussions with our implementation team as well as our clients to see what worked (and what changed from the original plan) in order to have more productive conversations
  • I do a lot of presenting. Often this is to smaller teams within a company or the business decision makers (typically 5-15 people) but I also find myself in front of larger groups at conferences and on webinars (typically 15-300 people)
  • This year in particular, I tried to embrace “digital whiteboarding” but I will also say that it seems weird to have omitted whiteboard markers from my picture.

Enough preamble. What’s important is that we…

Get to the picture!: My solutions architect everyday carry

solutions architect everyday carry

This simultaneously looks to me like a lot of wires and actually not that many…

  1. 3-in-1 USB cord (Micro USB, Lightning, iPod) – For charging devices. While I haven’t used the iPod connection in quite some time, I’ve been able to loan it out to someone else who was amazed that someone else had one handy
  2. USB DriveFor exchanging files and easy printing to hotel printers. 64GB and the smallest form factor I’ve found that still has a metal cover (that won’t get lost)
  3. USB Multi-Device Power SplitterFor charging multiple devices at the same time. Shout out to Veeam for the conference tchotchke
  4. 6-foot Lightning CableFor charging the iPad. Also for loaning out to the many, many people with iPhones that always seem to need a charge but don’t have a cable for some reason
  5. Apple USB Power AdapterFor charging all the devices. Enough said
  6. HooToo TripMateFor redundant power, network freedom, and file sharing. I absolutely love this device. It’s an especially helpful safety net for when I’m on a guest wireless network (e.g. so I can still use AirPlay for iPad screen sharing)
  7. Microsoft Bluetooth MouseFor mouse-ing. Small, simple, and reliable for the last 3 years.
  8. Logitech Professional Presenter – For controlling slide shows and pointing at things with a green laser pointer. It’s a USB device and has been exceptionally reliable. The roughest part here is that laser pointers are less and less practical (anyone else agree?)
  9. iPad Air 2For showing tablet apps. This is my personal device, but I use it in over 90% of my presentations to demonstrate the Microsoft commitment to iOS devices.
  10. Mini-display to VGAFor connecting to projectors. I prefer the HDMI connection, if possible, but I still see more VGA when I go into conference rooms
  11. Mini-display to HDMIFor connecting to projectors. For the preferred HDMI connection when in conference rooms.
  12. Moto X Pure – For showing mobile phone apps. Like the iPad, this is my personal device but I include it here to highlight the Android ecosystem.
  13. Headphones (1/8″ wired) – While I went through several attempts at wireless headphones, this cheap wired set made it through the whole year.
  14. 10-foot VGA Extender (female to male) – For connecting to projectors (without getting stuck in a weird spot). Like I said, lots of conference rooms have a projector with VGA connector–but I hate getting stuck at the back of the room when the projector’s back there and there’s only a short VGA cable. This extension gives me the flexibility to sit in the right place around the table.
  15. 1/8″ audio to RCA (male to male) – For connecting to sound systems. It’s more often that I use this in my hotel room to connect my phone up to the TV when I don’t want to listen on my headphones while burning the midnight oil
  16. RCA to 1/8″ (female to male) – Used in conjunction with #15 when I need a male to male 1/8″ audio connection. It’s not going to be audiophile quality, but it’ll do in a pinch.
  17. 4-foot Micro USB – For charging my phone and having some slack to still use it
  18. 20-foot Cat-6 network cableFor live software demonstrations on a wired network. Wired connections almost always yield better performance vs. guest wireless networks, and this cable makes sure I’m not stuck at an awkward place around the table.
  19. (not pictured) 20 foot HDMI cable (male to male) – For those times when I need a longer HDMI cable. Very similar to #14 but for HDMI instead of VGA.
  20. (not pictured) Belkin 3-Outlet Travel Charger and 8-foot grounded extension cordFor sharing power when limited plugs are available. Especially useful in older conference rooms. It’s also great for making new friends at airports when there’s a limited number of public outlets.
  21. (not pictured) Laptop computer – Over the course of the year I changed computers 2 times, as folks in my role tend to do. All were Windows 10 machines with touchscreen capability.

So there you have it for my solutions architect everyday carry for 2016. Did any of this catch you by surprise? Have you posted your everyday carry somewhere? Let me know in the comments if you have any ideas.