Do you want to improve your productivity? Of course you do—who doesn’t? But if you’re already doing all the right things, like improving your schedule, automating tasks, and even partaking in healthy physical habits like exercise, it may feel like you’ve hit the limit of your full potential.
But there’s almost always room to grow. If you want to keep improving your productivity, you’ll need a habit or lifestyle change.
Enter the world of productivity journaling.
Table of Contents
- What Is Productivity Journaling?
- The Benefits of Productivity Journaling
- 8 Tips to Get Started Productivity Journaling
- 30 Productivity Journaling Prompts
- Subtypes of Journaling for Productivity
What Is Productivity Journaling?
Productivity journaling is basically like journaling, the process of writing down thoughts, observations, and feelings, with one important twist; it’s designed to help you become more productive. It’s usually focused on your work rather than on your personal life, but as you’ll see, there are productivity benefits to journaling about your personal life as well.
There are a variety of different methods and approaches for productivity journaling, and most of them can help you in similar ways. But if you want to get the most out of productivity journaling, you’ll need to understand its benefits, drawbacks, and best possible implementation.
The Benefits of Productivity Journaling
Let’s start by looking at some of the benefits of productivity journaling.
Boosts your memory.
There are many studies that demonstrate a link between handwriting and memory; when you write something down, you’re more likely to remember it, and you’re more likely to keep it top of mind. This is useful for a variety of purposes, such as improving your memory of the events of a meeting or keeping your goals top of mind.
Improves critical thinking and decision making.
Research has shown that reflective writing is beneficial in improving critical thinking and decision making. Reflective writing is the process of exploring your thoughts and feelings on a certain matter; it forces you to think through avenues you might not have otherwise considered, and guides you in exploring all available aspects of a specific problem.
Accelerates and assists emotional processing.
Fans of journaling love it for its ability to support emotional processing. When you feel something, especially something negative, you’ll have a chance to explore that feeling, analyze it, and come to better terms with it. For example, if you’re frustrated by a stubborn partner or an operational failure, you can journal about it and work to resolve your issues; that way, you can return to work with a clearer mind and a calmer attitude.
Journaling is shown to reduce stress in many situations. In addition to allowing you to work through your thoughts and feelings, the act of writing things down can be cathartic. It’s also a valuable opportunity to buy yourself time; spending a few minutes writing something down allows you to separate yourself from the stressful situation. Over time, as you make productivity journaling a habit, you’ll come to appreciate the moments of reflection that it offers, and it can serve as a kind of refuge after a challenging day.
Boosts goal adherence.
Many people use productivity journaling as a kind of goal documentation system; they write down their high-level goals, break them down into smaller, more achievable goals, and document their progress in each of these areas. Research shows that writing down your goals makes you more likely to achieve them, in part because you’re creating a visible and tangible reminder that these goals exist; it’s almost certain that you’ll walk away feeling more motivated.
Boosts your mood and wellness.
One Stanford study found that students who journaled and reflected on positive events were much more likely to experience feelings of wellness. This is one of the motivations for a specific subtype of journaling for productivity—gratitude journaling—which we’ll explore in a future section.
Enables tracking and improvement.
Journals are also useful tools for tracking and improvement. Instead of writing down your thoughts and feelings, you can write down your actual progress; how far have you gotten in achieving this specific goal? How many hours did you spend on this project? Are you making progress, or are you remaining stagnant?
8 Tips to Get Started Productivity Journaling
If you’ve never tried journaling for productivity, you might be wondering how to get started. It’s a simple strategy, but there are several things that can help you do it right.
You can use almost any kind of journal you want for this process. For some people, investing in a nice, leather-bound book can serve to motivate a daily habit. For others, a basic spiral-bound notebook will do just fine.
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Once you have a journal in mind, try following these important tips:
1. Write things down.
While it’s certainly possible to keep a journal with a digital document or an online platform, if you do this, you’ll be missing out on the benefits of pen and paper. To achieve some of the full benefits, like improving memory, you’ll need to write things down physically.
2. Be consistent.
Productivity journaling gets its power from consistency. When you’re consistent with your habit, you’ll be able to reliably track your progress toward your goals, you’ll tap into the benefits on a regular basis, and you’ll be much more likely to stick with the strategy over the long term. As for how you make this a consistent habit, that’s up to you; many people benefit from setting a specific time of day to journal, but this isn’t a strict requirement. For example, you could spend 15 minutes journaling each day at 5:30 pm. Committing to a daily habit is perhaps the best approach, but you could also try every other day, weekly, or a different interval.
3. Take your time.
Journaling for productivity is designed as a strategy that can ultimately save you time, so you might be tempted to get the habit over with as quickly as possible each day. However, it’s much more beneficial to take your time. Don’t rush through this process. Spending more time on each journal entry will benefit you in multiple ways; you’ll have more time to think through what you’re writing, you’ll have more of an opportunity to destress, and you’ll be much more likely to genuinely enjoy this experience.
4. Avoid perfectionism.
While consistency and commitment are important, you shouldn’t use them as excuses for perfectionism. Your journaling doesn’t have to be precise, nor does it have to follow a certain format; if you get hung up on the details, you might deviate from your main plan. Similarly, don’t get caught up overanalyzing small mistakes (like spelling errors) in your work; instead, focus on the high-level details.
5. Experiment with different approaches.
There are many different approaches to journaling for productivity. In the next section, we’ll look at some subtypes of productivity journaling that you can try. You can use a variety of different formats, and you can blend approaches like paragraph-based writing, list making, and even sketching illustrations. Experiment with different approaches to figure out what works best for you.
6. Include your thoughts and feelings.
Many productivity journalists focus exclusively on thoughts or feelings; they use their journal as a way to explore their subjective feelings or as a way to pragmatically think through their ideas and work. This isn’t necessarily bad, but you’ll get more out of your journal if you do both.
7. Include past, present, and future.
Similarly, many people think of a productivity journal as a way of recounting the events of the past or as a way of evaluating the present moment. You’ll get more value if you include information about the past, present, and the future simultaneously. What’s happened today? What are you hoping to do in the immediate future? What does this mean for your more extended future?
8. Commit to a format.
Once you’ve experimented with a few different productivity journaling methods, you should get a sense for which methods work best for you, personally. At that point, you should commit to a format. Staying with a format will help you remain consistent in your habit, and will allow you to track your growth better, since you’ll be comparing older entries to newer ones, apples to apples.
30 Productivity Journaling Prompts
Here are a few writing prompts you can use to get started with your productivity journaling exercise:
- How are you feeling right now?
- What is causing you stress right now?
- What are your goals for today?
- What are your goals for 5 years from now?
- List three things you did today (or want to do today) that will help you accomplish your goal for yourself five years from now.
- What is your biggest accomplishment over the past week?
- What were the mistakes you made this week?
- What is a skill you want to work on this week?
- What is a habit you want to develop for yourself?
- What does success mean to you?
- What are your biggest weaknesses as a professional?
- What are you most proud of about yourself as a professional?
- How do you feel about your physical health? What is one thing you can you do to improve it this week?
- What big decisions have you made recently? How’d they turn out?
- When was the last time you failed? What was the failure, and what can you learn from it going forward?
- If you had one piece of advice for an apprentice in your industry, what advice would you give them?
- What do you like about your personality? What do you dislike?
- Which character traits do you want to develop or improve?
- What routines or habits do you have that are harming your productivity and goals?
- How do you spend your free time?
- How much time do you spend watching TV or browsing social media?
- What distracts you when you’re working?
- Where am I worrying too much about perfection?
- Are you a positive or a negative person?
- Are there any tools you could be using to boost your productivity?
- Are you truly busy, or just busy bragging?
- Do you enjoy what you do?
- Make a list of 3 things you do that you would advise your best friend to stop doing.
- Can you outsource any of your tasks?
- What did you learn this week?
Subtypes of Journaling for Productivity
These are some of the most prominent subtypes of productivity journaling. Feel free to use any of these approaches as a starting point, or hybridize several subtypes together as a comprehensive approach:
- Morning journals. Some people like to start their day by journaling for 10 to 15 minutes. It’s a great way to clear your thoughts and set an agenda for the day; try using it if you’re a natural morning person or if you find yourself overwhelmed in the mornings, and in need of a stress-relieving outlet.
- Evening journals. By contrast, you could try journaling in the evening, after you’re done with work. This is advantageous over morning journals in some ways, since you’ll be able to reflect on the events of the day once they’re already over. It can also help you destress and relax before you go to bed.
- Gratitude journals. Gratitude journals are ideal for stress management and improved wellness. The idea is simple; use them to recount all the things you’re grateful for, both in the context of the current day and in the context of your overall life. Writing down a handful of things that make you happy each day could have a dramatic impact on your mood and optimism.
- Goal journals. Goal journals are more focused on goal achievement than any other function; you can use them to write down your most important goals, break them down into individual tasks and projects, and track your progress as you steadily achieve them. These are ideal if you’re interested in the pragmatic side of journaling, or if you have a history of failing to meet your goals.
- Documentation journals. Documentation journals serve as a kind of record of events; you’ll use them to describe your workdays in some level of detail, including your plans for the future. They offer ample opportunities for expansion, with regard to your thoughts and feelings on these events, but they’re mostly focused on helping you analyze the course of your workdays.
- Idea journals. Idea journals are all about keeping track of your ideas. But unlike documentation and gratitude journals, which you can work on anytime, idea journals require attention whenever you happen to get an idea—and ideas can come to you anywhere, at any time. If you want to keep an idea journal, consider getting something small and portable, which you can keep on your person at all times.
- Learning journals. Learning journals, sometimes called curiosity journals, are designed to help you keep track of things you want to learn—and the things you learn in the course of a given day. You might jot down videos to look up or books to read as you discover them throughout the day, or you might write about the lessons you learned from a recent podcast (check out our list of the top sales podcasts!). These are fantastic if you’re most interested in developing your skills and knowledge as a professional.
Are you interested in getting more out of the hours you spend at work each day? Productivity journaling is a great start, but there are limits to what it can accomplish.
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Jayson is a long-time columnist for Forbes, Entrepreneur, BusinessInsider, Inc.com, and various other major media publications, where he has authored over 1,000 articles since 2012, covering technology, marketing, and entrepreneurship. He keynoted the 2013 MarketingProfs University, and won the “Entrepreneur Blogger of the Year” award in 2015 from the Oxford Center for Entrepreneurs. In 2010, he founded a marketing agency that appeared on the Inc. 5000 before selling it in January of 2019, and he is now the CEO of EmailAnalytics.