Use A Journal To Take Control Of Your Life And Get More Done
I used to laugh when people said I should start writing in a notebook everyday.
I mean, what could I possibly write down that is so interesting?
But like a lot of things in my previously chaotic life, I completely missed (or ignored) the benefits of diarising my thoughts.
Whether you call it a notebook, diary, journal or even if you use social media to do this, it doesn’t matter. More important is the task of ACTUALLY doing it. Taking action and just getting on with it.
It is through writing in my notebook that I have developed an outlet to collect my thoughts in one place.
Before I started doing this on a regular basis, I had no reference point in my life.
No way of referring back to earlier thoughts, ideas, processes, actions and experiences.
You are probably wondering, ‘what does writing in a notebook have to do with getting more done?’
It turns out that a notebook is a powerful tool that increases our awareness. How do we know what we want to accomplish if we don’t know what we have done or how we felt about it?
It is a place to record our thoughts, our aspirations and is a record of our lives. I also believe that it is therapeutic. You can say anything you want in your notebook. It’s a chance to get something off your chest.
Writing your thoughts down on paper is a great way to practice what you are going to say during a job interview, a first date or before a presentation.
A notebook has allowed me to assemble my thoughts and ideas in one place and I am able to refer to them on a regular basis. A by product of consistently jotting down my thoughts has been an increase in my awareness. I started to notice the world around me in greater detail and I was able to learn more about myself.
Why Keep a Physical Notebook?
You will notice that I used the word physical.
The reason for that is I prefer to jot my thoughts down on a beautiful moleskin notebook that my wife bought for me.
Since then, I have always replaced each used book with another exactly like it. I like the feel of real paper and the physicality of actually writing as opposed to using a keyboard, which I do 95% of the time.
I also separate the two tasks in my mind thus:
- Laptop equals work and specific work tasks and has an end goal.
- Notebook equals thoughts, musings, ideas and aspirations and has no end goal.
A notebook is portable, it doesn’t need batteries, and it won’t break when you drop it. A notebook is available for less than a few pounds and if you run out of room, you buy another one.
Also, as I said earlier, I enjoy the break from typing on a computer keyboard by writing ‘freehand.’
It is an excellent tool for remembering things. Many of us might remember the general story, but forget the details. These are not easily forgotten when we keep a notebook and are able to refer to them.
A record of your thoughts also allows us to leave a legacy for others. I have lots of books that may open a window on my world after my death.
Not that interesting to the wider world, I grant you.
However, for my children it shows them a little bit of me, stuff that might not have been obvious to them when I was alive.
How to Keep a Notebook?
Thinking in a creative or abstract way is a habit that should be encouraged and developed.
For example, if an employee works too many hours, he will get burned out. The chances of him being able to come up with a creative solution to a problem will be slim.
If we are too busy working, we won’t have the time to develop our creativity. Too busy working in the problem rather than on the problem.
Society teaches us at a young age to start thinking logically about a problem and not creatively.
Logically equals left brained thinking and creatively equals right brained thinking.
All across the world, the funding for many right brained school programs is being cut.
The three R’s are emphasized, reading, writing and arithmetic. The three R’s are all left-brained oriented activities, in other words, logical thinking.
Writing down your thoughts uses the right side of your brain, the creativity that everyone has inside them.
If you don’t know what you are going to write, then do this:
Start taping newspaper or magazine clippings or photographs in your notebook. You will be surprised at how one word comments will start to form into sentences or paragraphs.
Don’t worry if you can’t spell a word correctly or if your grammar isn’t what it used to be. It just doesn’t matter.
The most important thing is to keep your ideas ‘flowing’, what I call free writing. You need to come up with more reasons to write, not less.
Too many people have been afraid to write their thoughts down for fear that somebody else might read what they wrote.
I recommend that you make it clear to your loved-ones the rules regarding your journals.
I am proud of what I have written even if it might make certain people uneasy.
While I don’t want anyone else to read my notebooks (even my family), I would never use that as an excuse not to start.
Believe me, the benefits of writing greatly outweigh the risk of somebody taking a peak at it.
There are no rules in writing. Each of us has the freedom to come up with our own guidelines when we write. You can be as silly or serious as you want.
When you are fully focused while writing, you will be able to block out distractions.
Remember a by product of keeping a record of your thoughts is increasing awareness. However, this only works if we focus on writing and not on other tasks at the same time.
When to Keep a Notebook?
Might sound a silly question but the whole premise of this idea is that you take it with you as much as you can.
I recommend that you always have it with you and the only time I don’t take it, is when my wife and I are going out.
I actually use a ‘man bag’, a lovely little brown leather satchel. This contains my phone, notebook and a few pencils (don’t know why but I prefer writing in pencil).
Take it to the doctor’s office and write in it during the 30 minutes that you are in the waiting room. Carry your notebook to the shopping centre and write in it while your spouse is in the dressing room. If you are shopping by yourself, make sure you take a break and write in your notebook over a cup of coffee.
I always bring my notebook to business meetings so that I can take notes. I highlight certain passages for later action. Once you develop the habit of notebook writing, you will be amazed at the amount of ideas that flow onto the page. During meetings or at other times of the day, ideas pop into my head.
If I am not writing at the time, I make sure that I write these down when they happen, so that I can take action on them later. By keeping a notebook and having it with me, my ideas will always be in one place.
I don’t have any order to my writing at all. All I do is write the date at the top of each page and circle it. That’s it. I then crack on and just write whatever is in my head.
I don’t even edit my thoughts. This is not supposed to be some sanitised version of events — these are my thoughts. I want them recorded in their raw form as a reference to exactly how I was feeling that day.
I am amazed at what I have accomplished.
When you feel moved by a lecture or an event, I encourage you to write down your thoughts and feelings. I find great satisfaction in looking at my notebook entries over time to remember how I felt.
It is important to look for themes and patterns over your life. It will help you in making decisions and will give you a greater sense of stability and control.
Keeping a note of your thoughts on a consistent basis will help increase your awareness.
Benefits of recording your thoughts
Everyone will have different reasons why they document their thoughts on a regular basis. For me at least, it promotes positive and permanent lifestyle changes.
It allows me to keep asking ‘what does this mean to me’ for inner reflection. I have come to rely upon my notes as a way to gain confidence before an important decision has to be made. The regularity and openness of my writing has also allowed me to increase the meaning in my life.
After I pre-ordered a new car, I was worried about the monthly payments for five years. Could I afford them? I wondered what my family might say and if it was the right model.
I must have written four solid pages on how I felt. When I reread my entry, I knew I had made the right decision and I have never questioned myself since.
This might not sound like a big deal because I was only buying a small, hybrid hatchback. But due to my previous excess consumerism, I was beating myself up about the whole thing.
Not only does making notes increase your awreness but also it allows you to be more present. This is exactly what employees need.
As well as my belief that executives needing ‘unthinking time’, what if they were also keeping notes of their thoughts?
I believe a notebook is there to write anything down as it flows from your mind. In this case, no end goal to your writing also fits in with my belief about unthinking time.
They could come up with creative ideas to their current problems.
They may even discover that they are in the wrong industry.
It is better for a company to have employees who want to be there. An engaged employee will make a much better contribution.
A few years ago, I attended an executive coaching class. We were divided into groups and asked to walk up to complete strangers and ask them, ‘what do you do?’
A lot of people relayed their profession: accountant, shop assistant, lecturer, plumber, etc. The most interesting response was from a university student.
She said, “I’m a student of life.”
Sounds corny and perhaps it is but it that’s exactly what I am.
A recorder of thoughts and a true student of life in all its forms. Or rather I should say, that’s what I have become.
What do you want your answer to be?
Do you want to be a clock-watcher who isn’t happy with your job or do you want to take an active role in the direction of your life?
Keeping a record of your thoughts and feelings will allow you to gain more control of your life. It will allow you to plan your own course with the help of your notebook.
Use your notebooks as a timeline. Imagine being able to look back at your notes to see the progress you have made in the direction that you have chosen.
This article was originally published on the Calm Simplicity Blog.