I’m a big fan of journaling. But I’m not a fan of taking time to write in your journal in the morning.
Before I dive too deep into this subject, I don’t want to get the idea of writing in the morning confused with writing in a journal in the morning.
The idea of “morning pages” as made popular by Julie Cameron in The Artist’s Way is a good one, but I don’t consider that to be journaling in its purest sense. That’s because when you work on these pages (or spend time “freewriting” as Mark Levy discusses in his book Accidental Genius), you’re not setting out to journal. Instead, you’re really emptying the mind. Sure, some of the things that might come out would fit into a journal entry but those would be incidental rather than intentional. In my mind, that doesn’t fulfill the promise of what journaling can offer you and your productivity.
In fact, when you write in your journal in the morning, you don’t have much to chronicle yet. If anything, you’re spending time writing out what you’re planning to do for the day. There may be other bits of writing that get into a morning journal entry but in my experience the majority of what is written are plans for the hours ahead. I don’t think that’s an effective use of that time.
So what should you do then?
First off, as I mentioned earlier, I am a big fan journaling. But you need to time it in a way that allows you to leverage the early part of the day for action as opposed to reflection.
That means when you start off your day – whether you’re a morning person or a night owl – you should invest your time, energy, intention, and attention to your plans for the day. (These are plans that you arranged ahead of time that allow you to be intentional. Otherwise, you are being reactive instead of proactive with your day.)
I journal at night, and part of that process involves mapping out my three “absolutes” for the next day. Those tasks are aligned with my Daily Themes as well. (If you’re using The NOW Year Weekly Worksheet Deskpad then you can simply write them down for each day you’ve planned, listing the primary absolute task at the top.)
Writing in my journal is part of my evening routine, so I begin my entries just as I’m closing out my day. At that point, I’m pretty much spent and I’m ready to fully reflect on the moments of the day that has just gone by. The act of journaling right before bed allows me to fall asleep faster and deeper because I’ve emptied all of the tanks – physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual.
Now you may not be a night owl like me so writing in a journal at the end of the day won’t work. No problem. Instead, pick one of these other times:
The End of the Workday
You can do this either before you leave the office or once you check that last email. The benefit of journaling at this time is that it could trigger a smoother transition from work life to home life.
You may even want to keep two journals: one for work and one for home. I know some people who do that and it allows them to keep their two lives as separate as possible. This helps them with perspective and balance… something we all could use a little more of these days.
Believe it or not, this is a great time to journal. Why? If you set it up right, you’ll have the time available to do an entry while you digest your food and have a trigger for your entry as well.
What do I mean by “trigger” for your entry? Well, you could begin each entry with what you had for dinner. This could be useful if you’re trying to eat better or just need something to get the journaling process going.
After dinner, you’ve still got the energy to write and time left to spend with family and friends. Plus you’ve attached the journaling habit to a consistent element of your day: dinner time. All of these reasons can lead to a consistent and beneficial journaling habit.
Try “Interstitial” Journaling
I received an email from my friend Ellis Nash that directed me to this tactic shared by Tony Stubblebine. As Tony puts in the piece, here’s the basic idea:
”…instead of tracking your work with a to-do list, track your work with a journal.”
I think you could also do this in tandem with a to do list. Actually, if you have our free daily progress planner, you could do this on the back of the sheet for each day.
While I don’t journal this way often, when I’m traveling I find that interstitial journaling helps. That’s because it allows me to chronicle the day when I’m on the go. The outcome is I wind up with a decent entry that I can simply wrap up before bed instead of devoting time to writing it entirely at bedtime.
What to Do Instead of Morning Journaling
It’s simple, really.
Move the plans for your day forward.
The simplest way to do this is, as I do, by indicating those plays through the previous day’s journal entry. You could also couple that with adding Daily Themes to your productivity framework (Daily Themes are a key element of TimeCrafting) and by doing that you give yourself “funnelled focus” for the day. You’ll have less in your way as you start to execute on the actions of the day.
Journaling aids in the planning through reflection. But you need space between the reflection and execution. That’s why journaling in the morning isn’t the best use of your time. Giving attention to your intentions for the day is.
Now if you’re not journaling already, you need to start today. It’s not that hard to do once you get started and the payoff is tremendous. In fact, you can check out The Small Wins 10 Day Journaling Challenge I’ve put together by entering your email below. It’s a great way to build a journaling habit that works for you.