Journaling is an open concept, but essentially an “accounting” (keeping a record of events) from a certain time frame. I would suggest recording high significance events within a single wake-cycle time frame (or 24 hours or “day”).
If you’re simply looking for a way to record important life information over time, something like Sebastian Marshall’s “Lights Spreadsheet” is the way to go. You can also use something like Exist.
However, journaling should largely be focused on your subjective and/or objective record of events. Types of events that could or should be recorded:
I prefer to record them all at a fairly high level of detail. But to do this well it takes a solid consistent anchor habit. The Momento app allows you to set a number of reminders which is what helped me get started years ago, although you could use the Notes app on your phone, or pen and paper. The medium isn’t important (like a lot of things), only the consistency and methods.
The main failure point I’ve noticed is people trying to write huge autobiographies or essays about their day and life, bleeding over into general existential angst. That will almost inevitably lead to 1-3 days of intense manic journaling until you’ve exhausted everything to write about, and then you’ll get writer’s block and stop for a couple years again.
To prevent that, I’ve implemented a process that allows me to journal much more simply and maintain it for longer while still having a meaningful level of input and the constant opportunity to expand and write more. It’s largely a game of momentum and using a standard practice to journal.
An example of these systems are that I start every journal with the same words:
“I woke up… “
This gets me writing and kicks things off. I then describe how I woke up, if I was low on sleep, or slept well. This type of action helps me actually start writing instead of trying to be clever or philosophical.
Then I use the word; then. And I use it a lot. “Then” is an excellent procedural event word (especially in journaling which is largely record-of-events driven). I use it to start each sentence until I’ve written a brief outline of my day.
“Then I drove to the gym… Then I worked on xyz project at home… Then I went to sleep”
Once I’ve completed that, concluding with going to sleep (which is the moment I’m writing in, since I do it last thing before sleeping). Now that writer’s block is thoroughly solved, I have an important hard rule, that once I’ve completed this process, it’s 100% ok to stop writing and call it good.
That’s the magic of this process, is that I’ve solved the biggest problems already:
- Writer’s block (writing nothing)
- Writing 5 pages about the day (writing too much and feeling chained to false productivity)
So I have the option and ability to write more if desired.
This means I’m now free to write about more abstract review of the day. For example “Then I drove to the gym”, and then later on, “When I drove to the gym, I wasn’t feeling up to it, but I ‘held the line’ and went anyway and it was really satisfying”.
I’m constantly working on methods, but the process of using these three tools are key for me:
- “I woke up…”
- And allowing myself to stop after “…Then I went to sleep”
This might seem rigid and boring, but it’s actually simple and helpful (like a lot of things in life) in freeing me up to write more deeply about my day (only if I desire to), and not making it as much of a chore or boring. So instead of feeling pressure to write volumes, I have something satisfactory to complete, and if optionally desired (which I usually do), adding to it is easy and simple.