There’s a reason why journaling has been around in one form or another for centuries. It offers real benefits not just for your private life, but also for your work life. This is exactly why it’s a strategy that many successful people continue to use.
Many managers may well roll their eyes at the thought of employees “wasting time” by keeping a journal. But in many careers, like science, engineering, and medicine, journaling — or a form of it — is a core part of the job description. From increasing productivity, to maintaining accountability, this article explores why you should consider introducing journaling as a productivity tool into your workday, while listing the best apps and sites to get your started.
What Is Journaling?
Journaling comes in many formats. Some may understand it as keeping a diary. For others it’s a way of capturing and exploring ideas. In general though, journaling in most forms boils down to “recording expressive communication”.
This can be an expression of what you’ve done, what you need to do, conversations you’ve had, ideas you’re exploring, daily affirmations, etc. It can be a public or private record of whatever you like. And it can be recorded in whatever format suits you, from sketching or shorthand, to audio recordings or full prose.
As you can deduce, there’s a huge number of applications for this “expressive communication” through journaling.
Journaling at Work
With this definition of journaling, there are a number of respected careers that necessitate the keeping of a detailed journal.
Take hospital staff (especially doctors), for instance. By keeping a journal for each patient examined, staff can prove that they acted properly in certain situations. It also means that if a staff member moves to another hospital, their journal acts as a full dossier for their successor to understand exactly where they stand with each patient. The same stands for support workers, councilors, psychiatrists, coaches, and consultants.
Another example is research. Most professional scientists keep “lab journals”. These records of how exactly an experiment was conducted, deliberate changes to a recipe, lot numbers of supplies used, as well as general notes on research and conversations can act as a holdall and a mind-dump for scientists to look back on in the future, when it’s time to prepare their findings for publication.
For any kind of work that requires the exploration of ideas, the recording of a number of work factors, and the excuse to not need to hold everything in your fallible mind, journaling is a great option.
Productivity Benefits of Journaling
There’s a huge number of benefits that journaling can be said to have. Several of these relate to how you can increase your productivity at work. The image below is a shot of Tim Ferriss’s morning journal which he uses to clear his mind each day This helps Tim start the day with a more clarified vision of what’s to come, and to absolve himself of any negative thoughts that may have accumulated.
If you’re in a career that involves a lot of stress and pressure, starting a journal can help to relieve some of that weight from your shoulders. Psychotherapy Research conducted an experiment that showed that people who enunciate their emotions through expressive writing see a “greater reduction in anxiety and depressive symptoms”.
A lot of success in work comes through self-discipline. Lifehack calls it the “Foundation of Productive Living”. Through being able to force yourself to face the most difficult task, and to simply get things done, much of the anxiety of having a lengthy to do list dissipates.
By developing the habit of regular journaling, you’re cultivating a self-discipline that can be extended to many other areas of life and work. By knowing you’re able to keep to your journaling schedule day in, day out, you’ll also see your self-confidence improve.
Less Time off Work
A 2003 study showed that people who are suffering from a (particularly physical) ailment and journal about their symptoms and negative feelings for 20 minutes, just a few days in a row, could speed up their healing time.
Co-author of the study Elizabeth Broadbent explained to Scientific American, “we think writing about distressing events helped participants make sense of the events and reduce distress”. That article also mentions another paper in the British Journal of Health Psychology, which found that “writing about an emotional topic lowered participants’ cortisol levels”.
Improve Your Problem Solving Skills
By writing in your journal, you’re creating a synergy between your artistic and scientific skills. In addition to attempting to solve a problem by talking with your colleagues, or thinking in your cubicle, try journaling. This can work for planning out your career, rectifying an argument, or solving practically any problem you’re facing at work.
Spend 15 minutes writing out and exploring the issue. As you do this, your creative and strategic thinking are activated, helping to develop alternative solutions. This happens because, through writing, you more easily see each facet of the problem in better detail, breaking it down into more easily understood parts.
How to Start Journaling
The point is to record what you want to remember, in whichever way works for you. As a rule of thumb though, if you’re looking to solve problems, or overcome anxieties, keeping your journal private is by far more effective than having it public. This allows you to spill your guts without fear of reprisal.
When you read about journaling online, you’ll also see many people recommending making this a daily practice. This is debatable. In The How Of Happiness Sonja Lyubomirsky suggests that journaling daily could lead to a reduction in efficacy as it becomes simply routine.
Rather, it should become a habit that you can call upon as soon as you recognize a situation in which it will be of use. If you do want to start journaling every day, however, beginning with a 30-Day journaling challenge can be a great way to build that habit.
Resources that Will Help
If you’d rather start journaling with a little more guidance, there are a few well-recommended apps, platforms, and resources that you should check out.
5 Minute Journal
5 Minute Journal can be purchased as a physical journal, or a mobile app. Each day or week you will be prompted to record things such as your targets, things you’re grateful for, affirmations, and what would make today great. This journal has been designed specifically to make its users happier. And we all know a happier person is generally a more productive person.
Evernote or Microsoft OneNote
If you’d rather use something more mobile friendly, vJournal For Evernote (iOS) is a free app that can sync your journal notes with your Evernote account.
Gratitude Diary (free on iOS) and My Gratitude Journal (free on Android) are both great apps for keeping track of what you’re grateful for each day. Bakari, in a MakeUseOf article about gratitude journaling explains how it can “help reduce depression, daily stress, and encourage a sense of empathy for others.”
Journey (Chrome and Android)
We’ve written a full review on Journey before. This is a beautifully designed Chrome app specifically for journaling. It’s free for the basic version, $6 if you want the premium features. It comes complete with reminders, categories, photo upload features, calendars, and tags. This is definitely worth checking out if you’re going to take journaling seriously.
If you’re looking for an equally beautiful journaling app for iOS or your Mac, Day One is what you’re looking for. The price ranges from $5 to $10, but with the ability to export your journal as a PDF, syncing with iCloud and Dropbox, various publishing options, markdown compatibility, passcodes, and much more, it’s most definitely worth that charge.
Will You Start Journaling?
Journaling has, as you can see, multiple benefits. Many of these are backed up by independent studies. With this in mind, why not give it a go? Experiment with how using this form of creative expression could contribute to your productivity and happiness both at work and home.
If you already journal, how is that working for you? What benefits have you noticed? And which other resources would you recommend to our readers? Do you think journaling could help you to become more productive?
Image Credits: Writing? Yeah. by Caleb Roenigk (Flickr), 2013-10-19 How to Make a Complete Map of Every Thought You Think by Sacha Chua (Flickr), Untitled by Johan Larsson (Flickr)