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7 Simple Journaling Habits That Gradually Improve Your Life Performance
People have a complacency habit
7 Simple Journaling Habits That Gradually Improve Your Life Performance
Who else was a disorganized slob for most of their twenties?
I was a mess. The routines and habits formed at a fraternity house don’t transfer well to a healthy, balanced life after graduation.
A mess indeed, but I wasn’t lazy. I did something about it.
Before my first day in corporate America, I started scheduling my weeks in an excel document. Like Elon Musk breaking down his day into 5-minute intervals, I accounted for every minute of my workday. It was impressive! I labeled tasks according to their importance and connected my deadlines to reminders to avoid tardiness.
I thought I was ahead of the curve. But it’s when you think you know everything that life ups the ante.
I learned that work wasn’t the only thing that needed my attention. What about my finances? What about my bad habits? What about my relationships and my emotional health? Was I supposed to keep that crap in an excel document too??
You might be different, but I couldn’t keep all that information straight in my head.
My writing mentor, Tom Kuegler, introduced me to the bullet journal method a few years ago. No joke, it literally made my life a zillion times easier.
I’m more intentional with my time. My financial health is better than ever. My habits have become not just a way to render life more fulfilling, but a fun game.
Here’s a link to the basics about how to bullet journal, but if you don’t have the time, here are seven practices you can do today.
All you need is a journal.
Most people think journaling means writing down your day in storybook form.
“Today, I ate a bowl of cereal, then went for a run, then talked to my mom about dating.”
It certainly can be that, but it’s not an effective use of your time and usually doesn’t align with the goals you set for yourself.
A rapid log condenses your daily narrative into an accounting system — it is the backbone of the bullet journal method.
What to write: Every task, habit, meeting, and event is recorded in a bullet format for ease of transfer and review. Describing your day might take 30–45 minutes to write. A rapid log takes 5 minutes.
A rapid log uncovers all the gaps and inefficiencies in your schedule that you probably didn’t know were there. For example, I noticed that I spent at least 2 hours watching TV each evening. I found the error and reduced that to one hour of TV time and one hour of something productive like running or reading.
As Carl Jung famously wrote: “Until you make the unconscious conscious. It will direct your life, and you will call it fate.”
I took this strategy from James Clear’s Atomic Habits.
The habit implementation formula says that the most powerful cue for creating a new habit is giving yourself a specific time and place to perform the habit. For example, if you want to start meditating, schedule time to meditate at the same time at the same place each day. Here’s the formula:
I will mediate this morning at 8 am for 10 minutes at my desk in my apartment.
What to write: I write down the habits I want to start or maintain in my rapid log and give the habit a specific time and location.
Try this strategy for a few weeks, and you will be amazed at the crazy things you pick up.
12 Rules for Life
We respond well to rules in society.
Pay your taxes on time. Show up to class. Stop at the red light.
Society creates rules out of good intention (for the most part). They’re boundaries we shouldn’t cross for our own good. Why not set our own boundaries that will leave us happier, healthier, and wealthier?
What to write: After the table of contents page in my journal, I write down my 12 rules for life. Yes, I stole the title from Jordan Peterson, the psychologist who published a book by the same title.
Here’s my rule #4:
Never speak ill of anyone. Everyone is trying their best.
Talking smack and gossiping is something we all do from time to time. It’s an awful habit, and it doesn’t make you look like a leader. Since writing this rule, I often catch myself mid-conversation right before I’m about to gossip. I remember the rule and decide that’s not my character.
What boundaries would you like to set for yourself?
Here’s one for book worms.
What to write: Make a section in your journal for interesting quotes and phrases that you read in books. I stole this habit from writer and entrepreneur Tim Ferris. He highlights and bookmarks the ideas he likes with a “CP” for cool phrase.
Do this for a few months, and you will build a great library of wisdom.
I often refer to my cool phrases section when I get writer’s block and need article ideas.
How do you expect to retain information if you’re not taking notes while reading?
As Ryan Holiday once wrote. “It’s not enough to read a lot. You must read to lead.”
He means that your reading habit might be a great thing that people look up to, but it’s not enough. Leaders read to learn something new. Your journal is a great central location to store book notes.
What to write: It doesn’t have to be detailed. I found that writing a few sentences in your own words about what you just read does the trick to keeping it locked in my mind.
My finances were fuck all before I started budgeting and logging my spending.
Yes, apps like Mint track your spending and even budget your life. Still, I found that you become more intentional with your money when you revert to old-school accounting systems. You know, the way John D Rockefeller was taught, with a pen and paper.
What to write: I keep a record of my spending in the daily log section of my journal — all purchases are in bullet format. Try this method for a few weeks, and you may think twice the next time you pull out your credit card.
You can’t improve what you don’t measure.
I’m a runner. Running appears to be one of the most simplistic athletic activities. Yet, at a certain point, it’s impossible to improve unless you measure everything. How many miles you ran, your pace per mile, your heart rate, resting heart rate, diet, sprint times, and weight. The list goes on and on and on.
The same goes for lifting weights. You won’t get stronger if you don’t track your routine and gradually move up in weight or consistency.
Tracking your athletic progress also serves as motivation. You read the progress you’re making and don’t want to lose momentum.
What to write: In the rapid log section, I’ll write down my workout. What weights I used, how many reps, and how many sets. After a run, I note the miles, the trail, and my pace per mile.
Journaling is fun, but here’s why it’s important to your life performance. As humans, we get complacent. You become convinced that you know everything and get lapped by someone more hungry.
That’s the great irony of personal growth: The more routine your day, weeks, months, years become, the more they become second nature. Your pride and ego get in the way and prevents improvement.
The writer of Atomic Habits James Clear wrote that mastery has a simple formula:
Mastery = Habits + Deliberate Practice
Habits alone will not get you where you want to go. You must monitor and review your day or else you’re running in circles.
That’s where your journal comes in handy. Your life is now tracked and open for review.