There’s a lot of science to back up the art of journaling and its benefits. I personally consider not journaling until now one of the biggest mistakes of my life. Why? Because it just puts everything into perspective and sets you on the right path to achieving your goals. Big fancy words, I know! But it works, trust me.
I’m not going to start by boring you with the proven benefits of journaling because there are so many (you can read them here), but I would like to introduce you to some interesting journaling techniques that I’ve researched and implemented in my daily life. The point is that there is no one way or one right way to do it, but dozens, and you can cherry-pick exactly what suits you.
I’m also not going to get into details about notebooks. That’s so not the point here. The following techniques work with any type of notebook that you have, big or small, lined or blank, doesn’t matter at all. However, if you want to upgrade your notebook game check out the following link.
So let’s get into the gist of things: some of these techniques offer a suitable and easy-to-use framework for jotting down ideas, daily to-dos, mapping out plans for the future and breaking them down into more manageable steps, while others push you in the direction of soul-searching, reflection and healing. They are very different and each serves a well defined purpose, so I urge you to use what suits you best, but do try more than one approach. Don’t limit yourself to only one of them because journaling may be the answer to more than one need. So with the proper research and willingness you may find more techniques to satisfy more needs.
THE JOURNALING TECHNIQUE FOR STAYING ON TOP OF THINGS
Bullet journaling was invented by Ryder Carroll, a digital product designer living in Brooklyn, NY, to satisfy his own need of jotting down ideas quickly, easily and in a maintainable way. You can find more on how the technique came to life on his site BulletJournal.
The most important thing to observe about this technique is that it is not intended for therapy or healing. It is purely for taking daily notes, to-dos, lists, basically everything you need to be on top of things and not get overwhelmed by the busy day ahead. Bullet journaling introduces the notion of table of contents for your notebook (that means you have to number each page), future logs, monthly spreads, daily notes and collections. But check out the video below before we get into more detail:
The idea is to take this technique and make it your own and what I mean by that is try it out like in the video above for a week or a month and see what you need and what you don’t. For instance: I have two bullet journals, one for private stuff and one for work. In the private one I don’t need the daily notes because I don’t have so many tasks to take care of at home. And the stuff that is obvious or already part of my daily routine like cooking or cleaning or brushing my teeth (not in that specific order) doesn’t need to be mentioned in the journal. I do it anyway. On the other hand the journal for work contains a lot of daily notes, tasks and meeting minutes and less collections.
To give you a rough idea of what I track in which notebook here is an overview (I’ll probably get back to you with specific details and photos in a later blog post):
BULLET JOURNAL FOR HOME:
- index (2 pages)
- goals for the current year (1 page)
- future log (4 pages, 3 months/page)
- monthly overview (4 pages) containing:
- general tasks (1 page)
- gratitude journal (1 page, 1 entry/day)
- habit tracker (1 page)
- sleep tracker (1 page)
- “Blog post ideas” collection (2 pages so far)
- “Weight tracker” collection (1 page)
- “Books to read” collection (1 page so far)
- …and so on
The “Goals for the current year” page is the key here and everything else is built around it. Because one of my goals is to lose weight and get fit, I have a monthly habit and sleep tracker where I track my clean eating, coffee & tea intake, vitamins, workouts and hours of sleep. This helps me see retrospectively what worked well and what not. And also each day I can easily see if I had too much coffee in the last few days and I should switch to tea today, or if I skipped some workouts, or slept less than I should have. And there is a power to writing things down, it’s almost like you want to do a workout just to check the box at the end of the day. It’s quite motivational.
I don’t do daily entries here about how my day went because I can see the big picture from the different trackers that I maintain, and also I don’t want to transform my bullet journal in a diary-like journal. Although that is totally possible and many people do it, I prefer not to. What I do in exchange in order to improve my sense of well-being is to keep a gratitude journal. This means every evening I write down one thing that happened that day that I am grateful for. At first I was skeptic about this, thinking it’s just a bunch of BS, but as I researched it more and more I found out that this practice is the one thing that takes people’s perception of their life from an OK life to a great life. There you go, food for thought.
The collections are not all well defined yet, they just come as I go. Whenever I find a theme that is stand-alone I make a collection for it.
BULLET JOURNAL FOR WORK:
- index (2 pages)
- future log (4 pages, 3 months/page)
- weekly overview (2 pages)
- daily notes/tasks
- meeting minutes when needed
The bullet journal that I use at work doesn’t contain all the cool stuff, it’s just basically a collection of all my tasks (regardless of small or big), deadlines, deliveries, meetings and so on. I added here the monthly overview but then took it out after the first month because I didn’t use it. Somehow for me the weekly overview works best because there are a lot of things that happen at work and the monthly overview just can’t handle everything. And plus, at the office we usually consider time as calendar weeks not months, so a delivery will be specified as due in CW05/19 not “beginning of February 2019”. This makes a weekly overview more suitable than a monthly overview.
The best feature here is writing the tasks and then getting the satisfaction of marking them done when they’ve been completed. It’s so rewarding!
I guess I use the bullet journal for work more in the sense that it was intended, but adjusting the technique to suit my personal needs is way more fun. I carried it around me everywhere now and I get a kick out of using it! I’m a nerd, I know.
THE JOURNALING TECHNIQUE FOR LIVING A HAPPIER LIFE
The Five Minute Journal is the simplest, most effective thing you can do every day to become happier.
– INTELLIGENT CHANGE
This is the promise the creators of the Five Minute Journal make and it has been backed up by major influencers, amongst them also best-selling author Tim Ferriss (most recently known for “Tools of Titans”):
The Five Minute Journal is one of the simplest ways that I have found to consistently ensure improving my well being and happiness. Both in terms of achievement and actual measurable, quantifiable results.
– TIM FERRISS
These are all big words when you take a look at this cute little notebook, but rest assured the creators have packed a ton of knowledge on these little pages.
We create products to solve our own problems. We have spent numerous years reading personal growth books, attending seminars all around the world, and testing behavior change research. We live and breathe in the trenches.
– INTELLIGENT CHANGE
The theme of this journal is by far gratitude and the idea behind it is to offer you a framework through which you can solely identify the positive things in life and keep you focused on them rather than on anxiety, depression and fear. It has been proven that keeping a daily gratitude journal makes the difference between a good life and a great life. Some experiments on daily gratitude routines have also shown improvement in moods, coping skills and physical pain.
You may now think that the Five Minute Journal is full of blank pages ready for you to fill them up with things you are grateful for, but that is not quite the case. This journal is actually very concise and well-thought and well-constructed as if it were developed by an engineer. It doesn’t overwhelm you with a blank page and the anxiety of not knowing where to start, but instead provides a straight-forward way of using it. This makes it the perfect journal for a non-journal person, if that makes any sense.
Let’s just take a look inside:
Each page is designed for one day’s worth of entries and is split into two sections: the top part for the morning journaling and the lower part for the evening journaling. Filling out the entire page should take about 5 minutes, hence the name of course. And it is sooooo easy to use, just follow the prompts. So now there aren’t any more excuses for not having the time to journal or not knowing what to journal about. That’s what makes this technique so great! The creators have concentrated hours worth of work into a couple of minutes a day without compromising the benefits.
According to the Five Minute Journal every morning should start with an inspirational quote, 3 things you are grateful for, 3 thoughts on what would make the day better and an affirmation. Every evening should end with the best 3 things that happened that day and thoughts on what could’ve made the day better. Either time you are focusing on the positive. This means that no matter how your day went (cause there are also shitty days when you just want to crawl up into bed and never leave), you will start it and end it with a happy and positive vibe and you don’t have to carry that day’s frustration on to the following ones.
If you’re not yet sold on this journal, you can also take a look at how Tim Ferriss uses his Five Minute Journal below:
THE JOURNALING TECHNIQUE FOR LOSING YOURSELF AND STARTING EVERY MORNING FRESH:
Morning Pages created by Julia Cameron from the Artist’s Way is a really interesting and powerful technique. Although it requires time and discipline, it is supposed to have tremendous benefits. I have personally tried it occasionally because I lack the discipline to do it everyday and because I already have a packed morning routine. But some results were there even at the first try!
The idea behind the Morning Pages is to write three pages of brain-dump every morning right after you get out of bed. They must be hand-written and they must be three in number (there’s some science behind this number!). It doesn’t matter what you write as long as you keep writing until you’ve finished the three pages. You can start with how groggy you feel that morning or that your nail polish is chipped and it freaking annoys you or that you have a busy schedule ahead. It doesn’t matter. It doesn’t have to be deep. It doesn’t have to be pretty. No one will read it. In fact, you can destroy the pages after you’ve written them and never look back.
Why three pages, you ask? Well Julia Cameron says that anything less than three might not be enough to get into the deep stuff. You may start with the grogginess and the nail polish, but no one can fill up three pages with that alone. So eventually you will get to the underlying feelings and thoughts and you will start to go deeper and further into your mind and put these things on paper. Anything more than three pages would be too much and too narcissistic.
Why should we use the Morning Pages?
Once we get those muddy, maddening, confusing thoughts [nebulous worries, jitters, and preoccupations] on the page, we face our day with clearer eyes.
– JULIA CAMERON
Writing is by far the cheapest therapy and the Morning Pages are exactly that: your very own therapy session in the morning or, as Julia Cameron describes them, “spiritual windshield wipers”. There is something very cathartic and calming in writing streams of consciousness. Cathartic because you let the thoughts go and can distance yourself from them, and calming because writing by hand compels you to slow down your brain activity to be able to keep up with the handwriting. By writing three pages you get things off your chest while everybody else is still sleeping and you can start the day with a clean slate.
I enjoy this practice very much, but I just can’t get myself to commit to it everyday. I do it every once in a while, mostly on weekends or sometimes even in the evening (I know that’s not the correct way!). It helps me calm down, rearrange some thoughts, put some thoughts together and get a clearer picture. But most of all, it gets me in that state of wandering, searching and eventually discovering. Of getting those “a-ha” moments that change everything. I keep going deeper and deeper in a subject until finally something clicks and I’m blown away by what I realize. This is why I love and recommend the Morning Pages, but again, I have developed my own way of doing them.
Each technique from this post is useful for scratching one particular itch. My word of advice is to find what suits you, use only one regularly or combine them so you get at least a little out of each of them. It doesn’t really matter. But do try them out and see how they help you. I though it was just BS before, but now I can confidently say that writing is a game-changer.
If you’ve tried some of these journaling techniques before, I’d love to hear your thoughts on them. Or if you want to start taking up one of these habits and need more info, I’ll gladly share with you all of my references. Just write in the comments below (pun intended :p).
DISCLOSURE: I have no material relationship to any brand or person mentioned in this blog post.