Tired of Journaling? Try this (Part 1: Quick ideas)

Are you tired of journaling? Journaling takes time and effort. It can be hard to stick with it, despite the proven benefits. Even folks with an established journaling practice may fall into a rut.  If you’re experiencing journaling burn-out, maybe your current journaling method is no longer working for you.  Try one of these methods and it may revitalize your practice.

My research for this post revealed more ways to journal than I expected! The vast numbers of journaling techniques underscores that there is no “right” way to journal as long as your practice helps you meet your goals. To keep this post to a manageable size, I’ve split the list into two posts. This post covers quick journaling techniques that take less than 10 minutes a day. The next post will cover longer journaling methods.

If you’re currently tired of your long-form journaling practice, try a short practice to get back your groove.  Remember, consistency in journaling is more important than the content or method. 

Note: I included links to products that can help you get started with these journaling methods.  I am not affiliated with any of these companies and I get no benefit if you click or buy.

Method #1: One Line a Day Diary

This simple practice requires you to write only one sentence a day! It’s particularly fun if you organize your entries so that you can see five years of the same day at a time. This allows you to easily review how your thoughts may have changed over the years.  Here’s an example of a pre-made book you could buy [Not an affiliate link!].  For DIY, use an online document or spreadsheet.  You can make one heading for each day of the year (366), and then fill in your sentences underneath.

  • Time Required: 1 minute
  • Best For: anyone looking for very lightweight journaling; new parents making a keepsake for baby

Method #2: Gratitude journal

Gratitude is the antidote to anxiety and depression. When you express gratitude, your brain releases dopamine and serotonin, enhancing your mood. You may find you feel a lift after writing in your gratitude journal.  Even when you are not actively writing, gratitude journaling can improve your outlook.  Humans have a natural tendency to look for threats and problems.  This instinct makes evolutionary sense, as it keeps us safe when we’re crossing the street. However, always being on alert for potential dangers can leave us feeling like everything is wrong in the world. To counteract that, keeping a gratitude journal causes you to scan your environment throughout the day looking for positive things to add to your journal. Scanning for these positive things will crowd out your natural instinct to look for the negative. As you notice less of the bad, you may develop a more positive outlook and reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression. 

An easy way to begin a gratitude journal is to daily note three things you are grateful and why you are grateful for them.

  • Time Required: 3-5 minutes
  • Best for: Folks looking for a mood boost (aren’t we all?)

Method #3: Audio Notes

If you’d rather talk than write, use an audio app on your phone or laptop to create an audio journal. You can respond to prompts (ex. Tell me about 5 things that made you smile today), or you can just speak for 5 minutes about what’s on your mind, what is happening in your world, or your current feelings.  Like writing, speaking is very powerful for clarifying your ideas. You may find yourself stumbling over words at first. Don’t worry no one needs to hear your audio notes. You don’t even need to save them! Overtime, you’ll be less self-conscious and more eloquent.

  • Time Required: 5 minutes
  • Best for: Folks who prefer audio over the written word; anyone looking to improve their speaking skills.

Method #4: Respond to prompts

You can buy a pre-made journal paper book or electronic app that prompts you with a subject to write about each day. I currently use an app called Day One. [Not an affiliate link.] Today’s prompt is “When are you most spontaneous?”.  To be honest, I’ve never actually used the suggested prompts. (Apparently, I have enough to say unprompted.) Prompts are a common feature of journaling apps. If you can’t think of anything to write about, or you find yourself writing about the same things every day, you may enjoy using pre-made prompts.  DIY approach: search the internet and compile a list of journaling prompts. Answer one per day. Or, pick 5 favorites and answer the same prompts every day for a week.

  • Time Required: 5-10 minutes
  • Best for: Folks who would like help getting the words flowing

Method #5: Dream diary

Each morning, before they fade away, write down your dreams. Not only will this help you to remember them, you may gain insight into your emotions. Ever have such a bad dream you were angry or sad for most of the morning? As you write about your dreams, think of how they may have been shaped by yesterday’s activities. Think of the day ahead and note how your dreams might shape the upcoming day.

The state between sleep and wakefulness can be a creative time for many. Thomas Edison used a napping technique to harness this semilucid state.  Or, if you’re like Paul McCartney and these other songwriters, you may write a hit song in your sleep.  Keep a journal nearby to write down your awesome ideas.

  • Time Required: 5-10 minutes
  • Best for: Vivid dreamers, folks that awaken with ideas, folks with ideas that come just as they are going to sleep.

Method #6: Collage / scrapbook

I love to scroll back through my phone’s photo roll. It makes me happy to see pictures of my kids when they were little, happy occasions and beautiful sunsets. This journal method is like curating your photo roll. An informal approach to journaling, build your journal by filling it with pictures, clippings, tickets, and other meaningful items. You can do this quickly by getting a journal with pockets and simply slipping the items inside. For those who prefer an electronic journal, use a program like Microsoft OneNote, which allows you to easily cut and paste from the web. To deepen your practice, you could artfully arrange the items into a collage. Many people use their scrapbooks as an artistic outlet. Take a few minutes and jot down why the item is meaningful to you. This short reflection will be good for your mental health and your future self will thank you for the memory jog. It saddens me to look back at some of my travel journals and I cannot remember what was special about that moment or object or scene. I often wish I had written more.

Don’t over think this! You don’t have to make a beautiful scrapbook spread everyday. You don’t have to pressure yourself into building a keepsake for generations to come. The simplest way to do this is to record a single image a day.

  • Time Required: 5-10 minutes
  • Best for: collectors of ephemera; Folks who enjoy collecting keepsakes and want a dedicated place to put them.

Method #7: Lists journal

Free yourself from the expectation of writing perfect prose.  Write some lists! For example, make a list of your favorite books, current restaurant recommendations, places to go when company comes to town, your travel bucket list, favorite foods or funny things your kids say.  I like to make lists with my travel journals.  I always have a section called “10 Random Things About This Trip” which contains tidbits like what a typical dinner cost, unexpected events, or favorite tourist attraction. The best part is that the list is totally random. It doesn’t need a theme and the list entries don’t need to relate to each other. It allows me to quickly collect all kinds of facts and information in one place.

As I write this section I’m realizing it would be fun to have a “10 Random Things” daily list journal!

  • Time Required: 10 minutes
  • Best for: Folks tired of writing in full sentences

Dear Reader

Now that I’ve shown you seven ways to journal in less than 10 minutes a day, are you interested in trying any of these to start a new journaling practice or to refresh your existing journaling practice? Please comment on what you’ve tried and how it went for you.

Several of these quick journaling methods are great for creating mementos. They create a time capsule that can be really fun to open up later. If you want more of the mental health benefits of journaling, you may find you get better results using a longer form of journaling. I’ll cover those in my next post.

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