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Advice / Career Paths / Training & Development

8 Ways to Stop Thinking About Journaling and Actually Start Journaling

We’ve talked before about the power of journaling. Setting aside some dedicated time to meditate on and write about your life—and your job—can not only help you keep a record of your day-to-day and keep track of things you want to remember, but can actually help you deal with tough situations, think toward the future, dig up new ideas, and more.

But it’s one thing to want to start journaling, and another to actually do it. We’re busy people, after all. With everything already on our plates, how can we dedicate time to sitting down and writing each day?

The first step is redefining what “journaling” is. Many people have this notion that to journal effectively you have to sit down and write pages and pages of poetic language about your feelings. But really, journaling just means setting aside a little quiet, undistracted time to sit down and think about your life. It can be just by writing down a record of what you did that day; by venting about one thing that you can’t get off your mind; by noting something that inspired you. Some days it may be pages and pages, and some it may only be a few words. Just as long as you’re actually taking a moment to stop and think about how things are going.

The next step is finding a habit that works for you. Below are eight different ways to get yourself journaling. They won’t work for everyone, but try out different tactics until you find the one that sticks.

1. Do it Before You Get Out of Bed

Many people try to journal at the end of their days as a recap, but the truth is, once you really start your day, journaling will likely get thrown to the wayside. Instead, try grabbing your notebook as soon as your alarm goes off and writing for a few minutes before your feet even hit the ground. This way you know it will get done, and the activity first thing in the morning may help wake your brain up. Plus, you’re more creative when you’re tired, so ideas may come up through your writing that never would have any other time of day.

2. Use an App

While many people recommend journaling in a physical notebook to give you brain a break from the screens, if you’re having a hard time keeping up that practice, why not try using an app that you can whip out when you have an extra moment in the day (such as your daily commute)? iMore has a roundup of some of the best ones, ranging from options that allow you to include pictures and videos to ones that give you prompts to get you going.

3. Don’t Use Full Sentences

Many people feel like their journals have to be well thought out—even poetic—writing. It’s not true at all! Feel free to have your journal as disjointed as you want. In fact, Leo Babatua of ZenHabits says he only writes his journal in bullet points; just three to six per day. By making it this easy, he says it’s much more attainable for him to keep it up.

4. Write on a Calendar

Instead of getting a notebook to journal in, get a (large) desk calendar or date book, and then just challenge yourself to write a sentence or two every day, on that day. This is good for two reasons: First of all, this small amount of writing a day feels totally attainable. But second, by actually writing it on a calendar, it’s very obvious when you’ve missed a day—and very motivating to keep up the string when you’ve kept the habit up for a while.

5. Make a Template

Sometimes the hardest part of journaling is staring at a blank page and not knowing what to write about. So instead of starting from zero, create a template that you follow every day. Maybe that’s writing three things you’re grateful for every day, or asking yourself a question each day, like “What can I do to make tomorrow better than today?” If it’s helpful, you can create printable journaling “worksheets” that lay out the activities you’ve promised yourself to do—there are plenty of these already on the web that you can use as inspiration, or print off to use as-is.

One of my favorites is the “Gathering Momentum” worksheet by Jessica Mullen, which is full of great ways to focus your thinking at the beginning of your day. Print a bunch out, put them in a binder, and fill it in each day over your morning coffee or tea.

6. Find Fun Prompts

Another way to get past the blank page stage and get your mind inspired to write? Find a bunch of interesting prompts that you’re excited to mull on and write about, and then spend each day journaling on a different one. The internet has a huge repository of prompts to get you started—just search “journaling prompts” and start collecting your favorites. Compile them all in a Word document or on the first page of your journal and work your way down the list, or write each on a piece of paper and fold it up into a jar to randomly choose from each day. The editors at even created a document of prompts for each day of the year!

7. Blend it Into Your Day

You already probably spend a huge chunk of your day writing emails, so why not sneakily add your journaling practice into that? iDoneThis is a service that emails you toward the end of each day simply asking what you did that day. Respond to it with a list of accomplishments or some short thoughts about your day, and before you know it you’ll start to have a repository of your life.

8. Just Do it Once a Year

If you really don’t feel like you can sustain a journaling habit year-round, but want some time to reflect and some record of your year, try signing up for 10Q. Once a year, the service will email you one question to ponder every day. Simply respond to the email with your thoughts, and then 10Q will lock your answers up in the vault. The next year, you’ll get previous years’ answers sent to you, along with the 10 questions again—giving you the chance once a year to see how far you’ve come and think about how far you still want to go.

Quick sign up for this year: The questions start being sent out in just a couple days, and once they’ve begun, you can’t join until next year!

Just like any habit, journaling is a practice that can take a while to get into. Try dedicating just five minutes each day next week to trying out one of these journaling strategies, and see how you can grow from there!

Photo of person journaling courtesy of Roco Julie.