The Life Database: Spreadsheet Journaling

I used to be a compulsive journaler.

It’s funny reading people exhorting its benefits, and how hard it is to keep up. For me, it had become an addiction.

It was hard for me to get it started, though, same as everyone else. And at first it was a purely positive thing. But at a certain point something clicked, and it became easier to journal than to not. It became an escape, a kind of entertainment by amplifying and capturing my fantasies, hopes, and fears in my records.

The Spreadsheet Saved Me (Eventually)

One problem with getting too into journaling is that you can start to feel anxious if you don’t record something.

“What if I let this moment slip away? I’ll never remember it,” you start saying to yourself.

Of course, it’s ridiculous in a normal long-form journal to be such a moment-hoarder. Be it searchable or otherwise, you’re never going to go back over it for all those random moments. The present moment tends to have it’s own demands!

It was a self-deception, too. Even when I did try to search through past entries to find some detail that mattered in the present, I mostly found pages and pages of emotional tail-chasing.

(Btw: This kind of compulsive life-capturing is probably the introverted version of what social media addicts have.)

To make my journaling habit healthy again, I needed a way to capture the main points of the day, in an easily searchable form, that is naturally restrictive.

The spreadsheet ticked all the boxes.

Phil von Stade

I watched this video a LONG time ago, and I’m so glad I did.

I’m not as thorough as Phil in my own spreadsheet. I don’t feel I need to be.

It’s enough to have a core backbone to my life log database. As long as I keep that up, I’m good.

The Life Log Backbone

  • Date
  • Location
  • Notes

These three column freed me.

Date on the left, and there is a row for every day. Next to that is location. I log where I woke up that morning.

And finally, notes. Just notes, not “entry”. I try to keep the notes short enough to be visible in the cell, but sometimes they need to be a little longer. It’s never turned into an hour long journaling session, though. Something about it being a single line of text keeps me very focused on recording the main event of the day.

For a while I tracked time asleep, units of alcohol drunk, cigarettes smoked, and all kinds of other things over to the right of this backbone. Those can come and go. When they go – when I lose interest in tracking a thing, I can just move that column away, off-screen. The log is kept without being a distraction.


The spreadsheet made my journaling life healthy again. It might be just another crutch – something to cling to when life gets to unpredictable or disappointing – but it’s a far less time-consuming crutch.

Plus, if the police ever ask me where I was on 23rd of May, 20-whatever, I can tell them.

I think that’s pretty cool.




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