I’ve been journaling for the past 9 years and written about the several reasons journaling has changed my life HERE.
People often ask me how I journal, wanting my specific methodology. The problem is, I don’t have much of a methodology. I just write stuff down in a very disorganized fashion.
I carry one journal at a time, fill it out, then grab another. I don’t use separate journals for goals, school notes, writing ideas, and recording my history. It all goes in the same notebook, only organized by the date I was writing.
For example, the image below shows some random thoughts I was thinking followed by a list of potential articles (including this one) I may write in the near future. Not exactly sure why I went from writing about an idea to creating a list of potential articles— the mind is a complex thing! My journal is just my way of capturing my messy thoughts which then allows me to translate them into a more neat and tidy reality.
Here are a few staples in my methodology:
- I write in my journal every morning, usually 10–30 minutes.
- I mostly write about my goals, my ideas, and what’s going on in my life (for example: this week my wife and I went to court related to being foster parents. I’ve recently launched an online course and I’m thinking a lot about how to make it great. I’m trying to be more spiritual. I’m trying to get my schedule better so I can spend more time with my kids. These are things I’ve journaled about this week).
- I often write in my car while parked, right before I go into the gym. If I’m at a desk, I’ll usually plug-in some head phones and listen to a classical Pandora station or a particular song on repeat. I listened to this song on repeat while writing this article.
The primary benefits I get out of journaling:
- Journaling is how I “mentally” create my future. I write about my dreams and goals. I’m a believer that you have huge control over your future. I create my own future through my journal entries. I do this by writing my big picture goals down regularly, my yearly goals nearly daily, and my most proximate goals (my daily/weeks to-dos) daily.
- My mind wanders too many places when I’m just pondering or thinking. The act of writing with paper and pen allows me to organize, direct, and structure my thinking. Also, writing with pen and pad is inherently slower than the speed of thought, which allows my mind more time to go deeper and wider with my thoughts.
- Clarity and emotional regulation. When life gets foggy or stressful, journaling is my favorite therapy session. Firstly, it helps me get perspective. It helps me organize my cluttered mind. It helps my vent-out all of my frustrations, feelings, and confusions. It gives me space.
Journaling → Articles
With that backdrop, the remainder of this article details how I use my journal to organize the thinking that becomes my articles. To be clear, not every article I write begins in my journal. Sometimes, I’ll just get a thought, login to Medium, write it, re-read it, and push publish.
But more often than not, before I start typing, I pull open my journal and try to organize the ideas. Once the ideas are organized, I start the article by typing the Title and Sub-Headings (including Conclusion). I then write the intro, and fill-in the spaces.
This organization saves loads of time. In his book, Essentialism, Greg McKeown explains that spending 5 minutes creating outlines can save you hours when writing a book or an article — or when going through your day! Before you write a book, write an outline of all the chapters. Before you write an article, write a few bullets about the main ideas. Then, just fill-in those bullets.
The particular notes I’m going to show are what became, “Why You Should be Planning for 2018, Not 2017,” which was viewed over 110,000 times.
I apologize for my terrible writing. You will likely not be able to read much of my scrambled thoughts.
Not everything in these notes made it into the article. And while writing out the actual article, ideas and thoughts not in the journal were then included. But this was the foundation.
When writing in my journal about ideas related to an article, I’m not just dumping thoughts. I’m critically thinking about the structure, flow, and organization of my ideas. Bullet points allow me to think in terms of each succeeding step in the idea I’m trying to convey.
So, when I’m using my journal to organize my thinking about an article I want to write, I try to keep my thinking tightly focused on the subjects related to the article. It’s not just random thinking.
Sometimes only 2–5 minutes and a few bullets is enough to capture all I need to have the confidence to write the article. Sometimes, it takes several pages, as depicted above. This is very important to me: I don’t write an article until I’m feeling it! I need to feel fire about what I’m saying because I’m trying to light that same fire in my readers. Until I feel that fire, I don’t hit publish. My journaling is how I get down into my emotions of what I’m trying to say. It’s where I get pumped up and excited, and where the structure of my ideas takes form.
Using the same scattered methodology, here’s an example of random journal notes for a book I’m currently writing:
I’m a huge advocate of writing in the morning. Science clearly shows that the brain is most readily creative immediately following sleep. Your subconscious never sleeps, and is always engaged in figuring out your problems and making key connections. As Thomas Edison said,
“Never go to sleep without a request to your subconscious.”
The problem for most people, they don’t have an evening routine to set themselves up for success the next morning. Without a plan, people wake up and reactively check their smartphones. This reactive living is demonstrated throughout their entire day.
Your evening routine doesn’t have to be extensive. Just take a minute or two to, in the least, think about what you’re going to do the next morning. You’re better off, though, spending a minute writing down what you’re going to do the next day, followed by a few minutes of visualizing and thinking. Then, when you go to bed, you’ve directed the workings of your subconscious mind.
By spending just a few minutes preparing yourself for your next morning, you’ll wake up with more purpose and enthusiasm. You’ll be pulled out of bed, rather than having to use willpower to push yourself to action.
Here’s why the journal is cool. When you’re working directly on a task, your mind is tightly focused on the problem at hand. Conversely, when you’re not working, your mind loosely wanders.
While wandering, you’re able to make much wider connections. As your mind is traveling both contextually (on different subjects) and temporally between past, present, and future, your brain will make distant and distinct connections related to the problem you’re trying to solve (eureka!).
The journal is a powerful way to leverage both of these thinking patterns. You can focus directly on something, like an article you’re writing. Or, you can let your mind wander.
After dumping your thoughts, you can step away for a while and your mind will continue to mull over what you were just writing about, allowing you even more insights. As you get insights away from your journal, you write about those insights during your next session, which escalates and deepens the ideas.
It’s an epic process and virtuous cycle. It’s also relaxing and enjoyable.