How to Make Journaling Work for You

86400 seconds. 1440 minutes. 24 hours. 1 day.

No matter how you break it down, that’s all the time we have to work with on any given day. It doesn’t matter if your name is Jeff Bezos or Jane Doe, time doesn’t discriminate. So, how is it that some people accomplish far more than others?

Productive people are planners. Take the great American statesman Benjamin Franklin for example. He was an accomplished inventor, author, and diplomat among many other things. This one man was able to achieve at high levels in various fields in the same 24 hour span that some people feel is inadequate to binge watch multiple seasons of Ozark. What was his big secret to success? Franklin tracked his day from start to finish, detailing exactly what would be done before, during, and after completing a given task. No wonder he’s on the $100 bill!

In order to maximize your time each day, I highly recommend that you start journaling. There are a litany of methods that seem to work for people. At first I started with a notebook, but found that free flowing wasn’t enough because it lacked the structure I needed to truly feel productive. Once I found a journaling technique that worked for me, I began to see massive improvement to my productivity. The Best Self journal has helped me see exponential growth in daily productivity and enable me to reach many of the goals I’ve set for myself. In this post, I’m going to explain how it’s broken down and give you ideas for what to do if you’re feeling lost.

Gratitude

Each day, the first thing I do after getting out of bed is write down 3 things that I’m grateful for. It can be as simple as having great health or beautiful weather outside. There’s something very grounding about expressing gratitude in the morning. The very last thing I do before going to bed is write down 3 more things I’m grateful for. Collectively, this focus on what I have in a world filled with want has made me appreciate the little things in life that I took for granted. It takes less than 5 minutes, but can totally change your perspective for the day.

Schedule

The Best Self journal also provides a blank hourly schedule. At one point I only filled this out on weekdays. Soon after, I realized that time seemed to slip away on weekends and I never managed to get all that I wanted to accomplish done for the day. Whether doing trivial tasks or setting aside time for in-depth work such as writing, having a schedule is critical.

After expressing gratitude, I go downstairs, pour a cup of coffee, and write out my schedule. It helps me visualize what my day is going to look like and also forces me to put realistic time slots for each activity I have planned. As you plan your day, it’s critical to try to accomplish a major task in the morning while you have most of your energy. In doing so, you will build momentum that carries throughout the day and helps you build on your success. Be sure to experiment with your schedule. In doing so, you might find that certain tasks fit best at certain times of day. For instance, I used to try writing in the morning, but felt rushed so I began blocking out time at the end of my day when there would be no interruptions. You know yourself best, so plan your days in a way that will enable you to play to your strengths and win the day.

By organizing your day from the start, you put yourself in the driver’s seat.

Goals

Do you have good directional skills?

I couldn’t navigate my way out of a paper bag without a GPS. Luckily for me, Google Maps exists. Goals are your road map to success. There are a million ways to write a goal and equally as many for how to organize them. Rather than waste time talking about SMART goals, I’ll explain how I plan out my goals.

My personal preference is to break things into 4 categories: health, wealth, love, and happiness. For each category, I choose one goal that I think that I can achieve in about 3 months (conveniently the amount of time given in my journal). In my opinion, it’s important to have challenging goals that are attainable. Something too easy isn’t going to get you out of bed in the morning, something impossible will make you quit. Here are some examples of goals:

Health: Run a 5k in under 20 minutes.

Wealth: Buy duplex to house hack.

Love: Spend quality time daily with loved ones.

Happiness: Read 12 self-improvement books by July (3 months from now).

These are just examples of goals that a person might have. What’s easy for one person to attain might be challenging for another. It’s all relative. What matters more than the goal itself is a plan for achieving these things. Think about your end result–what will it look like? From there, work backwards to set milestones and daily minimums that will guide you towards your goals.

When examining the health goal to run a 5k in under 20 minutes, it’s pretty clear what the end result is. With that in mind, you would want to start by figuring out how long it takes you to run a 5k presently so that you have a frame of reference. Let’s say you’re out of shape and starting from scratch. There’s no way you can run the whole 5k, but maybe you can run half a mile and estimate how long it would take to run a 5k based on that. From there, you would run a half mile daily until you felt comfortable doing a whole mile, gradually building to your desired result.

Put yourself in position to succeed by setting goals.

Today’s Targets

I like to think of goals as the big picture, and today’s targets as the activities that will put me one step closer to what I’m trying to achieve. When trying to figure out what to do, ask yourself this question: what are the 3 most important things I need to do today?

If you have more than 3 important things to do, chances are they aren’t as important as you thought they were. Any more than this and you will feel overwhelmed or feel unaccomplished if you don’t get to them. Focus on what’s most pressing and important, then go from there. Also be sure to plug each activity into your calendar. Having a specific time to do each important task increases the likelihood that you will achieve it.

Lessons Learned

Reflection is an incredibly powerful tool. The phrase “history repeats itself” is very true if you don’t learn from the past. Towards the end of your day, after you’ve completed your important tasks, write down 3 things that you learned. These can be good things or bad things. For the good things, be sure to diagnose how you achieved these results so that you can replicate them again. When you come across bad lessons, view that as an opportunity to grow. Figure out where things went wrong and how you can approach the next day so that your results change. As long as you’re reflecting, you’re growing.

Wins

Celebrating your wins each day is a great way to reinforce positive behaviors. Write down 3 wins that you had throughout the day. Be proud of yourself for little things like waking up early or holding a door for someone. Not every day has huge wins, but remember that small things add up to something greater. Each time you win a battle, you’re one step closer to winning the war.

Final Thoughts

Journaling isn’t rocket science, but it sure feels like it when you see the monumental impact it can have. Take some time each day to be intentional and plan how you are going to attain success. Make the most of your time on Earth starting today.