I’ve been taking private notes on nearly every meeting I’ve been in for the last ten years. Even when there are other shared group notes, taking notes helps me remember what’s important, and it’s a dedicated surface that is easy for me to review later. I’ve tried many things over the years, from monolith Google Docs to Google Keep Cards, Evernote entries, or Notion docs. But building this Coda journaling app has made by far the best structure for my notes. This Journal is intended for private notes across meetings, reflections, or a broad range of topics. This app is not currently for sharing or team notes.
There are three main parts to the app: 1) Calendar, 2) Journal, and 3) Actions.
Bonus sections: A) People and B) Analytics.
Read on for background on how to use, check out the different pages pre-filled with an example Bruce Wayne journal, or jump ahead to
contains a read-only version of your Google Calendar. Your current meeting is highlighted dark green and your immediate next event is light green. Click on a calendar event, and notice the orange Journal button in the top right corner, which contains either a + icon if no journal entry exists or an ✏️ image to edit an existing journal entry.
Most of my new journal entries use the Calendar as the jumping-off point. You can also use it as a tool to find and revisit a specific past event’s journal entry. I also often write notes attached to events a week or two out, to shape the upcoming agenda or remind myself of things to discuss.
The calendar view contains a few other fun features:
Related events. These are other recent events with the same attendees. This can be helpful to remember when you last met these people before going into a meeting.
Links to LinkedIn queries for the attendees. I often use this one minute before hopping into a meeting to review someone’s background quickly. These links are best guess LinkedIn searches given their email addresses.
On the Journal page, entries are organized by recency on the left, and the right-hand shows the selected entry. You can add new journal entries from Calendar events, or by hitting the orange + Journal Entry button at the top of the Journal page. If you create an entry from a calendar event, the people, start time, and notes will be pre-populated based on the calendar event.
Related Entries are past journal entries from meetings with the same attendees. This can be a great place to quickly revisit what you wrote in the last meeting before beginning the next one.
Converting Notes into Actions. Many meetings result in followups. Historically, I would keep track of these during a meeting by writing TODO(name, deadline): content in the middle of my notes as it came up. This style was inspired by
and would make it easy for me to find all TODOs quickly at the end of a meeting and pull them up into a dedicated section, and send the relevant TODOs to people. One thing that always bothered me about this was its lack of structure. Actions would often graduate to other, larger task management systems, but I longed for a simple way to track easy actions.
This app supports graduating unstructured actions into structured actions. At the end of an entry, you can export detected followups into structure Actions, another primitive of the Journal. Any text of the following patterns in your Notes will be recognized:
TODO: a simple action
TODO(david, 1wk): report back on the metrics
TODO(2 days): review the followup doc
TODO(2 weeks, rebecca): present an offsite proposal
TODO(1 month): go on team offsite
TODO(2 wks, lane): publish blog post
TODO(1 mnth): finalize headcount plans
As you type TODOs in the Notes section, you’ll see them appear in the AUTO TODOS section at the bottom of the Journal entry. When you’ve finished writing Notes, hit the Export Actions button, and these AUTO TODOs will get parsed and turned into
You can add Actions from a Journal Entry with a TODO (see above) or the + Action button at the top of the Actions page. Actions are private, lightweight reminders, NOT a comprehensive general project management or tracking system.
Actions have a Title, Topic, Owner, Originating Journal Entry, Reminder Date, and Done status. If an Action is exported from a Journal entry, as many as possible of these will be intelligently pre-populated.
You can mark an Action as done, put it on the Back Burner to remove it from view, or Punt it one day at a time. You can also see your most Punted live action items, probably worth breaking those into smaller pieces or moving to the back burner!
Within the Actions page, there’s also a search bar to restrict to actions with a given keyword. You can adjust a slider at the top of the page to look at actions due within the next 1-30 days. Thanks to Coda’s automations, every morning, you will receive an email of reminders due today and actions due over the next week.
People are structured entries updated when your calendar syncs, and there’s one entry per unique email address. You can lookup calendar events or journal entries by people and use them as a deep link across other entities.
The Analytics page has various metrics tracking your calendar, people, and actions. It can be a helpful way to browse your content or see where your time and effort are going.
🔍 Finding your thoughts
Once you have tons of content in this Journal, how do you find it again?
1) Use the Calendar to find entries associated with specific events
2) Use the global search at the top of the entire document
3) Use search within the Journal page
4) Browse chronologically within the left nav of the Journal page
For a long time, I used more structured categories or labels for entries to group them easily later on. At one point I used #hashtags to indicate different topic labels, sort of similar to the TODO system above, so I could easily find content with that label. However, I’ve found that the in-Journal search and the whole-document search are good enough to reliably find old notes.
Another more extreme approach to frequent searches is to create a View into the Journal that filters for specific keywords. You can then pin this to a dedicated page. I’ve found this helpful for recurring categories I may want to look back through, like “Finance,” or “Health.” One-click, and you’ve got the filtered set.