My daily journalling routine for focus, clarity, creativity, and health.
Journalling is a key habit that I have used for years to organize my day and process thoughts.
While the form and factor have evolved over time, the function has more or less remained the same:
Goals 4 and 5 take care of themselves. 1–2 are handled by my Morning Pages and 3 is handled by my Daily Plan.
As I mentioned earlier, this routine has evolved over time. It didn't start like this, and it will probably change again in the near future.
Morning Pages are the perfect addition to a morning routine. This has quickly topped even meditation as the most important piece of my daily morning routine.
Popularized by Julia Cameron in her book, The Artist's Way, morning pages are deceptively simple: 3 long-form pages of top-of-the-mind writing. Ideally done first thing in the morning, these pages .
These pages really accomplish:
After doing these pages daily for over 23 weeks, I can attest that these pages can take you through an internal journey with many highs, and lows, and plains (aka, normal/boring).
The proof really is in the pudding though, so I recommend you try it out for yourself!
This is what I use to set my day right from the start. Ideally, shortly following a quick break after my morning pages. Often, rushed in after a hectic morning and standup meeting 🤷♂️
My Daily Plan in its current form, consists of 3 main sections (plus the date 🗓):
This is where I'll jot down any meetings I have scheduled for the day, and then record what I worked on over the day as it goes.
Daily Schedule column in notebook
Each hour is broken into 4 grid squares, so that I can indicate event times 15–30 minute increments.
In previous versions, it was 2 lines. It doesn't particularly matter, but I prefer the flexibility provided by this larger sizing. The trade-off is carrying around a larger notebook 🤷♂️
I like to fill the time slots in from the time I woke up, scheduling in the parts of my morning routine.
I like the dimensions of my current notebook, because it gives me just enough space for 11 hours, which is enough to fit most days I have, even if I work late, or have some personal projects I want to schedule in, like podcast recordings, or writing time.
This is one task that I've decided will be my primary focus for the day. My primary objective is the highest impact task that I have ahead of me in whatever project I've decided to allot that day to. Today, that is to write and publish my article on My Daily Journalling Routine.
The primary objective idea is loosely based off of a combination of Getting Things Done by David Allen, The One Thing by Gary Keller, Eat That Frog by Brian Tracy (though I've been doing this since 2016, and I read Eat That Frog in 2020, it was a great refresher), and pretty much everything else Tim Ferriss recommended on his podcast circa-2015.
Primary Objective section in Daily Plan
This section really is simple, but it decides the main thing I'm going to focus on today. This is the one thing that I will focus on until it is complete. Everything else is considered a distraction, and written down as a reminder for later.
I used to do 2–3 primary objectives, but this was always a stretch. I found I would consistently miss one, or even two of them, and even though I completed the first, most important of my goals, I would feel less enthused — even though I put them there as "nice to have".
Since switching to a single objective, I've found I'll regularly complete my first (and only) primary objective quickly, feeling re-invigorated, and making much more progress on my other goals as well.
This is really just a to-do list. Not much more complicated than that. Depending on what I'm working on for the day, I'll format and group these differently.
Task List section in Daily Plan
On a typical work day, I will often break out my primary objective out into a set of smaller tasks and projects (any task with multiple parts).
On lighter days, like to day, I will often just have an eclectic list of tasks related to my big project for the day, and other disparate one-off tasks or chores I need to take care of.
The third and final journalling practice I use isn't really a format at all, but a sort of catch-all for all other forms of journalling that I do.
Sometimes I'll write outlines for articles, like this one, or create a table, or sketch something. Really any time I'm actively thinking about some objective, and I feel that I need to formalize or refine my thinking on it, I will use whatever format I can think of to translate that to a concrete form on paper.
Often-times to the the left of my morning schedule, I would include a bullet list of distractions that occurred throughout the day.
This is the part of my page where I think.
Since today, my primary focus was just to write, I just used it to start outlining this article you are reading.
This serves as both my notes pad for brainstorming and my distraction pad for capturing any random thoughts before they distract me during tmy focussed work sessions (pomodor articles? TK)
This is really open because I want to give myself the flexibility to explore ideas however I want and to be more creative. There are certainly common templates that may arise if I were to look back over the years, but that will be an article for another day.
By sticking to writing morning pages every single day (ideally in the morning, but life gets in the way sometimes) I get a moment every day to be 100% real with myself, and to deal with my shit. Three full pages is long enough that it forces me to think through and connect with all the areas of my life, not just narrowly focussing on one area, like work (as I tend to do in free-form writing).
The openness of doing this in the morning before the day has started also leads to a lot of pie in the sky ideas, that at first seem a little ridiculous, but that I've found myself actually acting on, with awesome results!
Some ways it directly impacted my life:
The format I'm working with today is completely different from the what I was doing 6 months (23 weeks) ago, and it's even changed a bit this week!
This is a practice that I've been working on for years, and what I've found is that my ideal journal needs to help me:
You may not have the same goals.
The 5 Minute Journal — This journal was my first ever experience with a formatted journal, and was an awesome intro. It was being heavily endorsed by Tim Ferriss at the time (from whom I also was introduced to Morning Pages!) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UFdR8w_R1HA
Bullet Journalling — This is less so a formal practice, insomuch as it is a movement! My current free-form journalling really takes off of this style a lot, with nested bullet points being the main way I delineate ideas.