Intersitial logging

· 1194 words · 6 minute read

When I suddenly get super into tools it’s a warning sign it sometimes takes me a while to heed. It’s a blinking red light on the psychic dashboard telling me “there is something else, maybe just out of the corner of your sight, that probably needs more attention.”

A recent tasks-n-notes tool spinout felt like the liminal moment between deep sleep and awakening to some disturbance. That sense before you’re fully conscious that there is something going on, but your consciousness hasn’t engaged with it yet. It’s just a weird externality in whatever dream you’re having. It was gnawing at me by the time all was said and done.

There are times when I feel okay with all the screwing around and futzing, but things have been hectic recently and I was spending my discretionary time fucking around with tools. I’m not gonna go into the why of it, but once the week had wrapped I had some clarity.

However, one thing I was doing, or at least outcome that was happening was that as I was slowly waking up to the fact that I was deferring a serious conversation with myself, I was reminded that I used to do really well when I journaled. I’ve taken several approaches to that over the years:

  • Essay-length writeups about what’s going on in my head
  • Quick little notes during the day about whatever passed through my field of view
  • Letters to myself at the beginning and end of the day
  • A “what’s going well/what’s not going well/what’s the big task for today?” morning exercise

All are fine. All work better or worse depending on what’s going on with me.

But the idea I came across was what everyone seems to be calling “interstitial logging,” which is really just … logging?

(8:00a) Looking at the calendar. It’s going to be busy.
(9:00a) ITENG standup. Someone needs to look at the Meraki/Envoy thing
(9:33a) Caught a ping about the Zoom renewal. Need to find the MSA from last time.

Some people like to toss todos in. Other people seem to just have a little diary.

I picked it up partially because I remembered that diaries help me focus and clarify what matters, and partially because I was so busy trying to figure out where to put all the stuff that I had to do that I was afraid I’d miss something if I didn’t write down everything in the simplest form possible.

Brief digression about how I’d like to behave for a bit 🔗

I’m consciously not going into how or where I decided to keep my log. Just the process of figuring that out was slightly agonized and wasteful. It’s enough to say it was sort of a grand tour of everything I’ve played around with in the last … 10 or 13 years? To write down little time-stamped notes? The meta got pretty vertiginous by the time I was done.

I did end up making myself pick something though, and it is sufficient to this narrative to say “it is just fine for writing down little time-stamped notes.” More than fine, because you could do that with any number of things, some backed by extensive cloud resources, some operating in a container on a Synology, some running on a way over-provisioned desktop machine, some, like … 3x5 cards or a giveaway vendor swag notebook or a legal pad. I picked something in between “an expensive subscription SaaS” and “the blank side of a piece of cardboard I tore off a soda can case.”

I want this to be the last time for at least a while that I comment on the tools I am using for keeping myself in order. For a few reasons:

  1. After watching enough videos from people who desperately want to be tools influencers I am saturated and tired of the entire frivolous scene. Nobody should take tools advice from people whose job it is to write about tools. I say this as a former tech journalist who wrote an ungodly number of articles about tools whose efficacy I could attest to because look at how prolific I was writing about tools.
  2. As with a few other creative endeavors I share, I could begin to feel the distorting effects of getting attention for the stuff I was writing about and resenting the effect it was having on me. Like, it was super cool to get a few links from an Emacs eminence, and it blew up website traffic, and I was reminded that I don’t do well with that kind of feedback.
  3. There are other things that are more important to me than documenting how I tortured an AI into writing some lisp for me.

I write all this down as a sort of accountability exercise with the ever-shifting procession of faces coming in and out of focus that I think of as “whoever’s going to read this.” I am not sure who that will be because I ripped all the analytics out of my site. For at least a while, I don’t want to know.

So back to what I was saying:

I started keeping my “interstitial log.”

At first there was a little ocean boiling: How do I account for tasks? Do I use this tool or that tool? Which markup format?

I made myself knock all that off and landed on “just make a date heading, then make timestamped entries and write something when it occurs.”

Even then, for a bit the entries were about writing entries. Throat clearing. Like a dog circling its bed 20 times before it finally lies down.

But things began to improve. The entries were what they were meant to be. I got rid of an overoptimization I allowed to creep in (elaborate todo stuff) in favor of making a little annotation either for a thing I wanted to come back to and rethink later, or manually transfer to my task inbox.

The equilibrium I’ve come to is more or less “keep an outline of the day, annotate for followup/recapture, allow the outline to take shape, make sure to sweep it all up to end the day, because you’re starting a new log tomorrow and don’t want to forget anything.”

Looking at a stretch of logs, I feel a lot of affection for them. They’re easy to scan. I can see all the stuff that happened. At the end of the day, because I have made it easy on myself, I can collect everything up that needs to be sorted and take a moment to do that with care, teeing up the next day.

I would like to stick with it for a while for the same reason I buy my underwear, socks, and t-shirts from three single sources, and have in the last few years bought multiples of other things that work for me but are subject to the vagaries of global supply chains and profit-squeezing sourcing fuckery: If it works, just go with that and remove another thing from the list of things you think about.

The tool isn’t why you work.

The process isn’t why you work.

The outcome is why you work.