A New Kind of Journaling

WAIT! First, let’s clarify some things —

When I journal, I don’t:

  • Write a gazillion words about every event which happened the day before
  • Muse over what life decision I should make
  • Spend more than 15 minutes (ever) in the journal
  • Try to process my feeeeelings
  • Write entries people could understand if I got hit by a bus tomorrow.

I tried all these things for a few days. Then, after wiping all the vomit off my screen, I figured out a better way.

If you’ve ever wondered if there’s a better way, there is

I view journaling more like medicine. It’s not always pleasant, so I get in and out as fast as possible. I’m looking for minimum time commitment; maximum effective impact.

After trying traditional journaling for a a few days, I realized I could not write one more word about myself without spewing vomit all over the screen.

So instead, I created Micro Journaling. I’ll get into how exactly it works, toward the end of this post, but first, here are the benefits I’ve seen:

I enjoy my mornings more

Once in my life I committed to 30 minutes journaling a day.

This meant I had to get up extra early, and will some sort of cohesive thought out of my brain before coffee.

Most days, that just meant I sat there for 10 minutes staring at the screen and wondering where all the brilliant insights had gone to hide.

With MicroJournaling, I’m in and out in 10 minutes, which means I have plenty of time to walk my dog, cook breakfast, or just read before stepping into the rest of the day.

I come up with more ideas

Here’s the tricky part- the ideas don’t always come during the journaling.

Most of my early morning ideas are total crap. And that’s okay.

Thats because MicroJournaling is not work — it’s a mindset calibration.

When I start my days with ideas, I am more likely to think of ideas throughout the day.

If nothing else, MicroJournaling helps me see options where there were none before.

I am more grateful

A few weeks into my new journaling routine, I made one change which altered the feel of the whole exercise:

I wrote one thing I was grateful for.

Now, instead of only looking for more (ideas, money, connections) I finish with gratitude.

I have never appreciated new things until I started being thankful for what I already have.

I am more flexible when things go wrong

And things go wrong. All the time.

Have you ever tried the time management plan where you set a schedule for every single minute in your day?

It’s fun isn’t it?

Until you realize 15 minutes in you’ve got to put out a fire at work.

Then your car runs out of gas.

Then your power goes out.

Then you throw the schedule in the toilet, claiming “those things just don’t work for me.”

Micro Journaling helps me trade a map for a compass. Part of the exercise is coming up with 10 ideas. The point is not to come up with 10 useful ideas, but to remember there is more than one solution to every problem.

So long as I find a way to get where I need to be, it doesn’t matter how I get there.

I recognize bad ideas are part of getting to good ideas

Stop me if you’ve seen this scenario before:

  • Jane Employee comes into her first big meeting.
  • Her new team talks about a problem they are currently facing.
  • Thinking she can help, Jane raises her hand and offers a solution.
  • The table snickers, until someone pipes up — “we tried that last year and it was a total disaster.”
  • Jane never raises her hand in a meeting again.

I probably think of 17 terrible ideas a day. If I had a dollar for every time someone raises an eyebrow at me, I’d have… well at least like $43.

When you first start Micro Journaling, you’ll struggle. You’ll get 3 good ideas and wonder why you can’t think of any more. You might give up after the first couple of days.

That’s because you’ve forgotten — you have to get past decent to get to bad, and then you have to get past bad to get to great.


Now, here’s how it works:

Step 1: Write the date.

Do not skip this step. By listing every day out, you remind myself you are alive, you are being intentional, and you acknowledge you will never get another chance to live this day.

Today is July 20th, 2016. I will never get another July 20th, 2016 ever again.

Step 2: Make a list of 10(ish) things

Lists make terrible news articles, but great morning brain stretches.

You can either start with a category in mind — “10 reasons I love my job” — or you can start by writing down a statement you’ve been thinking about — “College is too safe” — and try and come up with reasons that complement that.

It doesn’t really matter what the list is made of. The whole point, really, of any intellectual morning routine is to make your brain go “hmmm.” When the brain goes “hmmm,” you have moved from instinct to higher level thinking.

Honestly, the number of things you list doesn’t really matter either. Do whatever it takes to get to the “hmmm” moment. If you list 10 colors, and you didn’t once have to try and remember one, the activity is a worthless. However, if you’re me, and can only think about 4 colors at any given moment, this would be a challenge.

(If your prompt happens to be “Things that could improve the American political system,” you might hit the “hmm” right away. I am much too scared of this topic to try a list on it.)

Step 3: Write one thing you are grateful for

Again, what you’re going for is the maximum effect with the minimum amount of time. I don’t want you to think about it, I just want to you write one thing that comes to mind.

Step 4: Quit journaling and get back to your life.

The whole process takes anywhere from 3 to 10 minutes, depending on how many things you actually end up writing and how big your “hmmm” is.


Do you love journaling? Hate it? Do you have your own journaling routine? Let me know your thoughts below, and let’s keep this conversation going.

— TB

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