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Writing Journal for a Better and More Productive Self (The How-To Guide)

Writing Journal for a Better and More Productive Self (The How-To Guide)

How many times have rampant thoughts distracted you from your work? How many times have ideas popped in and popped out before you had a chance to capture them? Or maybe clarity has gone missing in action and you would like to find it again?

As a busy person, it is not uncommon for your mind to become overwhelmed trying to manage and process all the thoughts, the to-do list that is a mile long, the conversations had and the ideas that float in and out.

So what is a busy person meant to do with all the “stuff” that takes up valuable mental real estate? Write in a journal.

At first I was resistant. The thought of doing something that required what I believed to be work on my part turned my stomach. Not to mention, I had no clue what to write each day.

After about a week of journaling, I started to notice my mental clarity improve which ultimately lead to more productivity. And now after several years of using a writing journal, I look forward to it and if I skip a day, I really miss it.

In this article, I am going to share with you not only the benefits of a writing journal but also some simple ways to get started that won’t take up too much time, ways that positively impact your own mental clarity and that contribute to your productivity.

Why writing journal matters to your success

Some of the busiest people I know complain about the same thing — the inability to turn off their brains; or worse, the inability to focus on the tasks at hand because of the high volume of thoughts and ideas they have.

Enter a writing journal.

That journal is a safe place where you share your thoughts, your ideas, your questions and your concerns without interruption or the concern of another’s opinion or judgments. It’s a place to explore, pontificate and even complain.

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In short, it is a great place for brain dumping so that you have the mental space to be more productive. But that is not the only benefit to a writing journal. Here are a few others:

It is a great way to have an “a-ha moment”.

Imagine you are in a conversation where all the sudden you hear yourself say something and a light bulb turns on. Writing in a journal serves that same purpose. With a journal, it is not uncommon that as you are capturing your thoughts, new awareness is being created.

“Journal writing is a voyage to the interior.” ― Christina Baldwin

For example, if I am struggling to find a solution to an issue, my journal provides me with the space I need to get the issue out of my head and onto paper. It’s not uncommon for questions to surface that I then answer; enter the clarity and a-ha moment.

It creates contentment and grounding.

Writing in a journal engages a form of mindfulness. It is the mindfulness that helps you to feel more grounded.

“The five-minute journal is a therapeutic intervention, for me at least, because I am that person. That allows me to not only get more done during the day but also feel better throughout the entire day, to be a happier person, to be a more content person — which is not something that comes naturally to me.” — Tim Ferriss[1]

It diminishes the chaos.

Medical reviewers Paul Ballas and Maureen Fraser report,[2]

“Keeping a journal helps you establish order when your world feels like it’s in chaos. It helps you get to know yourself by revealing your innermost fears, thoughts, and feelings. Look at your writing time as personal relaxation time, a time when you de-stress and wind down. Write in a place that’s relaxing and soothing—maybe with a cup of tea. Look forward to your journaling time, and know that you’re doing something good for your mind and body.”

It is a safe place to process and clear the air.

The things you stress over or worry about as well as any negative thoughts are similar to bacteria. When you keep them in the dark recesses of your mind, they grow.

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By writing about them, you shine a light on them which causes them to shrink. Freeing up that valuable mental real estate to focus on something that is much more productive.

The same is true for anything or anyone that bothers you, whether that is the annoying co-worker, the argument with your partner, the project that went awry; it does not matter. If it is bothering you, it is worth journaling about to clear the air.

Not to mention, it gives you the opportunity to spot the lessons to be leveraged the next time someone or something annoys you.

It is good for your health.

Psychotherapist Maud Purcell in her article The Health Benefits of Journaling:[3]

“There is increasing evidence to support the notion that journaling has a positive impact on physical well-being. University of Texas at Austin psychologist and researcher James Pennebaker contends that regular journaling strengthens immune cells, called T-lymphocytes. Other research indicates that journaling decreases the symptoms of asthma and rheumatoid arthritis. Pennebaker believes that writing about stressful events helps you come to terms with them, acting as a stress management tool, thus reducing the impact of these stressors on your physical health.”

It is a great tool for prioritizing.

A journal is a great place to capture all the things you want and need to do so that you can begin to prioritize and plan. Getting it all down on paper helps ensure that you are not missing anything important.

Not to mention, your journal is a great place to capture the wins, the steps you took with a project and any insights you gained. That way the next time a similar project or priority makes its way across your desk, you have a plan that you can recycle and re-use.

With the benefits in mind, are you ready to give a writing journal a whirl?

A step-by-step guide to start writing journal

Here is an easy to use step-by-step guide to help you get started:

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Step 1: Get clear on the purpose or objective for journaling

What do you want to gain from a writing journal?

Getting clear around your purpose or objective for journaling sets a clear intention for your journaling. It is that clear intention that helps you to journal on a consistent basis in order to increase your productivity. (The operative word being “consistent”.)

Important Note: Make sure that your purpose or objective is one that resonants with you. For example, maybe it is a form of self-care, or maybe you want to map out your next business idea. Since feelings drive actions, if you feel good about the prospect of journaling, you are more apt to do it.

Step 2: Pick your poison

Electronic or paper journal? There is no right or wrong mode to use for journaling; it is whatever is going to be easiest and the most comfortable for you to use.

When I first started journaling, I picked out a really cool notebook and pen that I used only for journaling.

Today I use both an electronic and paper journal. I use the paper journal and colored pens for my gratitude journaling and morning pages. And I use Good Notes and my Apple Pencil (because I like the handwritten approach) for my bullet journaling where I capture my ideas, things I need to research and outlines for my projects.

Important Note: Start out simple and small, even a piece of paper from loose leaf notebook works!

Step 3: Create a writing space

Whether that is at your kitchen table, a comfy chair in the corner of your living room or propped up on pillows in your bed, it is important to find a place where you feel comfortable writing. A place where you won’t be interrupted.

Step 4: Choose the time of day that works for you

Mornings before you begin the day or at night before bed; whenever you have some free time in your schedule that you can take 5-10 minutes to write.

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When I first started, I tried different times of day on for size until I found a time that consistently worked. I tried writing in between clients, I tried writing right before bed and I tried writing in the morning as a part of my morning ritual. Morning time became my favorite time to write because I was less distracted by the day’s events.

Give different times a try and see what works best for you.

Step 5: Begin

Most importantly, do not worry about what to write. Worrying about what to write makes using a writing journal a task instead of a powerful tool.

You can even start out by writing “I don’t know what to write” and go from there. Let whatever is on your mind come out on the page.

Start journaling now!

For the next 30 days, commit to writing in a journal. Whether you use the stream of consciousness approach of morning pages or journal prompts to get the writing juices flowing, allow the next 30 days to be a time of self-discovery, increased productivity and clarity as a result of your journaling.

And as reminder:

  • Keep it simple.
  • Find a consistent time that works for you over the next 30 days.
  • Leave the perfectionism at the door and just let whatever is coming up, come out on the pages.

There is no right or wrong way to use a journal. The key is allowing it to be your assistant in creating more space in your brain so that you can be your most productive self.

Featured photo credit: Pexels via pexels.com

Reference

More by this author

Pam Thomas

Chief Change Officer @What's Within U; Helping people dig out from the ruts that keep them stuck personally and professionally.

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Last Updated on July 8, 2020

How to Prevent Decision Fatigue From Clouding Your Judgement

How to Prevent Decision Fatigue From Clouding Your Judgement

What is decision fatigue? Let me explain this with an example:

When determining a court ruling, there are many factors that contribute to their final verdict. You probably assume that the judge’s decision is influenced solely by the nature of the crime committed or the particular laws that were broken. While this is completely valid, there is an even greater influential factor that dictates the judge’s decision: the time of day.

In 2012, a research team from Columbia University[1] examined 1,112 court rulings set in place by a Parole Board Judge over a 10 month period. The judge would have to determine whether the individuals in question would be released from prison on parole, or a change in the parole terms.

While the facts of the case often take precedence in decision making, the judges mental state had an alarming influence on their verdict.

As the day goes on, the chance of a favorable ruling drops:

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    Image source: Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences

    Does the time of day, or the judges level of hunger really contribute that greatly to their decision making? Yes, it does.

    The research went on to show that at the start of the day the likelihood of the judging giving out a favorable ruling was somewhere around 65%.

    But as the morning dragged on, the judge became fatigued and drained from making decision after decision. As more time went on, the odds of receiving a favorable ruling decreased steadily until it was whittled down to zero.

    However, right after their lunch break, the judge would return to the courtroom feeling refreshed and recharged. Energized by their second wind, their leniency skyrockets back up to a whopping 65%. And again, as the day drags on to its finish, the favorable rulings slowly diminish along with the judge’s spirits.

    This is no coincidence. According to the carefully recorded research, this was true for all 1,112 cases. The severity of the crime didn’t matter. Whether it was rape, murder, theft, or embezzlement, the criminal was more likely to get a favorable ruling either early in the morning, or after the judges lunch break.

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    Are You Suffering from Decision Fatigue Too?

    We all suffer from decision fatigue without even realizing it.

    Perhaps you aren’t a judge with the fate of an individual’s life at your disposal, but the daily decisions you make for yourself could hinder you if you’re not in the right head-space.

    Regardless of how energetic you feel (as I imagine it is somehow caffeine induced anyway), you will still experience decision fatigue. Just like every other muscle, your brain gets tired after periods of overuse, pumping out one decision after the next. It needs a chance to rest in order to function at a productive rate.

    The Detrimental Consequences of Decision Fatigue

    When you are in a position such as a Judge, you can’t afford to let your mental state dictate your decision making; but it still does. According to George Lowenstein, an American educator and economy expert, decision fatigue is to blame for poor decision making among members of high office. The disastrous level of failure among these individuals to control their impulses could be directly related to their day to day stresses at work and their private life.

    When you’re just too tired to think, you stop caring. And once you get careless, that’s when you need to worry. Decision fatigue can contribute to a number of issues such as impulse shopping (guilty), poor decision making at work, and poor decision making with after work relationships. You know what I’m talking about. Don’t dip your pen in the company ink.

    How to Make Decision Effectively

    Either alter the time of decision making to when your mind is the most fresh, or limit the number of decisions to be made. Try utilizing the following hacks for more effective decision making.

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    1. Make Your Most Important Decisions within the First 3 Hours

    You want to make decisions at your peak performance, so either first thing in the morning, or right after a break.

    Research has actually shown that you are the most productive for the first 3 hours[2] of your day. Utilize this time! Don’t waste it on trivial decisions such as what to wear, or mindlessly scrolling through social media.

    Instead, use this time to tweak your game plan. What do you want to accomplish? What can you improve? What steps do you need to take to reach these goals?

    2. Form Habits to Reduce Decision Making

    You don’t have to choose all the time.

    Breakfast is the most important meal of the day, but it doesn’t have to be an extravagant spread every morning. Make a habit out of eating a similar or quick breakfast, and cut that step of your morning out of the way. Can’t decide what to wear? Pick the first thing that catches your eye. We both know that after 20 minutes of changing outfits you’ll just go with the first thing anyway.

    Powerful individuals such as Steve Jobs, Barack Obama, and Mark Zuckerberg don’t waste their precious time deciding what to wear. In fact, they have been known to limiting their outfits down to two options in order to reduce their daily decision making.

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    3. Take Frequent Breaks for a Clearer Mind

    You are at your peak of productivity after a break, so to reap the benefits, you need to take lots of breaks! I know, what a sacrifice. If judges make better decisions in the morning and after their lunch break, then so will you.

    The reason for this is because the belly is now full, and the hunger is gone. Roy Baumeister, Florida State University social psychologist[3] had found that low-glucose levels take a negative toll on decision making. By taking a break to replenish your glucose levels, you will be able to focus better and improve your decision making abilities.

    Even if you aren’t hungry, little breaks are still necessary to let your mind refresh, and come back being able to think more clearly.

    Structure your break times. Decide beforehand when you will take breaks, and eat energy sustaining snacks so that your energy level doesn’t drop too low. The time you “lose” during your breaks will be made up in the end, as your productivity will increase after each break.

    So instead of slogging through your day, letting your mind deteriorate and fall victim to the daily abuses of decision making, take a break, eat a snack. Let your mind refresh and reset, and jump-start your productivity throughout the day.

    More Tips About Decision Making

    Featured photo credit: Kelly Sikkema via unsplash.com

    Reference

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