I failed to journal consistently for years.
Then, last year I listened to this interview with Robert Rodriquez. He talks about how he’s kept a daily journal for a long time. (Skip to 07:00 to hear this part, and 10:30 if you’re really pressed for time. The parent-centric part is a few minutes long and the whole section ends about 14:45).
He tells a story he tells about reliving memories with his kids from journal entries. They say they want to go camping. He searches his journal and finds an old entry about a time they set up tents in the backyard and watched movies. The entry lists a tape number and he pulls out the home movies of the occasion. And the family gets to re-live that great moment.
That night, I opened up a new entry addressed to my daughter and spent a few minutes logging what we did that day. That was about 7 months ago. Looking back, I’m shocked at the change in my consistency:
- 16% in the first 237 days of last year (only 38 entries)
- 83% in the 208 days since being inspired by that interview (173 entries)
- 90% in 2016 (74 entries in 82 days, as of this writing)
The other thing that shocked me is how fast I forget things. When I missed a day or two, and then a few more days passed before I had time to catch up, I was completely blank. After just three or four days, I couldn’t remember a single thing I did on those days.
On the other hand, I’m amazed by how a one little sentence about some silly event brings back vivid memories of the day. I read the simple line: “For the first time, I swung you on my lap.” And with that I quickly remember how cold it was that day. We were all bundled up. I was switching hands, one holding the chain, and the other trying to keep yours warm. You were so content that you weren’t moving a muscle. And by the end, you were falling asleep. We were looking over the playground facing the school. I can even remember the exact seat I was sitting in! All from 10 words.
What to write
Don’t worry too much about what to write. If you think it needs to be big, important, insightful, polished and well crafted, forget about it. You probably won’t get anything on the page. Or even if you do, after a few determined days, you’ll resist it and eventually stop.
Start by just quickly capturing what happened in the day. I like doing this at the end of the day before bed, but first thing in the morning works just as well. Just make sure you do it before the memory fades (and it will fade fast). I often do this in 2-3 minutes in a quick bullet list.
Then, if time and energy permit, expand on each point. Write additional details that you thnk were interesting. Write about how you felt, or what it meant to you. Write about what exited or worried you. What made you happy, sad or angry. These things might seem obvious to you now, but what about in five years? It will be fun to look back and see what mattered to your former self.I usually do this in the same sitting, but sometimes I’m too busy and come back a few days later (the bullet points queue my memory).
Half of the time I stop at logging the days events (in various levels of detail). But in the other half, once the creative energy is flowing, deeper thoughts spring to mind and I spend some time capturing those too.
The main purpose of a journal is to help you remember, not to be the memory. Don’t worry about quality or quantity, just capture enough to help you recall later.
What tool to use
Where you keep your journal is as unimportant as what to write about. Do whatever will work.
Robert Rodriguez uses a Microsoft Word document. He opens a new file for each year, and just keeps a rolling log separated by date for the entire year.
I’m currently using Evernote. I have a notebook in Evernote called “Journal” and I create a new note for each day titled with the date in “YYYY-MM-DD” format (so I can reverse sort by title).
One of the benefits for using Evernote is capturing pictures on my phone right into a note. I often snap a series of pictures, then later that night just open the note with the pictures and write the journal entry right on top of it.
I’ve also tried using DayOne (when I had a Mac), but it’s just another program to open and I spend a lot of time in Evernote already. That said, I think it’s a great program, so worth trying if you want a dedicated place for your journal.
And of course, there’s always the old fashioned way: actually write (by hand) in a notebook. I much prefer to type, so that doesn’t work for me, but it may for you.