The human brain is the most complex structure in the universe. With it we solve equations, write poetry, and recall our first days of school.
Because the brain is so complex, we often have a hard time juggling so many thoughts throughout our day, and end up overwhelmed, lacking clarity, or simply unable to process the jumble of inputs, floating thoughts and ideas.
Fortunately, we can use tools to help our thoughts sort themselves out, one of the most effective being a journal.
The Benefits of Journaling
Journaling is not simply writing a letter to yourself at the end of the day, recalling the days events. This is a diary, and is simply one type of journal.
At it’s heart, journaling is simply taking the experiences, reflections, and ideas that are in your head, and writing them down.
By putting your thoughts into written word, you engage in a creative process that allows you to brainstorm effective solutions and explore new lines of thinking.
Related: Morning Routines of Entrepreneurs
It is no wonder that journaling is a habit effective entrepreneurs make a part of their routine. Few things come close to providing the clarity of thought and organizing of the mind that journaling can provide.
The good news is, journaling doesn’t have to be a time-consuming process. It could be as simple as jotting down a few reflections during your morning cup of coffee.
Recipe for Simple Journaling
One of the simplest journaling practices is simply doing a little reflection on the past, positive thinking to increase happiness, and planning for the day to promote growth.
Exercise - Tomorrow morning, take out a sheet of paper and answer the following questions before you start your day:
- What was something awesome about yesterday?
- What was something that could have been improved yesterday?
- What is something that you are thankful for today?
- What would make today great?
Journaling the answers to these four questions on a regular basis will provide you with the necessary reflection and planning needed to make better decisions as an entrepreneur, increasing clarity and mindfulness.
Besides a routine of journaling, sometimes it is just helpful to write out reflections on a specific topic that is floating around in your head. I know for myself I often am paralyzed by a decision or upcoming situation, and one of the only solutions is to simply sit down with a notebook and hash out my thoughts into words.
Examples of times when as-needed journaling can be effective:
- When you need to weigh your options. This is where the classic “pros and cons” list can be effective. Yes, that is a form of journaling. You are simply committing your thoughts about an option to words. Many times the answer becomes clearer when you write out the outcomes of a decision.
- When you begin to feel overwhelmed. Sometimes we have so much going on in our lives that we can’t organize it all in our heads. For me, that is when I feel overwhelmed. To combat this, I simply do a brain dump of all the ideas or responsibilities that I have, and organize them. If they are actions that need to be taken, I delegate them to a day or time on the calendar, then forget about them. I can then rest easy knowing that all of those thoughts are now handled, and there is an appropriate time designated to getting them done.
- When you need to reflect to improve the future. Every three months I take a quarterly retreat to reflect upon the last three months, and journaling is an important part of this process. In journaling I write out what has worked and was hasn’t…what I could have changed and what was out of my control. Most importantly, I set goals for the next three months. All of this takes the form of journal entries that I convert into lists later on.
- When you need to make a plan. Have a large responsibility on your shoulders? Do you need to strategize for a project? Journaling is a great way to brainstorm potential paths to completing a task, and often provides the clarity of thought needed to lay out what the necessary steps are to ensure success. As entrepreneurs, we often need to use this type of as-needed journaling to plan out a marketing push, or new feature for our products.
- When you need to process a situation. Sometimes our perception of a situation can cripple us. Whether it is something that has happened in the past or is coming in the future, we can sometimes over or under-react in a way that is not healthy. Journaling helps to provide perspective on a situation, and assists our brains in properly processing it in a way that fosters a healthy outlook. This in-turn reduces stress, which allows us to function better and get more done.
The beauty of journaling is that it can be messy, and that’s okay. With journaling, you don’t have to follow any pattern or rules, you can just write what comes into your head. The more free we allow our thoughts to be, the more effective the process of journaling becomes.
Paper or Screen?
Journaling purists will tell you to only use paper when journaling, but many of us type so much faster than we write, that using our keyboards can be a great way to dump our thoughts into words for processing.
For me, there are times I prefer paper journaling, and times I prefer to type it out. I don’t think that one way is truly better than the other.
Fortunately, there are a variety of journaling tools out there to get started with:
The Free Ones
I’m honestly a big fan of simply using the default Notes app on my Mac for simple journaling. It can sync across my phone, computer, and tablet instantaneously.
If you’re looking for a more robust option, then Evernote is a free, cross-platform solution for maintaining a synchronized journal.
If you are interested in a dedicated journaling app, one that highlights dates of entry and provides thought-provoking questions for you, then you might want to search your device’s app store for a journaling app.
I’m partial to the Apple ecosystem, so I’ve enjoyed using Day One, an app for both the desktop and iOS.
I like how Day One has built-in notifications that nudge me to write an entry for the day. There are also a handful of additional features that are not necessary, but kind of nice to have (such as auto-tagging your location where you wrote it, and a passcode lock to maintain privacy).
If you are going to go the paper route, I enjoy a sketch book as there are no line rules, so if part of my journaling includes a mind map or flowchart, I can just draw those in unimpeded by existing lines.
The Five Minute Journal
A physical journal that has been getting a lot of positive feedback lately is called The Five Minute Journal.
The journal is meant to be used twice a day, and has the same questions for each entry:
- I am grateful for…
- What would make today great?
- Daily affirmations, I am…
- 3 Amazing things that happened today…
- How could I have made today better?
It is printed and bound in a high-quality package, complete with ribbon bookmark, and costs $22.95.
I have one personally, and have enjoyed the simplicity of it. There’s never a need to remember what to journal about since it is all laid out for you.
Sometimes it makes sense to release your journal publicly to the world. Whether it is for accountability, or just to share with others who may be going through the same thing, you can use a blog as a platform to journal out your thoughts. My friend Josh Doody did exactly this when he was working on overcoming the fear of launching a product.
“It helps to write things so I’m forced to think deeply about them. If I know someone else might read it, that adds another layer because I also need to be sure to write clearly.” - Josh Doody
No matter whether you write down your reflections and thoughts on paper or screen, the action of putting words to your thoughts opens up a creative process that provides insight and clarity in a way that few other exercises can. It is exactly this insight that empowers many successful entrepreneurs to rise to the top.