What does your journal look like?
What kind of a pen do you use?
Exactly how do YOU journal?
I hear these questions a lot. And it makes sense. After all, I show up in your inbox each week and on LinkedIn every day talking about journaling.
So today I’m going to give you a peek into my practice.
Are you ready?
When and Where
I journal every morning, pretty close to first thing. (Though if I exercise, that usually comes first so I make sure I get it done for the day.)
I take my journal and assorted supplies downstairs to the living room, snuggle under my favorite blue fuzzy blanket, turn on these battery powered candles for ambiance, and get to work. I want to be comfortable enough to enjoy my journaling experience, but not so comfortable that I’ll fall asleep!
You’ll see here my journal and pen, my clipboards, another pen, and a pencil. These are what I use every day. Sometimes there’s an additional notepad, if I have some particular notes I know I’ll want to make on something - usually a grocery list or to-do list.
I also do a bit of journaling in the evenings, before I go to bed. I use this One Line a Day journal to capture the high points of my day, and love the idea that I’m creating a five year record of the best moments of my life!
I use a hardcover journal I found at Walmart for $7.92. I’ve been using a variation of this for the last couple of years and have been really pleased with it.
I like a hard cover because I journal on my lap, and it’s important to me that the book opens flat. The pages are pretty thick and smooth, and the lines are thinly ruled. (I find that the more thinly ruled the paper, the neater my handwriting tends to be. And when the paper is thick enough, I don’t have to worry about the ink bleeding through the page.) There’s also a ribbon which is nice for marking my place so I know where I left off writing.
This particular book has a calendar at the top of each page so I could just circle the month and day, but I find I don’t usually do that. I prefer to write the date out longhand at the start of each entry.
There’s really nothing special about this journal other than it meets my needs. And at less than $8, I feel the freedom of filling the pages however I wish. I usually fill a book a quarter, so I don’t want to spend too much on one journal.
For me, this falls under the category of nice enough. I could use something like a composition book, but I wouldn’t enjoy the experience. I’ve tried using really nice volumes but found that I felt a lot of pressure about how I filled the pages. I didn’t want to ruin a book with sloppy handwriting, less than shiny ideas, anything that wasn’t perfect. (I was once gifted an Italian leather journal and carted it around for more than 20 years without writing on a single page!)
It turns out that I’m not the only one who feels this way! I speak to people all the time who tell me they’ll start journaling when they find the perfect journal. And when they do, they don’t actually use it because they don’t want to ruin it! So if this is you, rest assured you’re in good company! That’s why I like using a book that’s just nice enough.
I like to use a fine point gel pen when I write in my journal. I’m currently using a Sharpie S Gel pen, .05 mm in black. I find that using a fine point pen helps me write thinner and more neatly on the page.
Other pens that I’ve used and enjoyed are the Pilot Precise V5, the Pilot G2, and the Uni-ball Signo.
I typically only use my journaling pen for journaling, which makes it feel special.
My journaling these days extends beyond the covers of my journal. I keep four clipboards above my office desk, each holding a journaling tool.
I have a monthly calendar, my weekly schedule, my daily printable (it has my daily schedule, top to-do list, and intention setting questions), and my habit tracker.
Yes, I realize it’s super redundant to have a monthly, weekly, and daily calendar, but it works for me. (I do also keep a digital calendar, but I love writing out my schedules by hand - it helps me keep better track of what I have to do and where I have to be when.)
I typically fill my calendars with with blue ink (a Sharpie S Gel .7mm pen), and I use a mechanical pencil for my habit tracker.
I’m using a habit this year to build and reinforce some habits that I know will help me reach my goals. Each Sunday I create a new habit tracker, identifying the habits that are important for me to track that week.
If you’ve never used a habit tracker, it’s simple: do the thing, and you get to check off the box!
I choose small habits, and I keep my expectations low to make it easier to do them. On the week I took this picture, I was tracking the following:
Take my morning pills
Move my body
Get outside (at minimum: getting my entire body outside for at least the length of time it takes to walk to the car or take out the trash. Any longer is a bonus!)
Spirit practice (could be yoga, meditation, pulling an Oracle card, some EFT Tapping - if I do an intensive self-reflective and spirit-building journaling session, I’d count that here)
Giving myself a compliment as I look in the mirror
Text/call a friend
Have 1 meaningful conversation on LinkedIn
Read for 20 minutes
Check my account balances and express gratitude for what I have (no matter what the numbers say!)
Post on LinkedIn
I’ll admit, this is A LOT to track. But not all of these are things I really need to track. There are really just a couple of items on this list that are necessary for me to track - I just like the feeling of checking off a lot of boxes! It makes me feel like I’m super productive and successful!
I create a new sheet each week to give myself the flexibility of adding or removing a habit to track, and because if I have an off week, I don’t need to have those empty circles staring at me for the rest of the month! I get a clean start each Monday.
My Daily Printable
About a year and a half ago, I decided I wanted some additional structure to my journaling, so I came up with a set of questions to ask myself every morning. I call them intention setting questions, and they helped me to identify what I needed to be the best version of me each day.
I would write the questions and the answers out in my journal, you know, like I was in elementary school. (Remember that? Having to write the question before you could respond to it?)
And then one day, when I was short on time, I realized how much time I was spending writing the questions in my journal. And I thought, “Sure would be convenient to have these as a printable,” so I made one!
I added my daily schedule and my most important to-do list and I have a simple one-pager that I can keep in view as I work. I’ve found that keeping my answers visible helps ensure that I do the things I say I’ll do. Sometimes when I write my intentions in my journal, I forget once I close the cover. Out of sight, out of mind!
The questions I’m using this year are:
How will I nourish myself at home?
How will I make living in my body a more pleasurable experience?
How will I demonstrate love for myself?
How will I nourish my relationship with money?
How will I manage my energy today?
Who do I need to connect with today?
When I sit down to journal, this is what my practice actually looks like:
I start with my habit tracker, filling in what circles I can. (Usually it’s taking my medicine, moving my body, and giving myself a compliment.) It feels really good to start my journaling already feeling accomplished.
Then I move to my daily printable. I write out my schedule, incorporating all meetings, appointments, and any other time-bound commitment from both my work and personal calendars.
I add top to-dos, which usually are related to the events on my calendar. (They’re typically the thoughts I wake up with!)
And then I move on to my daily intentions, getting really clear on what I am going to do to take care of myself that day.
I take as long as I need to with this part - I don’t time myself, I don’t rush it. I’m getting to be really good at being patient as I find the answers. Sometimes they come quickly. Other times I have to sit with them for a while until the answers come to me.
After I answer my intention questions, I open my journal. I typically start with some stream of consciousness writing, jotting down whatever comes to mind. It’s often a blend of recording highlights from yesterday, expressing gratitude, being excited about what’s happening today. Whatever thoughts are in my head, I put them on the page.
The trick here is to avoid judgment. I always say our journals don’t judge - they don’t judge our ideas, our grammar, our spelling, our handwriting, any of it - so we shouldn’t judge ourselves either. When I can be honest with myself and freely put all my thoughts on the page - the good along with the squirmy - my journaling is much more meaningful and helpful.
How Long it Takes
Journaling fills exactly as much time as I give it. If I have five minutes, I journal for five minutes. If I have an hour, I could journal for an hour.
The key for me is being flexible. Obviously a shorter practice is going to be less comprehensive. On the shorter days, I may focus on my daily printable and just jot a note or two in my journal. I have to think faster to find my answers. But that’s okay.
Other short journaling days, when I wake up with anxiety or too many thoughts in my brain, I may forego my printable and focus on dumping all the thoughts, all my worries out onto the page so I can start the day clear and calm. Sometimes 3-5 minutes of download can do wonders!
On a typical day, I usually spend between 20-30 minutes journaling in the morning, maybe longer if I’m waiting to find some answers, I have a lot to process, or I just have a lot to write.
Every Day is a Little Different
Even though I follow this general structure, every day looks a bit different for me. It makes sense because I’m a little different every day, what I need varies, and I like to be able to adapt my journaling to meet my needs.
On any given day, I may:
Lean heavily into gratitude for the emotional pick me up
Focus on organization and planning to provide security and structure
Work through a problem, writing around an issue until I find clarity
Exercise my creativity - brainstorming ideas, playing What If?, putting constraints on myself to see what I can do
Record stories and memories so they stay vivid in my mind
Document a vivid dream that I remembered upon waking
Make lists - my favorite things, places I want to go, things I want to grow in my gardens, skills I want to learn
Write letters to myself, saying the things I need to hear on those days when I need a reminder of how special and magical I truly am
Or whatever else I feel like I need
Because my journaling practice is here to support me, so I can make it what I need it to be. I don’t have to make me fit what I think a journaling practice should be.
Journaling is the best way I know to show up for myself each day. To connect with myself, identify what I need so I can be my best, delight in what brings me joy.
Journaling helps me love myself more fully, which increases my capacity to show up for others.
Journaling each day is a simple way to put myself first so I have the resources and the energy to make the impact I’m here to make.
The Best Way to Journal is the Way that Works Best for You
Let me be really clear: what I’ve outlined here is what I’ve discovered works best for me right now. My practice has not always looked like this. It likely will not always look like this. As I grow and evolve, my journaling practice grows and evolves. It’s a beautifully symbiotic relationship.
If you are just starting out on your journaling journey, I encourage you to start small. Pick one thing to try. Do it for a bit. See how it feels. If you like it, keep going. If it doesn’t feel good to you, try something else.
Find a journal that you enjoy using. Experiment with typing or digital apps or voice notes if those are more of your thing.
Set aside a few minutes a day to journal. Seriously, start with one sentence. Or five minutes.
And don’t put any pressure on yourself to fill a quota. Journal when it’s time to journal. And when time’s up, you’re done. Come back to your journal the next time.
Find what works for you
And find joy in the process - doing so will make it so much easier to build the habit!
And, as always, I’m here to help and support you. Let me know what questions you have and what you need.
If you’re ready to get serious about journaling, let’s have a chat!
Did You Hear Me on NPR?!?
Last week I recorded a segment about journaling for Where We Live, a Connecticut show on National Public Radio. It was so fun to bring journaling to others in this format! Check out the episode HERE.
Monthly Journaling Mini-Retreats
Did you hear? I’m hosting a series of monthly journaling mini-retreats!
Open to everyone, these sessions are perfect for setting aside a little time for you. I offer a safe and supportive environment that fosters reflection, self-discovery, learning, and connection with yourself and others.
If you’ve been wondering what group journaling is, it’s an easy, low it’s an easy, low commitment way to give it a try. (Did I mention it’s FREE?!?)
The next one is this Wednesday, February 15 at 7:30 pm Eastern.
CLICK HERE to register.
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Just wow, Amanda! Saving this post FOREVER to refer to again and again! I have clipboard envy, and I loved your list of things that you track - those are brilliant! Thank you so much for sharing your process. 😊
Thank you for sharing your secrets! I find it always so inspiring the way other people journal.