Journaling comes up as one of the best productivity hacks on a regular basis. But the topic can lead you down a massive rabbit hole of options and opinions. If I had to reflect back before coming across the benefits and techniques of journaling from admired authors or personalities, I naturally made use of journals in same way or form to either dump nagging thoughts, make a list of things to remember, track progress on habits, brainstorm ideas and set daily schedules. The problems I experienced was consistency and maintaining a central or single record. And now with the explosion of available software solutions and apps, this has just left me confused.
Through the various books and articles I have read, I have been exploring the opinions presented and the more I have explored the more frustrated I have become as my entries and thoughts are scattered all over the place. From physical diary/journals to Evernote, to Google drive, to Word or Excel stored on hard drives, to private blogs. Even tried task tracking apps like Wunderlist, Google Keep, Google calendar tasks, etc.
I have, however, started settling on the physical method of journaling. For me, the benefits seem to weight out those of a software solution. Although there are still many benefits from a software perspective. This includes easy access to tasks and calendar scheduled items. But from a creative and offloading perspective, the physical options are brilliant. I also like to periodically doddle, draw/sketch, make mind maps and wireframes.
An additional personal observation (a tad off topic), I have noticed how many activities are going back to the physical as opposed to a digital or software type option. Examples of journaling and the creative processes are better when thrashed out on whiteboards or in journals, social interactions are better in person or reading physical books have more benefits that digital books.
Tips for Journaling
- Set a time to Journal (Morning or evenings)
- Make time (10 minutes a day)
- No pressure, Just write
- Have easy things you put in each entry
- Keep a logbook
- Start your private idea book
- Don’t break the chain (Journal something every day)
- Be Grateful (For the Good and the bad)
- Develop a shorthand
- Unleash your creativity with morning pages
- Giver your thoughts room to marinate
- Practice the art of the unsent angry letter
- Ask yourself tough questions
Benefit of journaling (With a book and pen/pencil)
Some of the benefit of journaling that I have come across in my reading but more importantly my own personal experience.
Clearing your mind
Or as Time Ferriss puts it, “Caging the monkey mind”. I have found his has work in a few instances. These include when I am running through debates or arguments in my head with someone. Also used the “Angry letter”approach mentioned above in Ryan’s list of tips for Journaling.
Tracking progress towards goals
This one is my most used in addition to setting out daily tasks. Found by monitoring and ensure I doing something small each day that will get me closer to my larger goals keeps me focused and progressing towards it.
Planning out trips or new projects
I love to plan out itineraries for future travels. By journaling in a physical book, I can easily consolidate options and ideas. I have then moved the thoughts to a software version as I start nearing a final itinerary. Same goes for a project or more creative ideas. With projects, there is often a mind dump of thoughts, ideas and opinions and these need to be filtered.
Central log or record for the happening of my life
I love being able to reflect back on the last couple of months. This often leaves me with additional motivation to start-up new projects or ones I had previously documented by have not yet gotten too.
Documenting and reflecting on the things I am grateful for has been a great happiness hack. I was surprised as to how useful the daily reflection on gratitude has made my perspective more positive and therefore contributed to my happiness.
Some of the journaling options
Like the quick approach to journaling used in the bullet journal. The setup is not necessarily very efficient, but for the creatives out there, you will love this one. Also the exceptionally creative ways people put there bullet journals together. A bullet journal is made up of the following:
- Index (first few pages)
- Future log (for future scheduled activities)
- Monthly logs
- Daily logs
Within the logs you will have:
- Tasks: recorded by a “.” (Actions are either “X” – completed; “>” – migrated to a future date; “<” – scheduled on the future log)
- Events: recorded with a circle “O”
- Notes: recorded by a dash “-“
Signifiers include: “*” – Priority; “!” – Inspiration; “” (eye) – Explore
But have fun with it and create your own shorthand and logs. See these ideas on Pinterest.
This has been my primary journaling approach, due to its simplicity. The 5 minutes journal is a set of question to be complete for 5 minutes in the morning and then 5 minutes in the evenings.
- I am grateful for……. (list 3 things)
- What would make today great? (pick the top three most important items)
- Daily affirmation
- 3 Amazing things that have happened today?
- How could I have made today better?
Morning pages was coined by Julia Cameron (author of “The Artist’s Way”) and are advocated by Tim Ferriss as his go-to Journaling approach. The concept is simple to sit each morning a write for 3 pages on anything. This is the journaling approach Tim Ferriss like to “cage the monkey mind”.
Other journal types
- Dream Journal
- Time Capsule
- Specific topics (career, Exercise, Children, Gardening)
- Travel Journal
- Reading Journal
- Gratitude Journal
- Family Journal
- Project Journal
- Personal Development
- Creative Journal
- Planning Journal
- Lessons learned journal
The option I have gone with (are at least trying)
Having tried each of the three options above (Bullet journal, 5 minutes journal and morning pages) and varied success (meaning consistency). I have been journaling regularly for a good number of years now and have started settling on a “commonplace” type journal. I believe this is largely drive by my motivation for simplicity and a single place to keep all my thoughts. So I have taken ideas from each and adapted them for my own purposes.
I use some of the symbols or shorthand from the bullet journal approach and also love the index, monthly and daily logs. On a daily basis, I set out my daily log but title it, “what would make today great” and aim to have only three big ticket items I want to achieve for the day. (From the 5-minute journal). I then also reflect on things I am grateful for each day.
The rest of the journal is a combination of thoughts, ideas, drawings, planning, habit trackers, pictures, cards, tutorial printouts, inspiration printouts, quotes and basically anything I want to keep a record of.
On a periodic basis, I would do a mind dump of thoughts or ask myself tougher questions and write freely about them.
One habit I would like to develop more of is evening reflection on the day. I believe this would have some great benefits to personal development. In particular, the reflection on the two evening questions set out in the 5 minutes journal, “3 things that made today great” and “What would have made today better”.
All in all, the ideas is simply to cultivate a habit of daily writing and reflection. The benefits are wide ranging and will be different for everyone.