Journaling gets a lot of attention in productivity circles, and for good reason.
It’s really good for you.
Dozens of have studies shown that keeping a journal can improve your mood, boost productivity, and even help you reduce stress, manage anxiety, and cope with depression.
Journaling is a great habit. But not all journaling techniques are the same.
Bullet journaling, gratitude journaling, dream journals, morning pages, one-line-a-day journals, and keeping a daily diary are all great ways to record your thoughts and goals. But each style has strengths and weaknesses. And understanding how they work can help you pick a style that works for you.
So let’s take a look at 6 of the most popular journaling techniques, how they work, and how you can use each journaling style to achieve your goals.
How to use a bullet journal
Bullet journaling is all about productivity.
Invented by a New York-based product designer, Ryder Carroll, bullet journaling allows you to become more intentional in life by organizing and prioritizing your most essential tasks in one place.
The Bullet Journal Method, includes the following components:
- An index to make a list of the table of contents to go back to
- A future log to make plans for the future
- A monthly log to help you keep track of your short-term goals, to-do’s and deadlines
- A daily log to keep track of your daily tasks and immediate deadlines
Done well, a bullet journal can be your all-in-one habit tracker, to-do list, and planner. But if you’re not careful, this Swiss army knife approach can get complicated fast.
The problem with bullet journaling
One of the hallmarks of bullet journaling is customization. Proponents say that once you learn the system — or customize it to your needs — you can save a lot of time in the long run.
But it can be a daunting distraction at the beginning.
Create a bullet journal that works for you. Don’t just copy what you see on YouTube. If you spend half your day creating color-coded tasks, abbreviations, and cross references. instead of getting stuff done, it’s not a productivity tool.
Bullet journaling best practices
- Keep it simple. Get as creative or granular as you want. Use symbols and doodles. But you don’t a complicated system for a bullet journal to work.
- Bookend your day. In the morning, you can plan your immediate tasks for the day. At night, you can reflect on what you’ve done for the day. Or vice versa. Bullet journals work best with repetition and multiple check-ins per day.
- Reflect on what matters. If you find that you keep re-writing a specific task over a few days, ask yourself, “Do I really need to get this done?” If the answer is no, cross it out and move on.
How to use a gratitude journal
Did you know that being thankful can make you a happier person?
In a 10 week study, positive psychology researchers from Harvard Health found that people who wrote a few sentences about things they were grateful for were “more optimistic and felt better about their lives” compared to people who catalogued things that irritated them.
If those results are too vague, they also found that people who used a gratitude journal “exercised more and had fewer visits to physicians than those who focused on sources of aggravation.”
Gratitude journaling is easy, effective, and one of the best ways to improve your mood and overall health.
Gratitude journaling best practices
- Write a thank-you letter. You can write to yourself or someone else. Just be genuine.
- Three things per day. Start small. You don’t have to list ten things a day to be grateful for. It’s about quality, not quantity.
- Start small. If you feel stuck, be grateful for tangible items like the device you’re reading this on or just being able to read at all. We take so many things for granted, but there are always things to be grateful for.
How to keep a diary
When you hear the word “journaling,” you probably think of filling pages with the phrase “Dear Diary.” And it’s understandable.
Keeping a diary is a great way to record impactful events in your life and how they made you feel. And while keeping a diary is not a substitute for seeking professional help, there is evidence that daily journaling can help:
- Reduce depressive symptoms
- Relieve stress and anxiety
- Process traumatic experiences
But the secret to keeping an impactful diary isn’t how you write it. It’s that you have to read it.
Reflecting on what you’ve written is the key to growth and change. Take a peak at an earlier version of yourself and see how you’ve changed. You might surprise yourself with your memory of a certain incident has changed over time.
Daily diary best practices
- Make it easy. Keeping a journal shouldn’t be hard. There are no rules. No page count. No style that’s best. Does doing it on your phone make it easier? What about having a pen and paper with you at all times? You get to pick how to make it easy for you.
- Be consistent. Journal at the same time each day. Keep your journal in a place that you can’t miss, like putting it on your pillow. If you have to move it to get into bed each night, you’ll be far more likely to write in it.
- Pay attention to your mood. Use your mood to guide your journaling session. If you’re feeling upset, start exploring why you might feel upset. If you feel sad, use this opportunity to explore feelings without judgement.
How to use ‘Morning Pages’
Morning pages is a practice where you start your day by writing out your stream of consciousness.
Developed by Julia Cameron in her book, The Artist’s Way, this journaling technique is designed to help clear your head before you start your day. It’s different from traditional journaling, where you don’t think of a specific topic when you write. You simply let your stream-of-consciousness guide your pen as soon as you wake up.
According to Cameron, it’s a way to brain dump in the morning, to expel the “angry, petty and whiny stuff.”
It’s like brushing your teeth in the morning, but for your brain.
Morning pages best practices
- Aim for three blank pages. You might have to write more than other journals to get the juice flowing.
- Don’t correct yourself. There are no mistakes with morning pages. Don’t worry about spelling, grammar, or punctuation marks. Just keep writing until your thoughts flow across the page.
- Don’t hold back. There are no off-limit topics or ideas. Write until you feel satisfied with your session. Take advantage of saying things you wouldn’t dare to say in life.
How to create a ‘one-line-a-day’ journal
If you’re a super busy person who still wants the benefits of journaling, one-line-a-day journaling might be for you.
“One-line-a-day” is a journaling technique where you summarize what happened in your day in just one line. That’s it.
Easy, right? That’s exactly the point.
Writing a single line is an exercise in brevity that can lead to profound moments of insight. And if one line a day doesn’t feel like much. Remember that small habits add up over time.
James Clear, the author of Atomic Habits, is a big fan of one-line journaling. “It makes journaling fun, easy to do, and it makes you feel good.”
Writing one line a day provides a snapshot of your daily activities. It can also help you stay on track with your goals and make changes if you notice a pattern emerging.
Best practices of one line a day journaling
- Make it easy. One line. That’s all you need.
- Make it fun. Summing up an entire day in one line can feel ridiculous. And that’s half the fun. It only take a few minutes, which will keep you coming back to it every day.
- Combine with other techniques. Leave room in your dream journal, diary, or bullet journal for your one line sessions. It can amplify your other efforts.
How to use a dream journal
Dreams are weird, man…
When we record our dreams, we can spot repeated patterns and themes. Dream journals can even help spark creativity.
Paul McCartney says he wrote several of his best songs right after waking up from a dream.
And while you probably won’t write a best-selling hit, keeping a dream journal can be a useful outlet that you don’t get from other tools.
Dream journaling best practices
- Do it as soon as you wake up. Dreams fade. Write in your dream journal the second you wake up.
- Be as detailed as possible. Dreams usually don’t make sense, which is what makes them so interesting. Be as descriptive as you can, and you’ll not only enjoy re-reading your journal. You might see patterns emerge over time.
- Draw your dreams. Writing out the details of a dream can be difficult. So draw them instead.
The benefits of keeping a journal
Building simple daily habits, like working out, eating well, getting enough sleep, or keeping a journal can help you make massive progress toward your most important goals.
Sign up for the Simple Habits course and learn how to build simple and sustainable habits.