If you’ve been reading our time management case studies, you’ll notice that a recurring recommendation is the use of journal entries as part of morning and evening rituals. The reason for this is simple: journals help you keep track of things, in a very useful way. It’s kind of strange that as kids, many of us kept diaries, but as adults, for some inexplicable reason, we simply stop writing. There is something special about the act of putting pen to paper that helps you focus and makes what you’ve done more concrete in your mind.
This article really fits into a longer series of articles and podcasts on proper goal setting/getting and organizational systems. You’ll hear more about that soon =)
Why Keep a Journal?
Let’s start with the whys.
- Journalling helps you keep track of what you’re doing. It tells you in a very real, everyday way what you’ve done, and what you haven’t, and what you’re working on. It does of course, belong in a wider context of other systems like schedule management and task management, but it’s an important part.
- It calls you out on self-delusion (aka BS). Nothing points out faster that you’re stalling progress or continuously putting something off than a set of consecutive journal entries that read “I didn’t get around to it”. It, along with time tracking, also answers the all-important question of if you’re spending time on the things that matter.
- It makes your weekly and monthly reviews that much easier to write, because you know exactly what you did (or didn’t), and when.
How to Keep a Journal
I keep my journal inside Evernote, so that I have access to it everywhere I go via my phone. In the past, I used MacJournal, but didn’t like the awkward syncing capabilities. The actual software that you use to keep your journal doesn’t matter all that much – the point is that you can create one entry per day, and that entries are easy to find.
You could also use a singular Microsoft Word or plain text document, or even buy an old-fashioned paper diary if you want to. Other options are to record yourself via audio or video and store them as files on your computer. You can also use mindmaps, though from personal experience, tracking a journal via mindmap can get pretty messy.
What you Write in a Journal
I’d like to say that you can just free-flow in your journal, but there really is a structure to it. You write 3 “parts” daily.
In the morning, you want to write down what you’re going to do that day. For each of these, you should also ask:
- Why you’re doing it.
- How you’re going to do it.
- How you’ll know when it’s done.
As you come up with this list in the morning, you should be referring to what your goals or outcomes are, for the week, for the month or for the year. You should also note down how your morning was, or how your morning ritual went.
As you go about your day, you can record down the events of your day – as little or as much as you like.
At night, you want to review what you wrote down in the morning, and see what you actually did or didn’t do. You then want to ask yourself what you did to create that particular outcome or situation.
For example, if in the morning you wrote “Pick up groceries on the way home”, but during the day you didn’t, you might note down “Was planning to get groceries but missed the freeway exit and just went home instead” as an explanation for why you didn’t stop by the grocery store.
In addition to reviewing the outcomes you set in the morning, you also want to ask some questions relating to your day. Here are some questions that I’ve picked up from different people over time. I think they’re applicable to everyone:
- What did I enjoy?
- What did I do really well today?
- What did I improve or improve upon?
- What did I learn?
- How can I do things better tomorrow?
- What is one thing I did well, and one thing I didn’t? How did I create these situations?
The great thing about journals is that they are highly personal. This means that you can use the journalling format to implement other productivity or life concepts into your daily routine, in a non-intrusive way. You can add on other questions related to things you’re trying to implement, as a reminder. For example, right now, my additional questions are:
- What value did I give away today?
- What was I focussed on in the morning?
- What was I focussed on during the day?
- What was I focussed on at night?
- How much effort/energy did I expend today, compared to past days?
The first one is related to the idea that future business is created by actions you have done in the past. Everyday, I try to give away something of value to someone, to build better relationships and lay a path for future business or life opportunities. The questions related to focus are to help me manage my tendency to try to do too many things in one day. The last is a reflective question that lets me assess how my week is progressing.
- Work out how you’re going to keep a journal – text, audio, video.
- Work out what questions you’re going to ask in the morning, during the day and at night.
- Start keeping your journal.
- After 30 days, review… and be amazed.
If you have any questions about the journal entry questions, or if you’d like suggestions for how to turn various concepts into daily journal entry questions, ask away in the comments!
Did you like this post? We have some of our best productivity hacks and tips in the Asian Efficiency Primer. Check it out here.
Photo By: Barnaby