My first journals were flowery notebooks from the dollar store that I wrote entirely in third person. I figured the only reason to have a journal in the first place was to leave a record for future generations to find, right? Duh.
Naturally, journaling was never fun. I mean, of course not, when you force a future historian’s job upon yourself rather than allowing for creativity and expression.
In high school, my journals switched to first person (thank goodness), and the topics gradually began to include that hormone-fueled angst and eternal frustration that I hadn’t found the love of my life yet. Still, I was careful of what I included and how I put things in case my journal was ever probed by an unsuspecting family member.
It wasn’t until college that I began journaling without arbitrary boundaries. My journal became a place for my perfectionist self to ignore clear narratives and instead spill my guts out. It became my go-to for when I had a problem I needed to work on.
In my latest iteration of The Journal, I’ve turned from using it as an emotional barf bag to using it as a tool for organizing my brain as I dive into my business. It is now one of my most important daily practices. Though I’d hardly call it a #LifeHack for the sheer reason that the term drives me nuts… keeping a journal has definitely done me a lot of good.
It’s what gave me the confidence to quit my job and start freelancing, and it’s what keeps me on-track to create my best work every day. Any time I find myself procrastinating or confused about what I should be working on, I know I need to pull out my journal and get those jumbled thoughts worked out.
I’ve learned a lot from a lifetime of journaling, and today I want to share how I use this tool. I’ll share my journaling process that keeps it useful, plus a few tips on how to really make your journal work for you.
First, invest in a journal you love
If you want something to give you value, you first have to give it value. Find a journal that has just the right sized lines that you like, that paper texture that gives you chills, something that’ll hold up to the love you want to give it.
I bought my first Moleskine, and it’s a freakin’ joy to write in with my Zebra F-301 pen. Something about the slight impression the pen leaves on each page to make the backside textured and prepped for another page of writing… okay, sorry, I know drooling is unbecoming. We’re professionals here, dammit.
I like to date each page, and sometimes name the entry as well for easy reference. I cover a lot of ground in my entries, which means titles make it easy to thumb through and find those article ideas or lists I’ve made.
Never censor yourself
I used to think that expressing the negative thoughts in my head would make them more real. Or even that they just weren’t worth writing.
But here’s the thing: The thoughts are already real in your head. Journaling gives you the opportunity to analyze, resolve, and/or improve them.
Even if you think you sound stupid, even if you want to dismiss ideas before you write them, don’t. You have to be 100% honest with yourself on the page. This is the baseline for making your journal a useful tool.
When it comes to business, record full thoughts
Some people really like journaling “stream of consciousness” style, where you take a thought and follow it down where it leads. This is definitely helpful when sorting out emotional questions, but when it comes to organizing your business, write clearly. Use full sentences, underline headings where it makes sense, create lists. This makes it far easier to read over again in the future and glean new insights.
One option is to keep separate places for your business planning and more emotional journaling. Nowadays, I like to keep my journal as a sacred place for pondering the future, working through ideas, and planning content. In-the-moment emotional stuff is pounded out in a Word doc. If you type faster than you write, stream of thought journaling on your computer is an exhilarating experience. Trust me, typing angrily into your computer is 10x more satisfying than trying write fast with a ballpoint.
Set aside time to journal
I have recurring slots in my calendar to journal right before start work and as a wrap-up when I’m done for the day.
The morning journaling is the perfect way to set intentions for the day and get clear on what you want to accomplish. You may even try journaling right after waking up. Benjamin P. Hardy writes how journaling first thing in the morning means you’re taking advantage of when you’re most creative.
At the end of the day, take a few minutes to review how well you accomplished your objectives, what distracted you, how you can make tomorrow awesome, etc. The goals you set are only valuable when you take the time to reflect on how well you met them!
Your journal doesn’t have to be perfect.
If you’re a perfectionist like me who always wants to create beautiful things, you must learn to find beauty in the imperfections. Your journal is going to have incomplete thoughts and bad ideas. It’s okay. Your journal is a tool, not a creation. And remember: No one will ever see it but you.
Isn’t a messy journal better than a messy mind?