You might be wondering how in the world journaling can help you attain more focused attention. Well, like the brain dump, journaling helps you clear your mind of stuff that is cluttering it. Journaling also lets you review regularly and stay on course instead of deviating from what your priorities are.
Some of the most successful people in history kept a daily journal. Here are just a few names you may recognize:
- Jack Kerouac
- Benjamin Franklin
- Anais Nin
- Andy Warhol
- Franz Kafka
- Ernest Hemingway
- Mark Twain
- George Lucas
Maria Popova of the popular blog Brain Pickings describes the benefits of keeping a journal as follows:
“Journaling, I believe, is a practice that teaches us better than any other the elusive art of solitude — how to be present with our own selves, bear witness to our experience, and fully inhabit our inner lives.”
Keeping a journal is, like the brain dump, not complicated. Here are some tips to start (and keep) an effective journaling habit:
Use a photo as a prompt for your journal entry. Whenever I journal, I use a photo from my day to act as a trigger to start the writing process. I have my smartphone with me all day and have gotten into the habit of taking a photo every day of something that stands out. I use that photo as a way to get the creative juices flowing. From there, I usually crank out 300 words or so that chronicle the highlights of my day. (If you don’t have an application on your computer or smartphone where you can type your journal, use the photo from your smartphone to inspire the writing in your paper journal anyway. Just describe the photo and you’ll find you’ll be on your way with a new entry.)
2. Add journaling to your morning routine. When you wake up first thing in the morning, tack on writing in your journal as part of the start of your day. It’s an excellent way to shape the day the way you want it to be. Julie Cameron, the author of The Artist’s Way, discusses her “morning pages” as something she does every morning. She simply writes whatever comes to mind and doesn’t judge what comes out of her head. She just writes. You could do the same thing.
3. Add journaling to your evening routine. I don’t journal in the morning because I refer to my to-do list and calendar to start my day. But I do journal in the evening before bed. Add writing your journal entry to your bedtime routine. The last thing I do before I brush and floss my teeth is write in my journal. It clears my mind of any residual ideas or thoughts about the day I may have and helps me get to sleep much faster. David Allen calls these “open loops,” and if you can close as many of them as possible in a journal entry before you go to bed, you may even have a more restful sleep.
If you’ve ever watched Star Trek, you know that the “captain’s log” was an essential part of every episode. The log described where the USS Enterprise had been, where it was currently, and where it was going. The log would help the crew course correct if they veered too far from their mission and also chronicle how they got off course in the first place.
Journaling can do the same for you. It can show your present self where you were and how you got to where you are now. Plus it can help you steer yourself in the right direction on an ongoing basis. That alone is going to be a great way to help you make progress on your priorities. The journal keeps your intentions in front of you, your attention focused, and your progress moving forward — instead of going off course.