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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 21, 2021

The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder Work)

The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder Work)

No matter how well you set up your todo list and calendar, you aren’t going to get things done unless you have a reliable way of reminding yourself to actually do them.

Anyone who’s spent an hour writing up the perfect grocery list only to realize at the store that they forgot to bring the list understands the importance of reminders.

Reminders of some sort or another are what turn a collection of paper goods or web services into what David Allen calls a “trusted system.”[1]

A lot of people resist getting better organized. No matter what kind of chaotic mess, their lives are on a day-to-day basis because they know themselves well enough to know that there’s after all that work they’ll probably forget to take their lists with them when it matters most.

Fortunately, there are ways to make sure we remember to check our lists — and to remember to do the things we need to do, whether they’re on a list or not.

In most cases, we need a lot of pushing at first, for example by making a reminder, but eventually we build up enough momentum that doing what needs doing becomes a habit — not an exception.

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From Creating Reminders to Building Habits

A habit is any act we engage in automatically without thinking about it.

For example, when you brush your teeth, you don’t have to think about every single step from start to finish; once you stagger up to the sink, habit takes over (and, really, habit got you to the sink in the first place) and you find yourself putting toothpaste on your toothbrush, putting the toothbrush in your mouth (and never your ear!), spitting, rinsing, and so on without any conscious effort at all.

This is a good thing because if you’re anything like me, you’re not even capable of conscious thought when you’re brushing your teeth.

The good news is you already have a whole set of productivity habits you’ve built up over the course of your life. The bad news is, a lot of them aren’t very good habits.

That quick game Frogger to “loosen you up” before you get working, that always ends up being 6 hours of Frogger –– that’s a habit. And as you know, habits like that can be hard to break — which is one of the reasons why habits are so important in the first place.

Once you’ve replaced an unproductive habit with a more productive one, the new habit will be just as hard to break as the old one was. Getting there, though, can be a chore!

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The old saw about anything you do for 21 days becoming a habit has been pretty much discredited, but there is a kernel of truth there — anything you do long enough becomes an ingrained behavior, a habit. Some people pick up habits quickly, others over a longer time span, but eventually, the behaviors become automatic.

Building productive habits, then, is a matter of repeating a desired behavior over a long enough period of time that you start doing it without thinking.

But how do you remember to do that? And what about the things that don’t need to be habits — the one-off events, like taking your paycheck stubs to your mortgage banker or making a particular phone call?

The trick to reminding yourself often enough for something to become a habit, or just that one time that you need to do something, is to interrupt yourself in some way in a way that triggers the desired behavior.

The Wonderful Thing About Triggers — Reminders

A trigger is anything that you put “in your way” to remind you to do something. The best triggers are related in some way to the behavior you want to produce.

For instance, if you want to remember to take something to work that you wouldn’t normally take, you might place it in front of the door so you have to pick it up to get out of your house.

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But anything that catches your attention and reminds you to do something can be a trigger. An alarm clock or kitchen timer is a perfect example — when the bell rings, you know to wake up or take the quiche out of the oven. (Hopefully you remember which trigger goes with which behavior!)

If you want to instill a habit, the thing to do is to place a trigger in your path to remind you to do whatever it is you’re trying to make into a habit — and keep it there until you realize that you’ve already done the thing it’s supposed to remind you of.

For instance, a post-it saying “count your calories” placed on the refrigerator door (or maybe on your favorite sugary snack itself)  can help you remember that you’re supposed to be cutting back — until one day you realize that you don’t need to be reminded anymore.

These triggers all require a lot of forethought, though — you have to remember that you need to remember something in the first place.

For a lot of tasks, the best reminder is one that’s completely automated — you set it up and then forget about it, trusting the trigger to pop up when you need it.

How to Make a Reminder Works for You

Computers and ubiquity of mobile Internet-connected devices make it possible to set up automatic triggers for just about anything.

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Desktop software like Outlook will pop up reminders on your desktop screen, and most online services go an extra step and send reminders via email or SMS text message — just the thing to keep you on track. Sandy, for example, just does automatic reminders.

Automated reminders can help you build habits — but it can also help you remember things that are too important to be trusted even to habit. Diabetics who need to take their insulin, HIV patients whose medication must be taken at an exact time in a precise order, phone calls that have to be made exactly on time, and other crucial events require triggers even when the habit is already in place.

My advice is to set reminders for just about everything — have them sent to your mobile phone in some way (either through a built-in calendar or an online service that sends updates) so you never have to think about it — and never have to worry about forgetting.

Your weekly review is a good time to enter new reminders for the coming weeks or months. I simply don’t want to think about what I’m supposed to be doing; I want to be reminded so I can think just about actually doing it.

I tend to use my calendar for reminders, mostly, though I do like Sandy quite a bit.

More on Building Habits

Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

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Reference

[1] Getting Things Done: Trusted System

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