For the past 6 weeks, I’ve been using the Best Self Journal. And you know what? I think my self has gotten a little better.
The Best Self Journal, launched via Kickstarter in 2015, is designed to help you set and achieve your goals. The notebook covers thirteen weeks that begin with naming your goals and identifying concrete action steps to achieve them. Each day is a two-page spread that allows you plan your schedule, track your progress toward your goals, and reflect on how you’re doing. Each week, you can reflect on your progress over another two-page spread. It’s a daily planner that went to a Steven Covey seminar.
Because I’m about halfway through the journal, I thought this would be a good time to write a review and share my thoughts about it. I’ve kept notebooks for years and experimented with a variety of formats. I’ve also struggled with goal setting and staying to track to meet my goals. When I saw the Best Self Journal on Kickstarter, I immediately thought it could help me out.
Cathryn Lavery and Allen Brouwer designed the Best Self Journal around a few basic principles, such as “crafting a roadmap for your life” and “bookend your day with positive psychology.” The journal contains a number of short essays about productivity and positive thinking, and each day includes an inspirational quote.
Some of it, frankly, I found a bit hokey, but there is some valuable ideas there. For me, “The 20-Mile March” has encouraged me to keep working away on my goal bit by bit. Lavery and Brouwer summarize Jim Collins’ story of Antarctic explorer Roald Amundsen, who challenged his team to march 20 miles a day — and no more — toward the South Pole, no matter the weather, even on days when they could have made greater distance. Using this consistent pace, Amundsen outperformed his rival Robert Scott, who let the weather determine his pace each day.
Physically, the notebook is similar to a Baron Fig, with a hard cloth cover and thick, quality paper. My fountain pens feather a bit on the paper, but all other pens work great, with zero bleed through. The pages are mostly well-designed (more on my quibbles in a bit), and I appreciated the thorough explanation/pep talk at the beginning of the notebook.
What Has Worked for Me
Unlike New Year’s or Groundhog Day Resolutions, the Best Self Journal can be started at any time, which is a great feature. I started my journal in April, after I had finished another notebook and (more importantly) after the busy-ness of Christmas and Easter had died down. At that point, I’d had my Best Self Journal for a few months, so I had time to read about the principles behind it and think about the goals that I want to set.
The Best Self Journal approaches goals in some very helpful ways. At the start of the journal, there is an agreement that you make with yourself, not only setting your goals for the next 13 weeks but also identifying why you want to achieve this goal, naming the specific actions you need to take each day, and promising yourself a reward if you meet your goal. Each day, the journal asks you to name your goals again (or different ones, if you want) and schedule your day — your entire day, in 30 minute increments — around your commitments and goals. Each week, you reflect on your progress and make any necessary adjustments.
This structure has helped in a few different ways. By asking me why my goal is important, I was able to articulate how my goal fit into my vision for a better life. Breaking down specific action steps helped me see ways that I could work toward goal every day, even if I had only half an hour to spend on it. Reflecting on the goal on a regular basis — and having a reward to look forward to — kept the goal on mind. Many times, I’ve set a personal goal only to become distracted by more pressing needs after a couple of weeks. The Best Self Journal guards against this danger.
What Hasn’t Worked for Me
The amount of time required by the Best Self Journal’s system took me by surprise. There are reflective sections to complete every morning and every evening, and I’ve found it difficult to give these the thought and time they deserve. Even though I’m a morning person by nature, by the time I walk the dog and get my kids to school, I don’t have much margin before the work day begins. It might get better when the kids are out of school in a couple of weeks. Funnily enough, the time that I could spend in the evening on the journal has been taken up by my work toward my goal, so perhaps that’s for the best.
Keeping up with the Best Self Journal has been a struggle, but not in the way that most people would experience. As a longtime journal keeper and inveterate notetaker, I found myself needing to carry two notebooks — the Best Self Journal plus my regular notebook for the rest of my notetaking. The journal includes only a strip of one page for notes in each daily two-page spread, plus a one more page for notes each week. This isn’t nearly enough for me — I can easily fill 5 or more pages of notes if I have a busy day.
Finally, the journal's recommendation to schedule every half-hour of your entire day — Zero-Based Scheduling — has proven to be unrealistic for me. In my role as the leader of a software development team at a mid-sized business, I'm interrupted constantly by members of my team and by other departments. I have to be flexible with my day, willing to pause projects if my attention is needed somewhere else. So I've adapted the Best Self Journal to leave plenty of breaks and catch-up time throughout the day.
If the Best Self Journal offered a version with lighter daily work and more pages for notes, covering a shorter period of time (a month to six weeks), it would be perfect for me.
My Progress So Far
My goal was to submit a book proposal by the end of 13 weeks. To reach this goal, I set a daily goal of writing for 30 minutes a day, along with some bigger goals like completing an outline, working on regular blog posts on unrelated topics (which motivate me), and scheduling time for editing and research.
Being consistent has always been my greatest challenge in writing. Even though I have written extensively over my life, too often it has been done under pressure at the last minute, followed by weeks or even months of no writing at all. To complete a book proposal, never mind an actual book, I know that keeping to a regular schedule is going to be key for me.
The Best Self Journal has definitely helped me improve in this regard. I haven’t managed to write every day, but I have on more days than not. As I write this, I’m working on a streak of 11 days in a row of meeting my writing goal. The journal has encouraged me to intentionally schedule time for writing each day and then keep track of my progress. I may be a bit behind where I would like to be with my book proposal, but I have tried writing a book proposal before and I feel the best about this attempt in terms of the structure, amount of thought and planning that I’ve given him, and likelihood of success.
Will I buy another Best Self Journal when I’m finished with this one? Probably not, because I prefer keeping just one notebook at a time. However, I will definitely incorporate several of the journal’s principles as I move forward. Alongside David Seah’s Emergent Task Planner, David Allen’s Getting Things Done and Ryder Carroll’s Bullet Journal, Lavery and Brouwer’s Best Self Journal has earned a place in my notebook toolbox.