I stink at journaling.
Journaling is a productive use of time. It has been shown to:
- Relieve anxiety and depression
- Lower stress
- Increase creativity
- Boost gratitude and happiness
- Improve memory
- And much more
Yet, I still stink at it. Every time I sit down to journal, it turns into a blog, or a letter to my kids, or a grocery list.
But I really like the benefits of journaling, so I decided to see if there was an easier way to do it other than staring at a blinking cursor on a blank Word doc.
I started by Googling “journaling prompts”. A researcher and writer with whom I’ve collaborated before, Margarita Tartakovsky, provided some here.
Although journaling prompts work for lots of people, seeing the lists upon lists of prompts and questions made me feel tired and unmotivated.
All I could say was “Argh!”
Not one to give up easily, I asked myself what functions I wanted my journal to perform.
First, I wanted my journal to help me focus on gratitude. I cannot ignore the research that shows how important it is to practice gratitude.
Second, my journal could help me improve my horrible memory. My brain is like a sieve. I have few memories of childhood, and my kids often remind me of stuff from theirs.
Third, my journal should help me remember the good things I do for others. I am very hard on myself and typically forget (see above) about the times I have been generous or giving.
Fourth, I wanted my journal to help me feel hopeful and optimistic about the future. I can sometimes be a “worst-case scenario” person.
That’s when it happened…ARGH became an acronym for my journal.
My journal will have four sections: A.R.G.H.
In this section, I will list any things for which I feel grateful. This list will be in bullet-point format and will be as long or as short as it needs to be.
This is where I will tell my future self some short stories about my life. Future Melissa will appreciate these anecdotes and details.
Here, I will list the good things I did for other people. Yes, I know that generosity is its own reward, but I’m not making the list to post on Facebook. This list is for me. When I’m feeling like a selfish, substandard human, these reflections may help me climb out of the pit of despair.
This section will be a challenge, but I need to build these mental muscles. I will write about better tomorrows, the concept of impermanence, and other hopeful things I see in the world around me.
The Mechanics of Journaling
If you like nice hard copy notebooks, go for it. Writing in a journal by hand would be an obstacle for me, so I have chosen Microsoft OneNote.
If you have never used OneNote, click here to learn. It’s relatively straightforward and comes with Office 365.
I created a new OneNote Notebook (labeled “Journal”) and then created the following tabs (i.e., Sections):
- ARGH – with pages for each day that I do the ARGH exercise
- Goals – where I will track my annual goals and store my monthly progress reports
- Values – for my core values (as I have been wondering where to store that list anyway)
- Nice emails – a place for the nice emails I receive from clients that make me feel good about my work. I will use the “Send to OneNote” button in Outlook to gather those emails in one place. Instant emotional lift!
You don’t have to create the same sections as me, of course. You may want your journal to serve other functions. Your neuroses are different than mine.
I plan to journal once a week on Saturday mornings. I will add it to my Outlook Task list because it will never get done if it’s not on that list.
I plan to “Go for the 80.” I will aim to write in my journal 80% of my Saturday mornings, not 100%.
Perfection is not productive,
But journaling is.
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Melissa Gratias (pronounced “Gracious”) used to think that productivity was a result of working long hours. And, she worked a lot of hours. Then, she learned that productivity is a skill set, not a personality trait. Now, Melissa is a productivity expert who coaches and trains other businesspeople to be more focused, balanced, and effective. She is a prolific writer and speaker who travels the world helping people change how they work and improve how they live. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or 912-417-2505. Sign up to receive her productivity tips via email.