Hit the Ground Writing

How to Be More Consistent in Your Journaling

Life is a great teacher. But you have to pay attention and take notes if you want to be a great student. That’s why I made journaling a regular part of my morning ritual several years ago.

Journaling helps me clarify my thinking, process my feelings, and make better decisions. It’s also cheaper than therapy! But like most people, I haven’t always been consistent. In the past, I really wanted to journal. I was convinced of the benefits. But I found myself blowing it off with increasing frequency. Sound familiar?

Thankfully, a few years ago I stumbled on something that solved the problem for me. Not one hundred percent of the time, but most of the time. At first, I didn’t think it was a big deal. It seemed too simple. But I shared it with my wife, Gail, who was struggling with consistency herself. After successfully using it for a few weeks, she said, “Honey, you have got to blog about this.”

So here’s what I shared with her: Use a journaling template.

Not that earth-shattering, right? I didn’t think so. I template almost everything I do so I don’t have to constantly reinvent my workflows. I want to document the process and then improve it over time.

That’s exactly what I’ve done with my journaling template. I have gone through several iterations, and I am sure I will go through more. It basically consists of eight questions broken down into three parts.

This template assumes I’m journaling in the morning. As I mentioned at the start, it’s part of my morning ritual. A good night’s sleep puts the previous day’s events into perspective for me. I’m not at my most resourceful at night.

Yesterday

  • What happened yesterday? I don’t chronicle everything, of course. I write the highs, lows, and anything I want to remember later.

  • What were my biggest wins from yesterday? This gives me a sense of momentum to start the new day.

  • What lessons did I learn? I try to distill my experience down into a couple of lessons I want to remember. It’s not what happens to us but what we learn from it that matters most.

Now

  • What am I thankful for right now? This is one practical way I can cultivate a sense of abundance and gratitude.

  • How am I feeling right now? Feelings aren’t the be-all-end-all, but they’re a clue. In the past, I just ignored or suppressed them. This gives me an opportunity to check in on myself.

Today

  • What did I read or hear? Here I list important books, articles, Bible passages, or podcasts I consumed since I last journaled.

  • What stood out? I don’t want to lose what I learn in my reading and listening, so I record key insights.

  • What can I do next to move forward on my goals? I think through my goals and my schedule and identify a few key actions I could take to make progress. This helps me prioritize.

Note: The descriptive text above is simply for your benefit. It’s not actually part of the template.

I had been using Day One to journal for the last few years. However, I have shifted to using a prototype of our new Full Focus Journal™.

One size doesn’t fit all, so feel free to adjust the template or questions however they work best for you.

When I used a digital option, to make it easy, I kept the template in TextExpander. It’s one of my key productivity tools. I just typed ;je (as in “journal entry”) and TextExpander replaced that text with my template. Here’s a quick screencast to show you how this works.

If you want to copy and paste my template into your text expander or some other tool, you can download it here. And if you want a quick take on how to use multimarkdown, try my beginner’s guide.

For me, journaling is a means to an end. It helps me think more deeply about my life, where it is going, and what it means.

The advantage of using a template is that it gives me a track to run on. This is especially helpful on those mornings when my brain is a little foggy or I don’t particularly feel like writing.

All I have to do is get started and then the process pretty much takes over. I spend fifteen minutes. No more, no less.

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