Just like setting goals or waking up early, you’ve probably heard how rewarding it is to keep a journal, and with good reason. The problem is that implementing these ideas is often difficult without a basic understanding of why you should do it and how you can go about it. I’ll walk you through an approach that’s worked for me.
As for the why, keeping a journal is one of the best and simplest personal development tools you can use. It’s incredibly helpful to get your thoughts out of your head and put them down in writing.
As for the how, I’ve recently started journaling in a new way and I’ve found surprising success with this approach. The secret is divvying up everything you need to write about into separate journals, and then setting different requirements for how often you need to write in each of them. This avoids the problem many people have where they set a goal of writing about everything in their lives only to find they don’t have the time to do so.
I split my writing into 3 separate journals:
1. The first journal I keep is a Daily Progress Journal
The purpose of this journal is to quickly document how I spend each day. I make sure that all my entries are quick and to the point, making it easy to write every day – even if I’m feeling pressed for time. This also makes the journal quick to reread, which allows me to easily chart my progress.
I follow a few basic rules for this journal:
- I don’t write in full sentences. I write in bullet points, just a brief description of anything I accomplished that was noteworthy. I normally have between 3-6 of them and I’m done in 5 minutes. (if you have an exceptionally fantastic day, feel free to use more bullet points. Just keep in mind that this is your highlights reel, not a play-by-play.)
- I mix personal/work/school stuff all together to get a sense of how I balance my day between all my obligations.
- I establish a set time each day to write in this journal; I normally knock it out during my wind-down before bed.
I like that I can look back on the highlights of each day. It’s easy to see how I spent my time and what I accomplished.
2. My second journal is a Problem-Solving Journal
I use this journal when I need to break out of my regular thought pattern and gain some perspective on a problem. The unique thing about this journal is that I only use it on an as-needed basis. If there’s something I find myself brooding over, I write about it.
Many people keep this kind of a journal, but they also include the great things happening in their lives. I don’t find any use in this. I use this journal to solve problems that prevent me from being happy. When I am happy I want to go out and be happy. It’s only when I’m depressed that I feel like writing about it.
By writing my problems down, I’m able to fully define them, wrap my head around them, and solve them – freeing up my attention to enjoy where I’m at and what I’m doing.
Think of how much time per day you find yourself worrying about something – especially something that doesn’t relate to what you’re supposed to be doing in that moment. When you have something on your mind you can’t focus on enjoying yourself. I’ve heard a lot of people say they don’t need to journal, they can just work through it in their heads. What they fail to realize is that journaling is faster and often produces better results.
By journaling, you’re actively saying, “OK, this is all I know about this situation. What can I do about it?” It forces you to think about solutions and stop brooding. When we don’t write things down, we tend to get hung up on certain issues and neglect to consider everything we know. Journaling allows us to fully define a problem and create a viable solution for it – even if the solution is to realize that there is nothing we can do.
3. The last journal I use is an Idea Pad
The purpose of this journal is simple: it’s my random-thought catcher. I write down any information that catches my attention; anything that might be useful or relevant in the future. It’s like a storage unit: stockpiling ideas for when I need them.
Creativity is coveted in this world, and a unique perspective or a new idea can take you a long way. Not all of these ideas are going to be good. But, just like with brainstorming, you have to create a lot of volume to get any quality.
Many times what you write down will only be the starting point for an idea. You’ll look back at something you wrote awhile ago and see exactly how to use it now. These ideas tend to evolve and combine into new thoughts over time. Make this journal a place to shelter your ideas until they’re ready to go out and change the world.
Journaling has added a great amount of clarity to my life and I know it can do the same for you.
Find out how you’re really spending your days.
Don’t allow brooding thoughts to take away from your present-moment happiness.
And when you wake up in the middle of the night with the world’s greatest idea in you head, thanks to your idea pad, you’ll still remember to change the world in the morning.