Uncharted Waters

Jul 30 2015   12:49PM GMT

Revisiting the Objective Journal

Michael Larsen Michael Larsen Profile: Michael Larsen


Twelve years ago, I made a decision to go back to school. In the process, I downshifted my reality for two years. I was given the opportunity to work with a video game publisher as part of their testing team (this helped me slow the burn-down of my life savings while I was in school). While I was there, I was introduced to the concept of the “Tester’s Objective Journal”. Each day, we were to log what we worked on, and what we noticed throughout the day. Most of the time it was a rote summary; numbers to be tracked, projects to be recorded, and little else. At the time I considered it a document to justify why I was there.


There’s lots of ways we can track our time and justify what we do. Currently, I post a log each morning of what I did yesterday, what I planned to do today, and if there are any things or people blocking me. What I realized wasn’t being captured was the process of learning I was doing each day, or the interesting things that could be improved. As I considered these moments, I thought back to that Objective Journal.


How could I improve my own personal testing approach? What skills and ideas did I want to pursue? How could I discuss what I actually did, and could I see improvement or modification over time? It was in this process I realized that my old Objective Journal could work for this. This time, I asked “how could I make it better, and specifically, better for ME!” I realized that this process could work even if I never showed it to another person.

So what is an Objective Journal? Each day, I create an entry, which looks looks something like this:

Daily Learning: Was there something I did today that made me more knowledgeable than yesterday? It doesn’t have to be big. The idea, though, is to explain the item I learned to an imaginary bystander… could they understand what I was saying and doing?

Blockers: What was getting in my way of accomplishing a goal, and what can I do to clear the blockage? In many cases, issues are out of my control, but several are within my ability to fix. Again, could I explain to someone else what I am doing?

Stories in Play: What am I working on right now? What testing approach and strategy am I using? Am I doing it well enough? If not, how could I do better? What am I missing? This internal monologue often turns into blog posts and opportunities to write up more detailed How-To guides for my organization.

The Stretch Goal: What do I want to learn? What technology do I want to know more about? What book do I want to read and write a synopsis/review about? What utility could I create to make my life easier? What do I need to do to make these thoughts into tangible actions? More important, am I actually making progress on that goal? If I notice that, for several days, I’ve said I want to work on something, but have made no progress in doing so, what’s the reason? Is it lack of time? Is it more pressing demands, or is it that this isn’t really a stretch goal at all, but really just an idea that David Allen in “Getting Things Done” like to refer to as a “someday, maybe” goal?

Ancient Rome frescoe Image of a youth pondering a book.

“The palest ink is better than the most capricious memory.” –Qing Dynasty

So far, I have found re-implementing this old approach to be helpful. It focuses my mind on the task at hand, and gives me insights into what I am thinking and why. It also gives me an “accountability partner”. Many of the things I write about are not things I want to share, at least not yet. By keeping the journal open and accessible, I have a place to regularly pour my ideas into. Over time, I can see patterns appear; things I struggle with often become clearer with time and review. Perhaps most important, I have a rich narrative I can reference that show me the experiments I’ve tried, the numerous failures, but also the successes. What’s more, it shows me how I got to that point.

Will this method work for you? It might. My tactic for now is that I am approaching this regularly, updating it daily, and reviewing it often. I’ve discover that, through doing this, areas that feel difficult become less so over time, because I see the small daily wins that help keep me motivated to move forward, regardless of the goal.

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