Notes from a Floating Life Thoughts about productivity, digital living, and leading a simpler life

Journaling and You

If there’s something I’ve never been able to get the hang of it’s regularly writing in a journal. It doesn’t matter if it’s paper or electronic, I just can’t get into the discipline of regularly jotting down what happened during the day, or my random thoughts about the day and its events.

That said, I find that keeping a journal, even irregularly, has a number of benefits. It’s not only therapeutic and cathartic, it’s also a good record of where I am and where I’ve been. It can help show progress in life, and remind me of what I’ve done right and what I’ve done wrong.

There are other benefits, too. Like what? Let’s say you aspire to write. Keeping a journal helps you build the discipline to write daily. As you get more confident and comfortable with writing in a journal, you’ll notice that you’re writing more each day. You’re developing a style and a voice. You’re developing the writing habit.

Getting Started

No matter what your reasons for keeping a journal, the first step to doing it is to put fingers to keyboard or pen to paper. Don’t get too caught up trying to find the perfect app or notebook or pen. If you do that, you’ll spend more time looking and grazing than journaling.

Pick something simple — a small exercise book and a cheap ballpoint pen, a text file, or a text editor app. Use those for a while, until you build the habit of regularly writing in your journal. Then, feel free to move on to a dedicated physical diary or notebook, a better pen, or a tool like Penzu. Or don’t. You might find that the tools that you start out with are more than good enough for your needs.

What to Write, and How to Write About It

You might be thinking I don’t lead a very interesting life. What can I write about every day? Let’s face it: most of us lead fairly dull lives. I do. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t anything to write about.

Look at your day, and focus on one, two, or three things that happened. Maybe you had a breakthrough at work. Maybe you ran into someone who you haven’t seen for a few years. Or maybe you cooked or had a nice meal. Any of that is grist for your journal. It might not be swashbuckling adventure, but it’s something: a snapshot of your daily life.

The entries in your journal don’t need to be extensive, detailed paragraphs. For the longest time, I didn’t write anything in my journal because I often didn’t have enough to write a paragraph or two. Then, I read a blog post about journaling by Leo Babauta. That post offered a great piece of advice:

Only write a few bullet points. I don’t write full sentences — just a bullet point for interesting or important things that happened each day. I only have to write 2-3, though sometimes I write 5-6 if I did a lot. I mix personal and work stuff together. By keeping each day’s entry short and simple, I make it so easy to journal that there are no excuses — it only takes a few minutes!

Don’t Get Into a Rut

Recently, I looked back at my journal entries from 2010. There was a stretch in that year in which I wasn’t a very happy camper. It reflected in my journal entries. I pretty much wrote about the same thing, day after day. I won’t say it was depressing, but it was darned close.

When writing in your journal, don’t dwell solely on the negative. Don’t let the journal be a repository for your negative thoughts. Look for the positive, any positive. If you’re in a rut or having a bad time, don’t let your journal be a black hole that sucks you further down into that rut. While it can be therapeutic to write about the negatives in your life every so often, doing it regularly only heightens the negativity. It only increases your frustrations.

Final Thoughts

Keeping a journal isn’t for everyone. For some, it can be a chore. It can be uncomfortable putting our private thoughts on to paper or on the screen. For others, though, keeping a journal is part of their daily (more or less) ritual.

Journaling can be a great reminder of what you’ve done and where you’ve been. And it can teach you a few things about yourself.

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