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Keeping a Journal and Track of your Projects

I love to write. I have been writing a short story and a novel, and hopefully you’ll be able to read both stories fairly soon (well, the novel is written in Norwegian, but the short story will be available in English). The thing about writing is that I have felt a need to keep a journal, and a way to keep track of everything I do. And when I combine writing with marketing, I really need to focus.

But, I haven’t found a way to keep track of everyting using just one notebook or one service, I guess what I’m saying is that I need help to remember.

Writing and doing business

I have started a marketing business, but I am also blogging and writing stories, and I am combining all sorts of activities and that makes it even more important to keep track of everything.

I started out by using a pen and paper (a Moleskin notebook). It worked great for a while, but after a few weeks I had already forgotten what I had been a week ago, and I had no way of searching for past projects and sentences I had added (as part of my writing projects). I had a feeling that the notebook wouldn’t be such a good idea – a notebook would eventually turn into chaos with all my various projects.

I have ended up testing several services, and right now I am using four services to keep everything on track. I have been thinking that I should probably just be using a single service in order to be more productive and feel that I am in more control, but so far, the four services are working out great.

Things for task management

things for task management

I am using Things to keep track of all my tasks. I add a new task, and I delete it when it’s done. I add projects, and add tasks to the various projects. I use Things for my Mac, iPad and iPhone, and it syncs. It makes it easy to add new tasks and always have a complete overview of all my tasks.



I am using BusyCal (a powerful version of iCal) to keep track of all my appointments and to add time to the various tasks. For instance, if I need to attend a meeting, or I need to work on a project, I’ll get all the details in BusyCal (but the details on the tasks will be in Things).



I am using Fantastical to add my appointments and everything else into BusyCal. I know that it sounds weird that I need a software to just add new things to my calendar, but Fantastical makes it incredibly fast and easy to add whatever’s on my mind to my calendar and at the same time, it makes it very easy to get a fast overview of what I need to be doing the current day or the next few days.

Day One

day one

I have just bought Day One, but the one thing I really needed was a way to keep a journal of whatever I am doing. I have all the tasks and projects in Things, and I am using my calendar (BusyCal and Fantastical) to get an overview of everything, but Day One has been the missing piece where I do my writing. I add words (sometimes a lot of words) to every single day of the week. I add words to my tasks, and to my meetings, and to whatever is on my mind. I am using Day One for Mac, iPad and iPhone, and it syncs using iCloud.

Your turn – I’d love some feedback

It might seem a bit much to use all four, but it has been working great so far – but I’d love to get some feedback about what you’re using to keeping a journal and track of your projects. Are you using a notebook or one service, or are you like me and using multiple services to keep everything in order?

41 responses to “Keeping a Journal and Track of your Projects”

  1. Adrienne says:

    Wow Jens, four different programs.

    I’m still with the old school I guess. I have a calendar on my wall and I have a notebook on my desk. I write everything I need to do for the day on my notebook and for reminders months ahead, I write those on my calendar.

    Just like yesterday, we lost electricity for about five hours so I had no internet access. Even if I had gone to my laptop or iPod I wouldn’t have been able to access anything which is why I prefer having them written somewhere. If I have something crucial I need to attend to and can’t be sent a reminder then I can always take my laptop and go to someplace that does have a connection. Of course yesterday, everything in my immediate area was out, not just my home.

    But I can see where it’s convenient if everything remains in place.

    Great share, thanks Jens. Now, enjoy what’s left of the week and have a good weekend.


    • Carolyn says:

      Hi Adrienne, I will say that if you had a smartphone, not that I’m insisting you do, you would have been able to access your calendar during a power outage. I just didn’t want anyone to think that they were out of luck in a power outage with an online calendar. 🙂

    • Hi Adrienne,

      Yes, four different programs is probably three too many 🙂

      I have been looking for one that would do the job, but so far I haven’t found it. I have tried a whiteboard and a notebook, but I am not in my office that often, and since I’m not carrying a bag all the time, I don’t have big enough pockets to carry a notebook. So, I need a program that I can use on my iPhone. Because my iPhone is the one thing I always carry with me 🙂

      But… I’m still looking for that one program that can replace all the others.

      Have a wonderful weekend.

    • Gillian says:

      I agree with pen and paper although sometimes I use an Excel spreadsheet as I can then sort by type of task, degree of urgency, deadline date. If I do I then print it so I always have it but for appointments I use a good old fashioned diary that fits in my handbag.

  2. Carol Lynn says:

    Well, since I can’t read Norwegian, I look forward to reading your short story! These look like cool tools… and also Mac tools which unfortunately I don’t have. I generally use Basecamp for projects because that lests me give clients access to things like to-dos, files and such. But for my own stuff, I like Teux Deux, which is basically a to-do list which is a good place to keep track of stuff you want to remember, and also Evernote which is great for keeping track of a lot of things. Also I use Action method which has an app but also a bunch of paper products that I love. It’s a great organizational tool if you ever want to try something new! And one day when I get my mac, I will check out “Things” – it looks pretty cool!

  3. Terry Conti says:

    Hi Jens,

    I keep a big board in my office but thanks to people like you I am starting to learn that I can keep all my info online so I can get it from any where I am.

    I don’t have to wait to get home to look up important things or what’s next on the agenda.

    What’s between my ears always has a good idea on what’s going on although sometimes you need help with the details.

    Modern technology just keeps on changing and getting better and better.

    Terry Conti

    • Hi Terry,

      I need a board in my office as well. I use all the various programs, but I want a big board or a wall calendar in my office as well. It’s so much easier to focus when I can look at the various tasks (and notes). Maybe I’ll just get a second monitor on my desk 🙂

      I love having all my notes and tasks with my on my iPhone. It makes it so much easier to work and remember things.

  4. Angela Booth says:

    Excellent article, thank you.

    I use Things and Day One, but I journal on paper; I use a huge Leuchtturm 1917 master notebook. I’m a writer, so I start and end my days by journaling in my master notebook to think — it helps me to develop insights and structure my day, and my writing.

    Things is magic; I’ve been using it since it was released in beta. I’ve tried other task managers (OmniFocus etc), but always return to Things. I love it because I can toss anything in there, and have it make sense to me later. I review what’s in there once a week, just to clear the clutter.

    I use Day One to track insights, ideas, and projects. I star the entries I want to remember, and review once a month.

    Both Things and Day One are rock-solid apps, the longer I use them, the more I appreciate them…


    • Hi Angela,

      I need to take a look at that Leuchtturm 1917 notebook. I have been using fairly small Moleskin notebooks, but I wasn’t sure how to use them for anything other than writing short pieces of stories. I tried to take notes, but I would forget where I’d put the various notes (too many pages and notebooks to remember).

      I love Things and Day One as well. I’m still just playing around with Day One, but the design is beautiful and I’ll probably use it a lot more once I understand how to use it for my projects. Now I’m just adding all sorts of thoughts.

      Thanks a lot for your comment.

  5. Carolyn says:

    Hi Jens, Wow, four seems like an awful lot, especially for someone like you who appreciates simplicity in his life. But I say whatever works for you is what you should use!

    I haven’t found my perfect calendar app yet, which is why I haven’t written about one. I sync with my Google calendar, but no app has had a perfect sync for me yet.

    I used to have a great calendar app that was a location-based to do list and calendar combined. I love that app but it stopped syncing with my Google calendar. Worst of all, my repeated emails to customer support went unanswered. They recently updated the app, two years after it died on my, but that’s too little too late in my book.

    I use Evernote for my notes. I love that it syncs with my computer, iPad and iPhone. But I need to write about that!

    Very excited about your short story and novel! My Norwegian won’t be good enough to appreciate your writing fully by the time your novel is published, so I will depend on Google Translate or Worldictionary, I guess!

    • Yes, four is three too many. I have been looking for that one app that would be enough for me, but so far I haven’t found it. So, it works, but it would be better if I had just one single program (at least that’s what I’m thinking).

      I haven’t been using Evernote much lately, not since I started using Day One. They’re very different, but for plain text, Day One has been great.

      I am thinking that I’ll publish the short story at the end of next week 🙂

  6. Sergio Felix says:

    Hey Jens,

    Seems to me like you have been very busy lately man, all those apps look fantastic even though I’m highly technical I still do some old school stuff (just like Adrienne).

    All of this is physical, I have a whiteboard, two monthly planners, several small notebooks and the latest addition a bunch of post it notes everywhere.

    I used to use a few online to-do apps but they didn’t work for me since the more I see something, the more prepared I am to do it and everything that is app based, I just see it when I open the application unlike a physical post-it note that is just there all the time staring back at me.

    Anyway, as soon as I go Mac (if I ever do) I’ll know who to ask since you’re becoming an expert in all of this man, great job!


    • Hey Sergio,

      I’m busy and I’m on vacation at the same time, but I’d rather be in Las Vegas 🙂

      I’ll probably get a wall calendar and a whiteboard as well as soon as I start working inside my office and not inside a tent. That’s my major challenge, since I’ve been “everywhere” lately and that’s why I need to carry my calendar/tasks/notes with me.

      But, having the calendar and the tasks on a wall just next to me is a huge benefit and something I need to start doing once I get inside.

      Have a wonderful trip to Vegas.

  7. Bill Dorman says:

    I’m using Microsoft Outlook for appointments, contact info and tasks. It seem to work pretty well for me. I also keep a desk top paper calendar on my desk but I usually just end up doodling on that.

    When is your short story going to be ready to roll out. I do have an app that translates pages if need be………:).

    My youngest son is in town this weekend, so I don’t know if it’s pizza night tonight or not. I guess I’ll find out soon enough, huh?

    Talk to you soon, tent man.

    • Hey Bill,

      Do you get access to your calendar, notes, tasks etc. from your phone? That’s important to me, and the reason why I keep testing different apps.

      My short story will be available at the end of next week. And it’s in English 🙂

      Take your son to an all you can eat pizza restaurant, I would have done that 🙂

      • Bill Dorman says:

        Yes, my computer and phone are totally synced up. Other than customer files, my phone does everything my computer does and I have the same access.

        Two Papa John’s pizzas last night. One thin cheese because my wife likes thin and one regular tomato and onions. Yummmm……….:).

  8. Hajra says:

    Hey Jens,

    I am so bad with technology that I don’t put too many fingers into it. I use my smart phone and a little planner to get me through the day and that suits me just fine.

    As for having these; I really wouldn’t know how to manage so many! But maybe when I am super rich and when I have too many tasks to accomplish all within a day! 😉

    • I’ve been thinking that instead of having many projects and tasks simultaneously, I should be focusing on one project at a time and few tasks, and only take notes related to that project 🙂

  9. Ben says:

    Hi Jens 🙂 For now I’ll just say thank you for sharing these programs, and I will be checking out a couple of them – Things, and Day One. Anything that helps me with keeping track of my to-do lists is something worth considering 😉

  10. Sue Price says:

    Hi Jens
    4 different programs is definitely too many for me. I would forget to look in some of them 🙂
    I use Outlook as my calender and task list. I sync it with my iPhone. I am pretty organized but it needs to be simple for me.
    I look forward to reading your novel and short story but will need the English version 🙂
    Thanks for a great post. It is always interesting to know how people plan and work their day.

    • Hi Sue,

      Yes, 4 is a bit too much. But I am using them for different things and that’s probably why I don’t forget 🙂

      – but I’m still looking for that one program that will help me with everything.

  11. Kesha Brown says:

    Hey Jens, I definitely have to keep a project journal or I’d be lost! So what I do is use Toodledo, a task management cloud service (similar to the Things service you’re using). Though they have a free version, I use the pro version because it offers ‘project management’ like features like subtasks.

    Then I sync that with my phone using Go To Do app on Android.

    Lastly, only because I’m still sort of a pen and paper chick, I have a daily written journal of items to complete that day pertaining to a particular project (beyond the regular to do list).

    At the end of the day, I just love love love going to Toodledo and marking items off the list. Yah!

    • Hi Kesha,

      I have also been thinking about having a notebook for the tasks and notes I am doing on that particular day. I always find the things I do with pen and paper to be more real, maybe I’m just old school, but it really helps.

  12. Matthew says:

    Thanks for presenting awesome tools for organizing the work. These tools will help you improve your productivity and there will be no confusion in performing various tasks.

  13. Jack says:

    I use Google Calendar/Docs and my Droid. Between the two I keep my phone and computer synced. I have found it to be the easiest way to stay on track.

    Some of those programs you mentioned sound interesting but I don’t think I could manage four different ones effectively.

    • I haven’t found an app that makes Google docs easy enough for me to use on my iPhone. That’s why I’m currently using Day One. But Google Docs is a great alternative and it’s free.

  14. BJ says:

    My old boss used to use BusyCal, Jens and swore black and blue that it was the greatest thing to even come into her life! I’ve never a big journal/diary user but at the same time I’ve always very poorly organised. Having just purchased a new apple macbook perhaps the time has arrived to get my organisin’ on and try the BusyCal like you’ve suggested 🙂


    • Hey BJ,

      Your old boss sounds like a wise woman 🙂

      I really enjoy BusyCal, and now that I’m combining it with Day One (on my MacBook, iPad and iPhone), BusyCal works great.

      Did you purchase the MacBook with the retina display?

  15. Darcy says:

    Keeping a journal or a calendar is one of those things that I just know is good for me but I can never seem to snap into it as an ongoing habit. Do you have any advice, Jens, for a non-Mac user in terms of motivating ones self to start a journal? I know that may sound silly but I honestly can never stick to one – electronic or otherwise – and I know that it is holding me back in terms of my projects and staying organised!

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