Keeping a journal can be one of the most rewarding and growth-enhancing things you can do.

Some of the most successful and productive people keep journals and use them for a variety of purposes.

Whether you’ve been keeping a journal for awhile or never started one (see 5 Steps to Starting a Journal), it helps to consider how to make the most of this activity.

Using a strategic approach will promote greater:   1) self-awareness,  2) creativity and productivity,  3)  learning and progress tracking, 4)  stress relief, and 5) ability to organize your material for potential later use.


Here are 5 elements to include in your journal entries:

1)  Include a Date/Time/Location

Adding a timestamp to your entries can be a great way to see what you were thinking during a particular place and time in your life.   It can give context to the words that you write, especially if you read your entries much later than the time they were written.  

By adding a date, you can also easily go back and find content you wrote related to specific events such as holidays and birthdays.  Including the time of day and physical location (home in bedroom, on back patio, in Cincinnati hotel, etc.) can provide additional information to help you spot patterns  (e.g., where do you do your most in-depth writing, where were you when something happened, etc.).

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2)  Capture Current Activities and Events

For many people, ongoing activities and events make up a large part of the content of their journal.  The events, actions, decisions, and circumstances of your life help tell a story of what is going on.  The idea here is to make it as personal as possible, focusing on what you are actively doing, not just experiencing.  Examples include what you are reading, watching, struggling with, and accomplishing.


3)  Explore your Thoughts/Feelings/Interpretations

By including your reactions, feelings, and insights to what is going on in your life, you add a layer of depth and meaning to the activities and events going on.  While certainly not mandatory, if you take the time to explore and express your emotions and thoughts, you’ll be more likely to get additional self-awareness as well as potential solutions to problems you may be trying to solve.  Rather than just report that you ran 3 miles on your treadmill, also add how that made your body or mind feel, and talk about your sense of progress against your fitness goals.


4)  Document your Intentions and Goals

Using a journal to express your goals and intentions in writing can be a powerful tool to increase motivation, commitment, and accountability for whatever you are trying to achieve.   Even if you don’t share what you write down with anyone else, the act of putting it in writing helps “cement” your plans in your mind and build momentum. 

You can experiment with different variations of your intention statements until a version “feels right” and explore various ideas for goals and projects.   You can then rewrite these intentions and goals in numerous entries to remind yourself what you are working toward and sustain your passion.


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5)  Allow for Creative Ideas and Expression

A journal can be a great place to capture and express all kinds of creative output.   It’s a safe place, without judgment, to put down what feels good, and what you want to have, be or do.  You can experiment with poetic words, song verses that move you, and names for product ideas.   You can draw images, flowcharts, diagrams, or just doodle. 

The idea is the just let whatever is your mind and heart flow out onto the paper without critiquing it and let it live and breathe rather than stay bottled up inside you.   Once you get used to allowing ideas and thoughts to bubble up, it will start to come naturally to express it on paper.

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