One of the biggest drawbacks of returning to software engineer from product manager is a significant decrease in the frequency of human interactions. I was fortunate as I became a product manager right before the pandemic and had numerous back-to-back (virtual) meetings with colleagues & customers; I believe I was able to sustain my mental health during the stay-at-home period simply because of daily communications the job forced me, even though a meeting itself did not necessarily have to be enjoyable and productive.
Importantly, the experience told me that verbalizing my own feelings, emotions, and ideas is a crucial action for me to stay motivated and live a fruitful life. That's why I keep writing blog articles on a weekly basis (either in Japanese or English) especially after the pandemic, but I still miss the abundant speaking opportunities I had had in the past. In particular, if you are single and living alone, there is literally zero chance to speak something except at work, which easily makes you depressed.
Therefore, I tried voice journaling everyday in October 2021 so that I can constantly have an opportunity to articulate and speak my thoughts. Although it's not comparable to real human interactions by any means, I expect that the new habit enables me to be more open-minded, spend time more consciously, and improve the quality of life at the end of the day.
What I did was simple—Before going to bed every night, open the Voice Memos app on iPhone and speak about my day to the phone. It didn't take too much time, and an average recording time was about five minutes per day.
Overall, such a daily routine partially met the original expectations but also revealed some important areas of improvement in my life (e.g., inefficient use of time). Now, I strongly prefer voice journaling to traditional hand-written journals, which I used to do until very recently, considering the easiness of sustaining the habit and the fact that the missing speaking opportunities are fulfilled.
With that in mind, my retrospective is as follows.
Keep: Good stuff I'd like to continue
- The habit itself: Voice-based self-reflection is a handy and effective tool for living with more intention.
- Be a loose speaker: Since it's not a formal "speech", I purposely set a lower bar and didn't care too much about what I said in the past. To be more precise, I didn't retry a recording, and I have never listened to the previous recordings again.
- Keep it short: No one cares what I speak, and there is no threshold of "enough duration". Realizing the fact nicely helped to eliminate psychological barriers to the daily habit.
I personally think it's critical for habit-formation NOT to seek perfection, and loosely established routines will last longer.
Problem: What I wasn't able to do well
- Almost the same content everyday: Basically, the audio contents I've recorded in the last 30 days were boring and mostly the same in terms of their structure, like "It's Monday, October 5th. Today, I woke up at 7am and ...".
- Less energetic condition of recording: In fact, voice journaling needs more "energy" (i.e., concentration) to accomplish, but my brain didn't work effectively as I recorded a journal on the bed right before going to sleep.
- Unclear action items: Since I generated boring contents based on fuzzy thinking, the outcomes of self-reflection were not actionable enough and didn't bring any meaningful improvement to my life.
Several studies showed that spending a short period of time everyday for self-reflection positively contributes to individual's productivity and happiness:
- Why You Should Make Time for Self-Reflection (Even If You Hate Doing It)
- This 15-Minute Activity Will Make You More Successful At Work
However, in order for us to maximize the effectiveness, it's also important to do it in the right way with a proper mechanism.
Try: Things to improve moving forward
- Ask thought-provoking question(s) myself: For me, journals are something more enthusiastic and evocative than random memos and diaries. In that sense, I assume having a specific topic to consider makes the habit more meaningful. It could be global news or a problem/question identified during the day e.g., at work.
- State tomorrow's goals and/or action items: The self-reflection process shouldn't overlook a "So what?" piece. Based on the (negative) findings on that day, a speaker needs to aggressively seek small thing(s) to change/act in the next 24 hours.
- Schedule the journaling time earlier: I will first try at 6pm, after the work is finished and before relaxing completely. It would also be a good idea to incorporate audio journaling into my morning routine.
Last but not least, habit-formation requires a proper feedback & reward mechanism in the long run, and the default Voice Memos app won't be an ideal tool regardless of how I practice. Thus, I'd like to iterate the evaluation process while exploring some apps and continuously optimize my journaling habit to maximize the impact. What I look for includes but is not limited to: transcription of the recordings, gamification, and how easy to use the journals as a seed for written blog articles.
Support (Thank you!)
- My 2021 Annual Review: A Year of Divergence (And Slowly Started Converging)
- Quality Habit-Formation: It's Like Casting a Vote on My Desired Identity
- How I'm Working From Home
Author: Takuya Kitazawa
Takuya Kitazawa is a product developer, minimalistic traveler, ultralight hiker & runner, and craft beer enthusiast. Throughout my career, I have practically worked as a full-stack software engineer, OSS developer, technical evangelist, sales engineer, data scientist, machine learning engineer, and product manager. See my "now" page for more about what I am doing lately.
Opinions are my own and do not represent the views of organizations I am/was belonging to.