Taking Notes

As I embark on applying the comments I gleaned during the Song punch list read, I wanted to write a little about how I keep track of what I’ve done and need to do.

The problem, of course, is distraction. In common with most people, I have a lot of things competing for my attention: family, day job, relationships, games, writing, media… there are so many things to do with your time and so many of them are either urgent to the point of exclusivity or just shinier than The Work. I also have a cluster of ADD symptoms and behaviours which mean I will get entirely absorbed in one thing, or be easily pulled away from the necessary tasks by tastier ones.

And I am trying to write too many things at once.

Staying on track with all of this is not trivial. The Three Things approach has helped immeasurably in prioritising my time, but it doesn’t capture details of how that time should be employed.

My answer is to take notes. Lots of notes.

I write down:

  • what I am working on
  • how it’s going
  • why it’s not working
  • tickable lists of things that need to be addressed
  • hierarchical tickable lists of tasks that need to be decomposed
  • discussions of how I should approach problems and outcomes of the tasks
  • tables summarising work

I’ve described my common notes system and that is where long term records of outcomes live, but there are some specific files that keep me on track and which I have only described in passing elsewhere.


My goals file is at the core of my implementation of Three Things. It’s a file with the newest action at the top and with the following subsections in this order –

  • year – the three things for the year, usually copied from my Things post for January
  • month – three things for that month, at least one of which should relate to an annual goal
  • week – three things for the week commencing Monday
  • day – three things for the day, tickable to mark success

Each of these sections can have as many notes as are appropriate, but most of the discursive commentary goes into the daily notes. I write notes on progress here, with substantial notes on outcome in the appropriate project notes file.


I have a file which contains one line per day in which I record the things I worked on. for example, the log line for Monday read:

09-Jul-2018 - Song PLR (100% - yay!); blog (PLR)

… because I finished the punch list read for Song and then wrote a blog post about it. This file is where I see daily progress most easily — previous days had smaller percentages for the PLR work, for example. I have used this file in the past as a source of metrics on how fast I work so that I can estimate when similar tasks will be finished.

Other Versions

That’s it: a pile of project files, a place to put goals, and a place to log work.

I have been using a related system at the day job for a long time, long before my use of Three Things, and I didn’t want to disrupt a system that was broadly working, so the same components appear in different places:

  • log – recorded in a weekly notes file that I create at the beginning of each new week. This is also where I record progress on tasks I am undertaking, so it incorporates that element of the goals file as well.
  • goals – my goals record is in a different file called “next” which I use to hold only the most recent set of things. It’s ordered as year, quarter, sprint since we use a scrum-like process to organise work on tasks.

So that’s how I make and stick to my plans. I occasionally use ancillary files during specific pushes (eg the third pass touchstones spreadsheet, or my NaNoWriMo goals spreadsheet) when the information is not best captured in a text file, but these are the core tools for my process.

Now, what was I doing again?

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