A man with brains and a shovel

A blog about goals and obstacles, motivation and procrastination, life's random events and getting things done.

Intent Log

Did you ever get interrupted in the middle of a small task and completely forgot to finish it? Sometimes I have two or three little tasks in my head that are not really worth writing down. "Print that document and file it"; "put an appointment I just made into my calendar"; "send an email to a co-worker". Suddenly someone calls and I totally forget about that appointment and it never makes it into my calendar.

That's why I've started something I call intent logging. Before I even open my calendar, I write a very quick reminder what I'm doing "Susanne 9:00am". Now I can take a moment to open my calendar und put the appointment in. If my phone rings before I can even start, I'm still reminded to finish this task.

The term "intent log" is borrowed from a fail-safe-mechanism of the file system ZFS. Before the data is written to hard disk, ZFS will write it to a fast medium. In case of a power outage, ZFS will look at the intent log first and finish the task.

Handle random interruptions

I've started doing it to be more resilient against random interruptions. I feel so much more relaxed taking a phone call when I know it won't make my current task disappear.

Fight procrastination

The nice side effect is that it brings clarity and focus. As soon as my instant gratification monkey wants to take me for a spin, I can take a look at my current intention and tell the monkey to please wait till I'm done with this little task.

Provide clarity

Finding a word for what I'm doing is also a very powerful concept that provides clarity. Sometimes you are working on a task that seems hard. Writing down a clear doable catchword makes it easier to grasp what you are doing and when the task at hand is done.

Having a clear task also helps you to stay on track.

Stay focused

An example how an intent log provides focus: More often than not, I open my calendar and suddenly see something interesting and I instantly forget about the appointment I wanted to put into my calendar. Having a written down intent helps me not lose track. If the calendar triggers a new activity, I can add another word catchword to the intent log.

Writing the new task down, it somehow has to pass through my rational brain.

Let's assume I just hung up the phone after talking to a client. My train of thought might be "Let me open my calendar and write down this appointment… Oh look Jack's birthday is next week… I haven't seen him since he moved to Hawaii 7 years ago… I wonder how he's doing… I could take a look at his facebook…"

Writing down "look at Jack's facebook" before opening adds clarity and it stops me from goofing off. Most of the time.


How do I technically keep my intent log? I'm using OmniFocus. Pressing Ctrl+Alt+Space opens a small inbox window where I can type it in. Most of the time, I don't add a project or context and check it off right away. If I don't finish it because I get distracted, it is safe in my inbox where it waits patiently.