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.
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
It diminishes the chaos.
Medical reviewers Paul Ballas and Maureen Fraser report,
“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.
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:
“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:
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.
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.