Money Matters

Never Been Able to Keep a Journal Before? This Is the Journal Format for You


I write about productivity and personal achievement for a living so take it from me: you already know how to be successful. All the good advice? You’ve already heard it. No doubt multiple someones have told you to meditate, commit to lifelong learning, define your goals and then break them down into baby steps, read more, and, oh, keep a journal.

The trick isn’t unearthing obscure tips or never-before-seen hacks. The trick is making the sensible advice you all already know actually work for you. That can be very hard indeed.

Meditation, for example, sounds simple. But tons of people struggle mightily to set up a habit. Journaling (like going to the gym) is the same. You start with the best intentions, keep it up for awhile, and then your motivation flags and you’re left with a bunch of dusty, mostly blank notebooks.

While finding the right rituals and practices for you is a matter of trial and error – as well as continual adjustment – more knowledge about the breadth of available options can help. I recently stumbled on a great one for those who have previously failed at journaling.

An easy journal idea

The idea comes from content marketer Barry Devrat via Medium. In a recent post he explained the dead simple journal format he uses to fuel his writing. The same basic process could be used to capture business ideas, corral creative impulses, or simply clear your mind after your busy days. All you need is a cheap spiral notebook and any old pen.

The reason it’s so foolproof is that it requires no particular effort to structure or analyze your thoughts, Devrat explains:

Begin your journaling each night before you go to bed. In your journal, write down ten to twelve experiences from your day. The experience could be anything. It could be something you experience yourself or something you observe.

You might overhear an interesting conversation at a coffee shop. You might spill a full cup of coffee on your pants in the middle of a meeting. Maybe you witness a bout of road rage on your commute to work. Whatever it is, write it down. Avoid any kind of filtering.

You can make things even easier on yourself by noting down journal-worthy observations as you go throughout the day, but that’s entirely optional. Next, write down one or two thoughts that bubbled up during the day. Ask yourself: “What anxieties, worries or dreams occupied your mind?” And that, is all you need to do each day (really, it’s that simple).

What use is a weird brain dump of random mundane details? Besides the proven mental health benefits of this sort of expressive writing, periodically you’ll be motivated to look back over what you’ve written, Devrat explains, and that’s when the magic happens.

“Pick a handful of entries in your journal. Ask yourself what it teaches you about yourself, people or life. You won’t find answers all the time. Once in awhile, you will find one of those aha moments that lead to growth,” he writes. For him, those eureka moments spurred some of his most successful writing. For you they might be that insight that doubles your business or saves your marriage.

And an even easier journal idea

Still sound like too much for you? Then author Gretchen Rubin may have the perfect journaling solution for even the laziest would-be journal keepers. She has previously suggested the wildly easy habit of writing a single recollection down each night before bed.

“One sentence is enough. When I look back on it years later, that one sentence really does keep memories vivid – it really does bring back the past – which is one of the things you really want a journal to do,” she explains. Science is on her side — studies show simply looking back on everyday experiences can bring us outsize joy.  

Have you struggled to keep a journal? Have you discovered any tricks or techniques that make it easier for you?

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