How I Use: Day One to Track My Goals

On my recent live session recording for LearnOmniFocus, I happened to mention that I track my goals within the journaling application Day One. The response was reasonably overwhelming - lots of questions as to how I do it!

The truth is, there isn’t anything really scientific, or technically mind-blowing to it. It’s just a case of having a journal where I log my goals and progress towards them. It’s worthwhile discussing how I do this though - as well as why. 

Let’s talk about the why.  Why do I use Day One rather than any other tool? I guess it comes down to association really. I see a journal being the ideal location for storing important information about my life as a whole and goals are a core part of that. That may not be the same for the vast majority of people reading this, however productivity and personal development is exactly that - personal - so this fits for me. 

The how is every bit as simple as the why. Firstly, I set aside a separate journal that is dedicated completed to my goals. That means that I now have three journals in play - Home and FamilyBusiness as well as Goals. There’s a little bit of cross-pollination there as I have both Home and Family, as well as Business goals stored in the Goals journal, however the simplicity of having all goals in one easy to reach location works for me. 

I don’t have any kind of hard and fast rules that govern how I set my goals. It’s more of a loose framework that develop and adapt as the need arises. There are some patterns in play though and the main ones are as follows:

- Goals are split into Areas Of Focus

I’ve separated my life out into some key focus areas and these are represented in both OmniFocus (my ToDo list application of choice) and Day One. Projects and Goals are assigned to each of these. Obviously my Areas Of Focus will be different to yours, however if you are interested, mine are:

  • Me, Myself and I (Personal)
    • Hubster (Spouse)
    • Dadster (Father)
    • Chèz Garrett (Household)
    • Soliam.Biz (My Business)
    • MyProductiveMac (My Website/Blog)
    • Think Productive (Coaching)
    • Brain Gain (Personal Development)

- Areas Of Focus Are Assigned Goals

I personally like to set quarterly goals, and set milestones for these on either a monthly or weekly basis as required. Is there a minimum/maximum number of goals that I will set? The answer is No and there is a very good reason for this. In his book, Living Forward, Michael Hyatt writes about our Areas of Focus having an Account Balance, much like our financial bank accounts. I may be in credit with my Brain Gain Area of Focus, having spent lots of time in the last quarter reading books, studying software and perfecting the use of apps, whereas my focus may have slipped from Chèz Garrett, leaving lots of tasks needing to be completed around the house and a negative balance in that account. So as part of my review process, I assess how much credit I have in each area of focus and schedule my goals accordingly. 

- Goals are broken down into milestones

This may well be the Project Manager side of me coming to the fore, however I find it very difficult to focus on a goal without setting milestones. In the project management world, a milestone is a key event or deliverable that is committed to as part of the project and can act as a measurement for the progress of the project. I will typically break my goals into manageable chunks of work. This is a great practice, as it allows me to make sensible decisions as to how long I should allow the project to run. 

I could set myself a quarterly goal called Write a new children’s book, yet when I break it down into the key milestones (research, drafting the chapters, finding a publisher, editing, final proofing, marketing etc - I’m no author by the way!), it may be that this would be better suited as an annual goal, with milestones set per quarter, or month

- Goal progress is updated weekly in Day One

As part of my weekly review, I update the progress (or lack of) for each of my goals in the journal. This allows me to course correct, if needed and schedule more focused blocks of time for a particular goal if I’m falling behind. If I’m well ahead on a certain target, I can allow less time in the coming week(s) and focus on a different goal that may have been neglected. It’s a system that works for me. 

Drafting Goals

Another reason for using Day One as a goal journal is the ease of putting in check marks for goals. Visually, Day One is stunning and I need to look at something that’s aesthetically pleasing and allows me to see, at a glance, how I’m doing. 

The format of the draft is simple. You’ll see below a Before and After shot of a sample goal. Each AOF has a master entry and the goal’s title will include the time period it has set aside for it - in the case below, it is a goal for the first quarter of 2018. I have this set in bold face. 

Below, you will see the milestones and you can create checkboxes by typing a hyphen and two square brackets, all with a space between each. If the task is complete, then there will be a X between the square brackets. Clicking Done in the top right-hand corner will show you how it looks when formatted. The check boxes are clickable here, which I think looks great. 


Each week, I will update with notes commenting on progress and quite often, I’ll find that I have ideas on how to improve progress with the goal, just by writing in Day One. 

You'll also see that there is a weekly goal, or milestone that is still to be confirmed. That's fine because there will be times when you can't spell out every stage of a project, or goal, at the outset. As the project matures, you'll have a clearer indication as to what steps need to be taken to reach your goal - it can be very much an adaptive process. 

Well - that’s it! As I say, it’s simple, it’s rudimentary yet often the most effective systems are exactly that and this is certainly an effective system for me. It’s working well so far and I have no plans to change. Maybe some ideas here for you too.