Get focused with interstitial journaling

If you are like me you’ve struggled with focus during the work day. Maybe tried a bunch of tools to keep track of your tasks and notes but nothing seems to stick over time. Eventually things just pile up and you either clear it out and pray, or work nights with a knot in your stomach.

Interstitial Journaling can probably help with that. It won’t miraculously give you any more time, and it’s not gonna clear out your inbox for you. But it will give you the breathing room you need to spend your time wisely.

I learned this about six months ago from the brilliant community over at Ness Labs and it has really helped me. My clients and colleagues are noticing my new strategic use of time, and I’m delivering a lot more.

Here’s how you do it

Pick a tool.

Pick a note taking tool. It can be anything, but it has to be with you in all situations. Paper works, your phones note app will also work. I use Roam Research but the tool doesn’t matter, it’s all about the process.

Your action trigger

It’s called interstitial because it happens between all your other tasks. Every time you stop doing anything, anything at all, you take a short note in your journal. It’s ok if you forget in the beginning, just take a note as soon as you notice. The important thing is you’re building a habit that will save you time.

What to do

Add a new line in your journal with three things:
The time. What you just did. And what you will do next.

That’s it.

What might this look like?

I usually start off my days quite organised and then suddenly there’s a four hour gap and I restart writing something like “2:15 oh no, I’m on YouTube again”. But that’s ok. The goal here is to create the habit, not to be perfect. You’ll start noticing patterns quickly regardless.

08:20 Finished meditating. Time to clear out my inbox.
08:58 Done with email. Gonna look at my todo list, and pick our the important things.
09:12 Started sorting my todos but I had forgotten my meeting with Annelie, omw now!
13:30 Meeting went well, but then I spent 2 hours “inspiration” browsing on Pinterest… Now I’m gonna cross of my first todos.
13:37 Planned next steps from meeting. Time to prep a presentation.

A fictional, but normal, piece of journal

Why does this work?

We all get distracted. Sometimes it’s simply tired brains wandering, but often it’s priorities changing, ad hoc meetings or calls. We can’t stop being interrupted. So we have to work with the interruptions.

Interstitial Journaling uses this fact by writing down what’s going on at every interruption, or every time we finish something. This way we can learn from the patterns in our lives, and it makes us consciously pick the next thing we’re gonna work on.

This is the core benefit of this form of journaling. Making how we spend our time explicit we become our own personal coaches. Checking that we do our reps, and advising us on what to do next, without the shouting.

A nice side effect is that we can start to notice patterns in how we spend our time. Helping us learn how much time certain tasks really take, and automatically becoming strategic.

It was just my second day journaling this way when I exited a meeting and was just about to resume a project, when updated my journal and realised that there wasn’t enough time before my next appointment. Instead I scheduled time with myself for the project later in the week and did some smaller tasks.

I was being strategic with my time, as a side effect of knowing what I was doing! It blew my mind.

This method has helped me a lot, and I hope it helps you too! Either way, please let me know your thoughts!

One thought on “Get focused with interstitial journaling

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