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Journaling is one of the hot new productivity trends. The lesson from every podcast I listen to each morning is that productive people journal to get their ideas out of their heads. In my case, I have a pile of failed journals. Until recently, I would buy a journal at the beginning of the year or before a trip with the hopes of filling it with wonderful gems of knowledge and/or elaborate sketches. After two or three weeks, only about a third of the pages are used. The journal moves from my bag to my desk. Eventually, I stash it in a box or closet.

In 2016, I did a small goal setting workshop with a small group of people. One of the things we discussed was to start a morning journal. The goal was to 1). make it a habit every morning to write anything down, and 2). use that habit as a springboard to help achieve my bigger goal of starting a blog. Here are four lessons I learned from one year of journaling.

1. Creating a habit requires commitment

In order for me to succeed at this, I need to confront why my past attempts at journaling failed. The problem I discovered was that most of my previous attempts began at the end of the year when I was experience downtime. That space gave my mind the chance to wander. Once school or work started again, that time disappeared.

This year I mapped out my typical week (pic of schedule). Then I looked for places where I could reserve time for journaling. I found roughly one hour after exercising and before work that I could devote to writing.

Interested in how I structure my day, check out my post on getting up at 4 A.M..

2. Journaling helps capture and process thoughts

When I started this project, people often questioned why journaling was so important? Before I started this, my thoughts were very scattered. I felt that I was spending a lot of time in conversations trying to catch up with the content and context. When I started writing in the mornings, my notes mirrored this disorganization. While it was hard to make sense of the early journals when I look back at them, I found it was a start at recording my experiences. Each entry helped to build on a foundation. Over time I recognized the journals as a process that stepped me through complex issues.

Morning pages and journaling

A look into my journal entries

3. Creating a space for reflection and refinement

Tim Ferriss described writing as a vehicle to improve one’s communication skills. At first, I saw written and verbal communication as different methods. However, I have used these journals to get initial rough ideas out of my head. Once I could see them on the screen, then I better understood how they might fit into a bigger context. The journal allowed me to incubate thoughts before I introduce them in a conversation, project, or a blog post.

4. Learning to communicate with more intention

Ultimately, better communication skills linked to the my ability to add more value to my work and my relationships. One of the most valuable pieces of feedback I received was that I need to speak with more intention. If I was presenting work that I did not invest the time to refine my ideas, then I would end up hopelessly defending designs did very little to solve the problem. Journaling exercises encouraged me to get ideas out early. I could write, reflect, and refine my thoughts in a low risk environment.

Matt Eng

Matt Eng

DesignOps Manager. Based in Austin,TX. Worked with clients such as Alcatel-Lucent, Ogilvy, RBC, Deloitte, Whirlpool, Polycom, Symantec, and Pebble. Matt teaches, mentors, and speaks about design, creativity, and fostering stronger connections within teams.