Your life is worth capturing, isn’t it?

I was in Grade 6 when my English teacher asked us to write a “dear diary” for the very first time. I was good at it and was instantly labeled the go-to person for “diary entries!” Who knew this could be a talent? It didn’t seem like a big deal to me. Perhaps it was the way words flowed into my diary entry or that the writing was natural and expressive. The way it is right now. (Natural and expressive don’t get much admiration by the way. Just saying.)

But here’s the most wonderful thing that happened — the habit stuck with me. I used miniature diary entries to record my thoughts on a piece of paper before shredding them into bits. It helped me cope with some of the toughest days of my life. And although I wasn’t journaling (I use the word interchangeably with diary entries) every now and then, it wasn’t until the early 2000s I began to do it every day. I don’t spend any more than 10 minutes daily to journal my thoughts. But that time is precious because you’re literally recording a piece of your life (a day at a time) into a medium (digital or paper) that will outlive you and the next generations.

Before we go ahead, one clarification:

A diary can always correctly be called a journal
A journal can’t always correctly be called a diary (but still often)

What’s the difference between a journal and a diary?

I’m pretty sure I’ve talked about journaling multiple times here before, but it’s bears repeating — if there’s just one ritual you want to embrace in life, let it be journaling. I would rate it even higher than meditation. Why? Because meditation takes time and a lot of practice. It’s hard to stay motivated when you’re not getting the “results” you’re seeking. With journaling, however, you can immediately get results. You just need to put in the effort to pen (or type) down your thoughts. Now, I’m not saying you shouldn’t meditate, I just prefer journaling over it. If your schedule allows meditation, bring it on!

Thankfully, I’m not the only one who vouches for journaling (or even meditation — but we’ll talk about that some other time). The good folks at Asian Efficiency shared a list of (just some of the) benefits of journaling:

Recorded memory. By writing things down, you have a record of what has happened to you, daily. This is especially great if you have a leaky brain (bad memory).

Ability to see what you did on any given day of your life.

See and track progress across different areas of your life.

A unique opportunity to align day-to-day task with longer-term vision and goals.

End every single day knowing that you did well – this creates motivational momentum.

Helps bring other Rituals into your life through questions and reminders.

Capture your own personal history.

Journal Ritual, Asian Efficiency

Elsewhere on their website, I found this piece that goes in depth on “what to write in a journal,” something almost everyone asks:

I’d like to say that you can just free-flow in your journal, but there really is a structure to it. You write 3 “parts” daily.

In the morning, you want to write down what you’re going to do that day. For each of these, you should also ask:

Why you’re doing it.
How you’re going to do it.
How you’ll know when it’s done.

As you come up with this list in the morning, you should be referring to what your goals or outcomes are, for the week, for the month or for the year. You should also note down how your morning was, or how your morning ritual went.

As you go about your day, you can record down the events of your day – as little or as much as you like.

At night, you want to review what you wrote down in the morning, and see what you actually did or didn’t do. You then want to ask yourself what you did to create that particular outcome or situation.

For example, if in the morning you wrote “Pick up groceries on the way home”, but during the day you didn’t, you might note down “Was planning to get groceries but missed the freeway exit and just went home instead” as an explanation for why you didn’t stop by the grocery store.

In addition to reviewing the outcomes you set in the morning, you also want to ask some questions relating to your day. Here are some questions that I’ve picked up from different people over time. I think they’re applicable to everyone:

What did I enjoy?
What did I do really well today?
What did I improve or improve upon?
What did I learn?
How can I do things better tomorrow?
What is one thing I did well, and one thing I didn’t? How did I create these situations?

The great thing about journals is that they are highly personal. This means that you can use the journalling format to implement other productivity or life concepts into your daily routine, in a non-intrusive way. You can add on other questions related to things you’re trying to implement, as a reminder. For example, right now, my additional questions are:

What value did I give away today?
What was I focussed on in the morning?
What was I focussed on during the day?
What was I focussed on at night?
How much effort/energy did I expend today, compared to past days?

The first one is related to the idea that future business is created by actions you have done in the past. Everyday, I try to give away something of value to someone, to build better relationships and lay a path for future business or life opportunities. The questions related to focus are to help me manage my tendency to try to do too many things in one day. The last is a reflective question that lets me assess how my week is progressing.

Journal Entries, Asian Efficiency

If this wasn’t enough, the modern-day philosopher-king, Derek Sivers wrote a fantastic piece on the Benefits of a daily diary and topic journals recently. I loved his take on maintaining a daily diary (or journaling):

If digital, use only plain text. It’s a standard format not owned by any company. It will be readable in 50 years on devices we haven’t even imagined yet. Don’t use formats that can only be read by one program, because that program won’t be around in 50 years. Don’t use the cloud, unless you’re also going to download it weekly and back it up in plain text outside that cloud. (Companies shut down. Clouds disappear. Think long-term.)

Every day at some point, just open up this diary, write today’s date, then start writing. Write what you did today, and how you are feeling, even if it seems boring.

It works best as a nightly routine. Just take a few minutes and write at least a few sentences. If you have time, write down everything on your mind. Clear it all out. But if you miss a night, make time the next morning to write about the previous day.

This is important because years from now you might be looking back, wondering if you were as happy or as sad as you remember during this time. So don’t only write the drama or dilemmas. Include the daily facts of life.

We so often make big decisions in life based on predictions of how we think we’ll feel in the future, or what we’ll want. Your past self is your best indicator of how you actually felt in similar situations. So it helps to have an accurate picture of your past.

You can’t trust distant memories, but you can trust your daily diary. It’s the best indicator to your future self (and maybe descendants) of what was really going on in your life at this time.

If you’re feeling you don’t have the time or it’s not interesting enough, remember: You’re doing this for your future self. Future you will want to look back at this time in your life, and find out what you were actually doing, day-to-day, and how you really felt back then. It will help you make better decisions.

Just put aside a few minutes to write what you did and how you felt today.

Benefits of a daily diary and topic journals, Derek Sivers

I hope these are solid reasons for you to seriously consider journaling. If you’re still on the fence to embrace journaling, I have an idea. Start with “why you’re still on the fence” and see what happens. From my experience, that’s all it takes to get started.

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