Don't be beholden to your past self

In January this year I bought a beautiful thick Moleskine page-a-day planner. My goal was to keep a daily log-book, tracking what I did, ate, listened to, read – my impressions as I travelled through the year.

On Sunday, July 25, I recorded a blank day. That’s not to say that I faithfully recorded one entry per day every single day for the period leading up to that day - but at the very least I filled it all out from memory when I did have a spare moment. On Sunday July 25, however, I didn’t bother to go back and fill it out.

It was the beginning of the end. The next couple of weeks I used the day planner less as a record of what I got up to day-by-day and more as a planning tool - tracking what I should do and what I actually did (a la David Sparks’ day-planning techniques). Then a switch to work-from-home put paid to that, and the pages August 21 to September 28 were a swathe of blank.

Left: the original log format; right: the day planner format.

I think I’m ready to call quits on an experiment that lasted most of a year. I’m going to keep the book around, but I’m not sure if I’ll ever read through it. Will I really care that on March 3 I didn’t manage to go for a walk at lunch? Will I read page after page for a couple of gems in the book? Probably not. But it can go in my collection of analogue notes.

Source

I think the first few months of daily journalling - especially while I was on holiday and not involved in a 9-to-5 - were interesting and useful. But once I got back into daily work, journalling quickly became just more work.

The last few months have been a balancing act, as I’ve worked out: is it worth my muscling through and continuing to log? Will it become a habit that just becomes second nature, that I do in my sleep? Or has this experiment reached its end, something I’m doing because at the start of the year I decided I should do something for a year?

The first time I asked that question, I was happy to err on the side of persistence. After all, nothing worthwhile is easy, right? But the third or fourth, I decided this was more trouble than it was worth.

So what did I learn?

First, past me is not some font of wisdom. They’re not smarter than present me. At the best, they’re as smart as I am right now.

Second (and most importantly): sometimes the best thing to do is quit.

Specifically, sometimes the best thing you can do is review a thing and deliberately decide to bury it, rather than let it decay into a gentle pile of guilt and procrastination. Set fire to it and let it float out onto the lake of your spare time. If you’re feeling motivated, think of it as buying you the opportunity to say hell yeah to the next exciting thing that comes onto your plate. Or, if you’re in the middle of dealing with the pile-up that is 2020-2021, think of replacing it with nothing much but more time to just…be with yourself.

Real winners quit.

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