#labrat: Are Daily Logbooks Worth the Work?

We have a whole new #labrat experiment to try, and we need your help!

There’s been a lot of buzz this year about a new productivity tactic, one that helps you recognize and fix bad habits, avoid burnout, be happier at work, and have real, tangible progress to keep you moving towards your goals. It’s called journaling, also known as keeping a diary or, our personal favorite, a “logbook.” As Austin Kleon, whose daily logbook inspired us, explains:

From the Wikipedia entry for “logbook”: A logbook was originally a book for recording readings from the log, and is used to determine the distance a ship traveled within a certain amount of time. The readings of the log have been recorded in equal times to give the distance traveled with respect to a given start position…. The distance the ship traveled. I like that.

At the end of every work day, take five minutes to jot down the main events of each day. It can be a bulleted list, have doodles, or not. But getting at least five facts of the day down is the only goal. 

The idea of having a tangible “I was here, I conquered” list sounds wonderful and all, but at the end of my work day, usually the last thing I want to do is spend even five more minutes in the office, much less trying to pull up the mental energy for reflection then. But it’s hard to ignore all of the smart people who have shown it to be a good idea.

So for the next week, Monday, April 7th through Friday, April 11th, I’ll be keeping and sharing my own logbook with you. By the end, I hope to find out if keeping one is actually feasible, and if looking back on that data is actually beneficial as well.


Starting was a little uncomfortable. How much do I share? It was hard to decide what was a noteworthy event of the day and what was just noise. Kleon, one of my main, earlier mentioned inspirations, doesn’t include emotions in his — just events. I’d like to use my data to fix issues of stress/bad repeating patterns though, so the clear-cut emotions (this went badly, this was good, etc.) seem important to me.

Side note: feel free to keep your logbook online, on your phone, or whatever kind of medium you prefer. There’s a lot of good suggestions in the comments, and writing it out by hand is just how I remember things best.


Today I updated my logbook in the little spare chunks of time that presented themselves, instead of the end of the day. This made for an end-of-day wrap up that was much more reflective and less of a scramble to get it done so I could finally leave work. Plus, it meant I added things as I finished them, which also helped to decide what was worth recording.


Definitely into updating throughout the day; it gives such a sense of validation, even if the entire project itself isn’t complete yet. Also, it’s only been three days, and already it’s becoming clear that mornings are not my thing. For any #labrats who have followed along before, this shouldn’t come as a total surprise though. Have you started to notice any trends you weren’t entirely aware of yet?


I had a lot of juggling to do today, more reactive work, which made filling this out a lot harder. I didn’t really find time to do it until 6 p.m., which at 7:30 p.m. now, was basically the end of my day. I have the itching suspicion that I forgot a lot of smaller tasks or busy work — how many times can you really write “email” though? However, I also know that keeping a more detailed log than this would immediately make me drop it entirely. How specific or exact do you try to be?


Last day! I was able to take some data from the other days (like how, by 6 p.m., I’m too burnt out for creative work) and restructured my day today to do all of my creative-producing work in the a.m., with the more mindless, reactive tasks later in the day. Made Friday much more enjoyable, and my work flow totally manageable! I’m thinking now of continuing on on my own, and checking back in a month to see if I can crunch some real big data to then share with everyone the next step of getting the helpful info out of this whole practice.

How did your day go? Keep your own daily logbook and share your progress + photos in the comments, on Twitter, and Instagram with #labrat. Every day I’ll pick my favorites and share it with your fellow labrats.

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Do Fewer Things, More Often

By Michael Lester

By Michael Lester

Entrepreneur and VC Mark Suster lives by this rule: “Do Less. More.” In a time when you could fill an entire work day just staying apprised of what’s happening in the Twittersphere, or devote more time to cool conferences than to being at your desk getting things done, the key to productivity is doing less, better and more often.

Here’s what that actually means:

Do less. And do the things that you ARE doing better and with higher quality. Have a shorter to-do list with more things that are in the “done” category. Do fewer business development deals but make the ones you do have more impact…. You don’t need to be hot. You need to be successful and those are two different things. Success often comes from doing a few things extraordinarily well and noticeably better than the competition.

You can’t do everything, or be everything, all the time. For accomplished creatives, that could be a difficult truth to swallow. There are projects that may never make it past the brainstorm stage. There are ideas that may never grow beyond kernels of thought. But that means that the ones that do will be kick-ass.


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For Every 10 Hours of Haters, Spend 50 With Your Cheerleaders

By Jim Tsinganos.

By Jim Tsinganos.

Psychologists have long known about the “negativity bias”—the notion that our negative comments and moments have an outsized impact on our psyche. This means even a single online comment or snide remark from a friend has a profound effect on us. And, if we’re not careful, those comments can infiltrate our own thinking. When freelance writer and lifestyle blogger Melissa Sonico started her line of mixed-material necklaces, she discovered it was her friendships that burdened her passion:

To put it short, I’ve really learned who my friends are in this process and, unfortunately, who they aren’t. I’ve found out that any little bit of success can produce spite and competition, and none of that is for me so I’ve had to streamline my friendships… I’m so lucky to be part of an immensely supportive and inspiring community of makers and creative. Just having their encouragement and help has been integral in my success… A support network is vital. Your family, friends, peers; having people behind you and cheering you on is so so important.

Design entrepreneurs Sean McCabe and Ben Toalson compare this scenario to a hole in the ground. The naysayers are at the bottom of the hole, you are standing by the edge and your support community is above ground.

If you’re hanging around people that are in a hole, it’s much more likely they’re going to pull you down than you are going to pull them out. That doesn’t mean we can’t minister to all the people in holes. When you’re with negative people, go on the offensive… Go in and plant the seed that might turn into a vine that will help them climb out of that hole. Don’t stick around too long and try to pull everyone out because you might get dragged in… When you hang out near or in the hole with those people, I imagine you’ve got one hand reaching up with other people outside of the hole holding on to your hand that are ready to hoist you back out when you’re ready.

If possible, McCabe and Toalson suggest you cut these people out of your life completely. Unfortunately, this cannot be done with everyone (such as some family members). You can, however, scale down the time you spend with the Debbie Downers in your life.  

McCabe recommends offsetting any negativity by a factor of 5 (10 hours of negativity = 50 hours of positivity). This may seem like a lot, but remember the weight that even one negative comment can carry. When you are with negative people, be on the offensive. Understand that even if they don’t say discouraging things, their negative mindset may rub off on you. Don’t go looking for confirmation and inspiration. Be the inspiration. Ask about what they enjoy doing, when they did it last, and how they can find more time for it. Then find a support network that can inspire you.


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Use Deadlines & the Eisenhower Matrix to Make Long-Term Goals Accessible Today

By Caba Kosmotesto for the Noun Project

By Caba Kosmotesto for the Noun Project

There’s a difference between a task or project being “urgent” and it being “important.” Urgent things have to be done immediately; like returning a critical email, handling a top client request, or meeting a deadline. Important things, on the other hand, contribute to a long-term goal. For example, the book you’ve always wanted to write or the website you’ve long thought about launching are important, not urgent.

In the quest for meaningful work, it’s important (so to speak) to distinguish between urgency and importance. If you’re forever bogged down by must-do’s to the detriment of would-like-to-do’s, you’ll have little hope of accomplishing what consumes your daydreams. As Mattan Griffel, founder and CEO of The Front Labs, writes on The Next Web, it’s within your power to make important tasks seem more urgent than they are, simply by the order in which you prioritize them.

The easiest way to make an important task urgent, and make sure it gets done, is to give it a deadline. Deadlines are actually what makes urgent tasks urgent: the fact that you have to deal with them immediately. A lack of deadlines is also often what makes important tasks so unimportant. They’re usually the kind of thing that you can get to eventually….

One way to make a deadline more serious is to state it publicly. When you’re publicly accountable to a deadline, then you can’t fool just yourself…. Another way to make a deadline more serious is to set up a reward for hitting a deadline and/or punishment for not hitting the deadline…. It’s very easy to ignore a deadline unless you have a constant reminder. Urgent tasks often have reminders built-in, like your friend or spouse who keeps bugging you to do something.

These days, we’re beholden to our calendars and inboxes as technological tools that structure our days. Being as time-strapped as we are (whether that pressure is self-created or not), we’d be lost without these organizational mechanisms. Very little beyond the planned agenda or lengthy list of to-do’s ever gets done.

To combat the issue, try out the Eisenhower Matrix. It’s a quadrant that asks you to plot out what on your plate is important vs. not important, and what’s urgent vs. not urgent. The quadrant that contains “Not Urgent but Important Tasks” is your sweet spot. Only if you make an important project inescapable in your daily productivity routine will you make headway on it.

As Picasso put it, “Only put off until tomorrow what you are willing to die having left undone.”


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The Argument Against 5-Year-Plans: You Can’t Stay Adaptable Without Room to Change

By Bernd Struckmeyer

By Bernd Struckmeyer

Whether you run your own studio or work in an office, having an adaptable business plan is essential. With rapidly advancing technology and the ever-changing workscape, being open minded, reflective, and ready to learn has never been more important. In the latest issue of HOW MagazineAnna Bond of Rifle Paper Co. encourages us to take risks and learn as we go in order to stay adaptable:

A lot of the people we talk to are really afraid of growth, and we just always approached it head-on and figured it out as we went… We still don’t make plans very far in advance because it’s really important to be nimble and be able to react to opportunities that come up very quickly and sort of change course if you need to. I feel like we’ve done that a lot. Sometimes the unexpected will come up and we’ll be like, ‘Oh, this is actually a great decision – it’s not what we were planning, but let’s just go for it,’ and it may change the course of what we were intending, but it ends up being great for the company.

Bond is able to stay adaptable because she approaches her work with an open mind. Rifle Paper Co. was founded because she took the time to review online responses to her freelance work. The largest response was to her unique style of wedding invitations which she transformed into the off-the-shelf stationary of Rifle Paper Co. But it’s not only through our past work that we’re able to shift into new things. We also need to be looking forwards and gaining new skills in order to open new doors for ourselves. Elizabeth Suzann, Nashville fashion designer, advises continuously learning more of your process, from start to finish:

Since starting Elizabeth Suzann, I learn something new about design and beauty every day. I’ve been motivated to learn as I go. Every task done in my studio, whether it be sewing, packaging or marketing, I have done myself at one point. I still work daily with my production team, too. I am always paying attention to detail and hope to improve my work as often as possible.

Suzann not only continues her learning within design, but in every aspect of fashion production. This provides her with the background knowledge to adjust her company accordingly—you can’t pivot quickly if there are huge gaps in the knowledge of your own process. Learning through trial and error feels risky, but it’s such a valuable learning experience. It took Bond three runs to perfect her first batch of greeting cards due to the manufacturing learning curve. Instead of standing still and waiting for change, Bond embraces it. “We just did it,” she says. “It may not have been perfect, but we just always moved forward.”

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Don’t Compare Your Hustle to Their Highlight Reel

By Noel Anderson

By Noel Anderson

Inspiration and learning can quickly turn to resentment when we compare our talents with those of others. Our joy becomes tainted as we struggle in our own process while also viewing our peer’s finished, perfected work. In an interview with The Great Discontent, painter Rebecca Rebouché reminds us that everyone has to do that unglamorous hustle before the pretty, finished product and you should embrace it:

I have this saying: “There’s no music playing when your dreams are coming true.” That is the hustle. The hustle is humbling and, at best, completely authentic and gracious. Everyone sees me at the gallery opening, but no one sees me changing my clothes in my car. I could almost cry thinking about all the ways I’ve hustled, sacrificed, and scorched the earth with my striving. But what you start to realize is that hustle isn’t just for the novices and underdogs—hustle is a mindset, a practice.

Social media allows us to edit our creative process to a beautifully linear procedure. We often only see someone else’s end result, but not the time and energy involved. We don’t see the long hours clocked at the studio, the missed social outings, the self-doubt, setbacks and failures. This is the part of the process that we tend to forget when we compare ourselves to others. Minimalist Joshua Becker notes that we generally compare the worst of ourselves with the best of others.

Comparison is dangerous because we lose focus of our own goals. We get distracted by someone else’s achievements and feel discouraged about our own progress. Becker emphasizes that everyone has messy process, whether we see it or not. The key is to keep your eyes on your own work, and not lose sight of the hard work everyone has to do to get to the shiny highlight-reel-only we see on their social media profiles. Looking to others is important for inspiration and learning, but not analyzing. Comparison should only be done with yourself. Set achievements that are important to you and celebrate them when they are reached.


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The Creative Benefit of Complete Ignorance

Although research is an important stage in the creative process, it can also hinder creativity. It fills our mind with ideas that have already been done and blocks original thinking. Being well versed in the requirements of a project can help with preparation, but it can also prevent us from taking risks. In her 2015 Harvard University commencement speech [above], actress Natalie Portman encourages graduates to act on their ignorance:

Your inexperience is an asset and will allow you to think in original and unconventional ways. Accept your lack of knowledge and use it as your asset. I know a famous violinist that told me that he can’t compose because he knows too many pieces so when he starts thinking of a note, an existing piece immediately comes to mind. Just starting out, one of your greatest strengths is not knowing how things are suppose to be. You can compose freely because your mind isn’t cluttered with too many pieces and you don’t take for granted the way things are. The only way you know how to do things are your own way.

The next time you have an idea, skip over the preparation and research phase. If you are writing a Western screenplay, don’t binge watch every single Western ever made. Just start writing. By watching what has already been done, your mind will have trouble finding it’s own path to originality. In some cases, it’s better to jump head first into the idea and then come back later on to fact-check details. It is also a lot easier to begin a project if you aren’t intimidated by the amount of work involved. Portman explains that it was due to pure ignorance that she accepted her now iconic role in Black Swan:  

People told me that Black Swan was an artistic risk, a scary challenge to try and portray a professional ballet dancer. But it didn’t feel like courage or daring that drew me to it. I was so oblivious to my own limits that I did things that I was woefully unprepared to do. So the very inexperience that in college that made me feel insecure and made me want to play by other’s rules, now was making me actually take risks that I didn’t even realize were risks.

Portman was so confident in her skills that it wasn’t until she actually started preparing for the film that she realized her vast limitations. However, instead of letting it hinder her, it motivated her to work even harder. She adds that if she had known her limitations at the time, she never would have taken the risk. That same blind confidence and hard work lead her to produced her first film A Tale of Love and Darkness. The film is a period piece, completely in Hebrew, and co-stars a child actor. These are all challenges for a film that she should have been terrified of, but handled through belief in herself and hard work.

Research is an important part of the creative process and an idea cannot go to production without it. However, when you are in the beginning phases and experiencing inspirational blocks, try skipping it. The process is there to be a guideline, not a hard and fast rule. Dive into your idea, or as Portman puts it: Dive into your obliviousness. It may turn out to be the greatest project you ever worked on. Ignorance is bliss, but it can also be a creative advantage.


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Invite the Right Amount People to Your Meeting with the 8-18-1800 Rule

By Marta Colomer

By Marta Colomer

It’s tough to find the sweet spot of just the right quantity of people in a meeting. Too many and nothing gets done. Too few and… nothing gets done.

Harvard Business Review’s book Running Meetings suggests a helpful rule of thumb for determining how many people to include in a meeting using the 8-18-1800 rule:

If you have to solve a problem or make a decision, invite no more than 8 people. If you have more participants, you may receive so much conflicting input that it’s difficult to deal with the problem or make the decision at hand.

If you want to brainstorm, then you can go as high as 18 people.

If the purpose of the meeting is for you to provide updates, invite however many people need to receive the updates. However, if everyone attending the meeting will be providing updates, limit the number of participants to no more than 18.

If the purpose of the meeting is for you to rally the troops, go for 1,800—or more!

It’s worth taking this approach a step further and actually explaining to your invitees, whether in the meeting invite, in separate conversations, or in your introduction during the meeting itself, why you’ve included them. When each person in a meeting knows why they’re there, and thereby what value they’re bringing to the table (literally), they’re much more motivated to participate productively. It’s an especially key step to take during hectic or pressured times when people’s time is more precious than ever.

It’s up to you, the meeting organizer, to invite the right amount of people and then make the case for why your invitees should devote this chunk of valuable time to the matter at hand. When you do them that courtesy, they’ll return it with their intellectual output.


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