Daily Notes VS Single Inbox

I noticed that there are a lot of people who are shifting towards a daily-note model, probably popularised by traditional journalling methods like Bullet Journal, traditional journalling, RoamResearch, and so on. My post is really to challenge this status quo.

I came from Roam, and I can vouch that daily-note-pages made it really easy to input things and they would all be date-tagged. I spent an entire year in that system, so this stance doesn’t come from inexperience. It also allows items sent to specific dates to resurface as backlinks.

My question however is…
Are we trying to plug in a traditional system into new technology?

The reason why people had to have daily notes is because they worked on pen-and-paper. You couldn’t just delete and move things around on paper pages. Therefore, you had to have separate pages for each date.

For example, in Bullet Journal, you would have to reference the previous day and copy over bullets that were not done. In traditional journals, we look back at what is not done/processed the previous days and try to work on them/schedule them in months.

I feel like it’s a backwards step.

Here are some cons of using daily-note-pages that I’ve felt came along only in retrospect:

  1. It produces an illusion of collection. It satisfies me when I think something I’ve put into a system will “never be lost”. However, it’s just a collector’s mentality. The truth isn’t about storage, the problem is about resurfaceability, integrability and useability. Most likely, if my thoughts were just left unprocessed, undeveloped, unintegrated, they would have a lot of friction in integrating with other ideas in the future.

  2. It creates a requirement to push backlogged things forward in time because things on daily note pages are susceptible to be “lost” in time. For me, I didn’t realise this was a strain until I started having a lot of backlogged work. I constantly required to bring things I couldn’t complete on today’s date to tomorrow. That constant, subtle urge to push things forward in fear of losing them with time was quite real for me. Not just tasks - even ideas, readings, things I’ve written about!

  3. It makes me feel like I am being productive when I actually am not. This was the big one because I would feel like I’m putting in a lot of information, in hope that someday when I chance upon the same topic, it would be readily available in form of a backlink and voila, serendipitous inspiration! Truth be told, as romantic as that sounds, it has only happened one time since the last year, and my database had become extremely huge with over 120,000 notes.

But what can we do instead? I’m not here to preach anything actually, because I have no idea what works the best. Instead I’m here to spur some discussion on whether a “single inbox” would be far superior to a daily-note-page habit.

Some pros would be:

  1. It forces you to “clean up” the clutter. We all hate cleaning up dirt. But if dirt remains in our PKM system, it can fuzz up the results and dilute its quality. Elimination and discarding is just as important as encoding. There is a reason why the brain was never meant to remember everything - and also I really don’t think it’s a good idea to remember everything. We only want to remember what matters.

  2. It doesn’t require you to keep pushing tasks/dates forwards in time. That friction has grown to be more obvious and painful the more I try to revert back to daily-note-pages after reverting to a single Inbox.

  3. It trades off “effort now” for “effort later”. I find that it has helped with a good habit of doing things now, keeping mental and productive hygiene, instead of procrastinating and postponing things for later.

What do you guys think? Would be interesting to hear your thoughts.

2 Likes

Agree. If you use Daily Notes a s alog of what you did, related to what (like a Project), then they’re really a log and better kept all together adjacent to that project. I use daily notes and need to get better about moving log things to the correct project.

One other use of daily notes is to log what you did by day. As a consultant who tracks time by the hour, I go back over my daily notes when I’m putting in my time card.

The more traditional use of daily notes is real journaling, and they make sense, as-is, for that.

2 Likes