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Writing Journal

Kids do it. Adults should too. When we were kids, ‘diary’ was a more popular term and it mostly consisted of childhood crushes, angst, secrets, or how much we hated (or loved) our life. A few months ago, I went home for my mom’s 74th birthday and found my diary when I was sorting through my old stuff (I wanted to get rid of all of it but my mom is not really the type who purges stuff—who can relate?). A mixture of dread and curiosity engulfed me because I remembered how emotionally charged I was as a kid and curious if I could still relate to my 13-year-old self.

Curiosity won.

I cringed half the time I was reading and was smiling throughout. I realized that, despite being written 20+ years ago, there are some similarities to how I write today. One thing that stood out for me was writing on my diary was my therapy. There were entries where I could feel that I was angry and towards the end of that entry, I could read that I was already calm and could already think clearly. The same is true today. Journaling helps me clear my emotions. I once wrote “I write for me not to burst” because journaling became my own counselor.

How many times have you started to write with your brain’s noise in overdrive, but while writing you notice that the noise becomes coherent thoughts and ideas? It doesn’t matter how you journal. What matters is that you do.

Why do you need to start (or continue) to journal?

1. It allows us to separate the BS from what actually matters.

You talk to yourself every day inside your head. I do too. It’s one way to keep track of your ideas that you tell yourself about and helps you gain clarity on what you really want to do and what makes you happy.

It can feel overwhelming when you aren’t getting as much done in the time that you have as you think you should, but journaling (and reviewing your journal later), is a great way to identify causes and find solutions.

2. It helps you retain memories.

Although our brains are wired to remember a lot of stuff, some memories would get lost inside our brain until there’s some hint to it. For example, going through photographs makes you remember what happened before the photograph was taken as well as how you felt. It’s the same with keeping a journal. It’s a written remembrance of a memory that you would like to keep.

3. You can use your journal for your monthly, quarterly, annual reviews.

Reviewing Journal

If you are not doing regular reviews, you should start sooner rather than later because it’s one way to help you grow. Brooks learned the hard way when he stopped journaling last 2019. Although it wasn’t intentional once the habit was broken he ended up dropping the habit altogether. When it was time to do his end of 2019 review, he couldn’t get an accurate view of what happened that year. He discussed this in detail in Episode 279 of The Productivity Show podcast, and we share lessons like this (and more) in our newsletter. If you aren’t already a subscriber, make sure you sign up in the box right under this article.

4. Unleash your inner creativity.

When you’re writing for yourself, you tend to just let your thoughts flow and there’s no hindrance to how you write as well.

Don’t consider yourself a “creative person”? We have an article all about how to identify and overcome mental blocks that are holding back your creativity. You’re more creative than you think, and the more you journal over time, the more your creativity will be supported.

5. Journaling helps you track your progress.

If you notice that you keep writing “I wasn’t able to do…” almost every day, then you know you’re not progressing. Your journal will tell you why because you will have all your reasons written down as well.

There are so many ways you can journal. It can be with your trusted pen and paper, your phone, or your computer. There are a plethora of apps that you can choose from. If your current journal system is not working or you are struggling to be consistent, not a problem. You may not have found the format or method that works for you yet.

For example, Thanh likes to journal using pen and paper in a notebook at the end of the day. Brooks likes to journal electronically in the morning on the computer. Neither way is right or wrong — you just need to find what works for you.

How do you start with journaling?

We did a Journaling Challenge a few years ago and it’s the perfect place to start since it gives you a daily walkthrough to get you started. You can check the first challenge here.

In a nutshell, here are the daily challenges:

  1. Decide on the medium (paper/digital) and then answer the question: “What did I learn today?”
  2. Decide on a fixed time of the day when you will journal and schedule it in your calendar.
  3. Write down in your journal WHY journaling is important to you.
  4. Reread the reason why journaling is important and reflect on it. Does your why still hold true? Did it change? Write down your refined why now that you’ve thought about it more. Continue to answer the same question and stick to your schedule.
  5. Add a fun element to it. If you use digital add a picture to your journal or make a drawing in your paper journal.
  6. Reread all the journal entries you’ve written for the first five days, and reflect. What went well? How can you make next week better?

In The Dojo (our online productivity community), we have an exclusive Journaling course called How to Get Started With Journaling. This is a good example of our philosophy at AE: we provide free resources like the Journaling Challenge, but if you want a jumpstart, you can join the Dojo and have support and accountability. We’ve helped hundreds of people start their journaling practice and stick with it.

The most important thing is to just start. If you’re still not sure how, here is a writing prompt to start with: “Today…” It doesn’t matter if you journal at the beginning or towards the end of your day. Just start with “Today”.

Other tips to make your journaling journey successful:

  • Always include what (or who) you’re grateful for every day.
  • If you struggle to know what to write, come up with a series of questions to answer every day. This journaling article has some suggestions.
  • If you are still stuck and don’t know what to write, start with how you started your day or what you plan to do to start your day (depending on when you write).

Thanh recently recorded a podcast episode with Cathryn Lavery, one of the founders of BestSelf.

Cathryn, before BestSelf, was an architect. After a number of years, she realized that being an architect was not for her. As she was creating her own business, she found that writing in a notebook helped her, in her words, “win the day”.

This practice turned into the SELF Journal. It started as a product that she needed to help with her plans and goals, and over the years has been refined and improved.

Self Journal

Make sure to listen to our podcast for you to learn how Cathryn used journaling to grow her business. Subscribe to our podcast updates so that you can get an email notification once the podcast is live. You can subscribe by visiting this link.

Journaling does not have to be complicated. The important thing is to start and then be as consistent as possible. If you have journaling prompts that are working well for you, share them in the comments and we can all learn from each other.


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