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Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Journaling lessons learned

Apparently I can only figure things out in retrospect. After journaling off and on for more than 25 years (youch!), here is what I have learned.

For a few years I lost the journaling habit, much to my dismay, which I detailed in this post (Journaling, Journaling, What To Do?). 

Then last year (2013) I got back in the daily journaling habit very successfully with my day per page diary. I wrote about that journaling success here (Journal Evaluation 2013).

Part of my success was that I redefined how I thought of journaling. Now it's not my innermost thoughts, it's more a record of what I and my family did each day. I get a lot of inspiration from this woman's post on how she uses her journal to capture everything about her life, from the mundane to the great.

This has completely freed me from any journaling constraints. The result is an excellent record of my life, which is what I want it to be.

Here are some lessons I need to keep in mind for the future when journaling:

1. Write something every day.  I like to be able to see an account of what I did every day, even if it's only, "Rainy day, sat on the couch and read a book by the fire all day." (Which never actually happens, by the way, but you get the idea.)  When I look back through my book and days are blank, I feel like I've lost days of my life. It's not helped by the fact that I have a terrible memory, so this record really is essential to help me remember what happened and when.

2. Use whatever book I'll actually use (and carry with me all the time). Over the years I've gone back and forth between dated day per page diaries or undated notebooks. Right now I'm having huge success in an undated notebook and am thoroughly enjoying not worrying about overfilling pages. I just use it. It's so liberating.  But there are advantages of using a dated day-per-page book: it's already dated, and the whole year is in one book. The bottom line is, I need to use whichever type of book I will actually use every day, and I need to be able to carry it everywhere with me. This is the most important thing, having it with me all the time. The reason I fell off the journaling wagon was because there was a barrier to getting out a separate book to write in. When I have my daily book with me all the time, more things land there than I would take the time to haul out a separate book at home to record. I like to capture all the little things, and that's most likely to happen in the book that's with me all the time. 

3. Use an index. I have tried several types of indexing, and I have found the best way for me to find information and events is to use a monthly calendar where I write a summary of events each day. This is similar to how Patty uses her index pages in her Franklin Covey planners. When I use a monthly index, I can see patterns (like my kids' illnesses, if I'm exercising regularly or not, how often we're filling the heating oil tank, etc.).

4. Tape cards directly onto the day's page.  Recently I went searching through all the card holders in all my old Filofax binders looking for the card of a self-catering apartment where we stayed in Dubrovnik several years ago. I can't find it, dang it. If I had taped it directly to the page in my journal when we stayed there, I would know exactly where to look. I did this in my Diary 2000 for places we went and stayed, and now I can still find those cards easily. Similarly I need to write details on the daily pages so they are easy to find years later like restaurant names, names and email addresses of people I meet, and those other types of details. I never know when that information might prove useful again.

I've captured some wonderful things in my daily books over the years, despite my inconsistent use of them. In my Exacompta Daily Pocket diary from 2001 I have the hand-drawn map of how to get to a friend's flat in Paris. In my Textagenda I used in Nepal I have details of teacher trainings and daily Nepali life. In my Diary 2000 I have details of that very eventful year. And in all my diaries since my kids have been born I have all those little memories that I would otherwise forget.

Journaling is a journey, and I've learned lots along the way. Now I feel like I finally know what I like to record and how I like to record it! But of course that can change when my life circumstances change.

Do you like to record your days? What have you learned works for you?

26 comments:

  1. "[H]ow often we're filling the heating oil tank." I always wish I could write checks blindfolded so as to not need to know how much my heating bills are.

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    1. Totally off topic, but I read that the Queen applied for government assistance to pay the Buckingham Palace heating oil bill!

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    2. I saw that headline but didn't read the article. I can't imagine how much it costs to heat that place!

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  2. I've never successfully journaled for more than a few weeks at a time. I find letter writing to be more satisfying and so I do quite a lot of that. I take quite a lot of notes daily so have some sort of record but I don't index it so finding things within is a bit imprecise and inefficient. Cards go straight into my rolodex; no one has invented a better contact management system than the rolodex. I actually have a huge one so I also maintain a classified index; I will file the plumber's card under their name, but I also have a card under P for plumber where I write down all the plumbers names so I can find things two ways. It works beautifully.

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    1. I actually have a Rolodex, but haven't started using it. When we moved so frequently it was easier to have cards in Filofax binders. But now that we plan to be here for a long time I need to start putting cards and info into it. Maybe my husband would actually use it too, since it's publicly out there on the desk. I know he would never look into one of my Filofaxes for a card or number. I like your idea of double-indexing it!

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    2. Josh--you sound like the male version of me. Here's to writing letters and a rolodex.

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    3. Josh--you sound like the male version of me. Here's to writing letters and a rolodex.

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  3. Your form of journaling has inspired me to capture more details about my day in my planner. I've also started to write down notes about recipes I try and other projects. I know I will love having this record one day!

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    1. I think you will too! I love looking through my book and seeing what was happening each day, it paints such a picture of my life.

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  4. I enjoyed reading your blog post, I found it inspiring and infomrative. thankyou

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  5. Well after 20 years, mine has changed a lot. I think you've got a good list of "rules". I agree writing daily is a must or it is gone. On the other hand waiting a day or two will take a 3 page log and turn it into a few sentences. I like to insert letters, cards, etc.--the beauty of a ring bound system. Phone messages, quotes, order numbers/info, things my kids have said or done, joys, sorrows, births/marriages/deaths, just all the little notes of happenings during the day.I should be a scrapbooker, but it never gets there. I love looking at Hobonichi planners!! Love the FC index system so that I can find the important through the mind dump, but I also love Austin Kleon's simple logbook as well. Some days my planners pages look more like a nature journal. Whatever fits for the day.

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    1. Cassandra I love your comment. I agree I would love to be organized and take the time to put stuff into scrapbooks but I never have the time or inclination to do it. I also love to look at other people's books, and I veer between wanting something elaborate and ornate to something minimalist and streamlined. Like you said, whatever fits for the day! I'm curious to know how you store your pages long-term. Do you use storage binders, or boxes? And do you move pages over throughout the year, or once per year?

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  6. 25 years... obviously you started at a very young age Laurie ;)

    I've been successfully journalling on a more regular basis these last two years. It's been a lot better for me since I went over to a bound book i.e. separate to my Filofax planner. I can leave my journal open and it then reminds me to write something in it. Being a convenient size means it doesn't take up too much desk space.

    My short term memory being as bad as it is these days, unless I note things down on the day or part way through the day I've forgotten what I have been doing. Sad but true... with my journal and my planner I get through the days reasonably productively now!

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    1. Well spotted Steve, I did indeed start VERY young! ;D

      I agree, a bound daily book really encourages daily writing in a way that a ring bound or blank book does not. I can't stand empty daily pages! It really got me in the habit last year and I'm glad to hear you are still enjoying your journaling.

      And I'm right there with you on the short term memory thing! If I don't write it down right away...what I was I saying? Oh look, something shiny! :)

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  7. I was rarely successful in using a planner or a journal until I started up again in 2012. Finding your blog and others like it, inspired me to try it again. This time I used a bound book to journal instead of trying to use a planner. What is nice about it is if I miss a few days it is ok. I just date the next space and keep on trucking.

    Now if I could just decide on one planner to rule them all!

    Thanks again for inspiring me to get off the stick and start doing it!

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    1. Thanks for commenting and best of luck finding a planner system that works well for you! :)

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  8. Before I got my FC, I used a notebook or journal book. I have several years of those. Then once I got my FC 2ppd, I started journaling on the Notes page. I have lots and lots of awesome information in my archives from the last 20 years, all of them indexed. It's pretty easy to find what I'm looking for. And it's pretty darn funny to read back through and see what I wrote. Like the time I wrote that I thought my son might be a bad seed. He's grown up now and far from being a bad seed. That was a bit of an overreaction. Well, maybe not. But he turned out okay.

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    1. Patty I find this so interesting! I know your post on your archival system has tempted me back to ring binders so many times, because I love how comprehensive and permanent your system is. Funny what you wrote about your son! As my kids get older it's interesting to see how their personalities change, or don't, as they grow up. I'm glad he turned out not to be a bad seed! Although I'm sure all parents have had our moments where we worry about our children's personality flaws, real or imagined.

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  9. Great post, Laurie I will have to visit you more often. :-) I'm starting my daughters young in the journaling habit. My bride and I gave them their own journals for Christmas and I think they are catching on. My prayer is that they maintain the habit and have a good amount of books to look back in once they are older. Eventually, maybe they can progress to putting into practice some of the ideas you have here. Again, great post. Blessings to you.

    - John

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    1. Thanks so much John, glad you liked it! :)

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  10. Love your ideas on journaing. Have filled cheap notebooks off and on most of my life, sadly most often during sad times, not so much happy.

    Like you, recently, I've wanted to record just life everyday. Since I also need the one-book that is always with me, I use my FF personal planner, day on 2 pages. I include photos, scribbles, cards, anything about my days. I also have an index, which I have used a bit.

    Love your blog bunches.

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  11. Love your ideas on journaing. Have filled cheap notebooks off and on most of my life, sadly most often during sad times, not so much happy.

    Like you, recently, I've wanted to record just life everyday. Since I also need the one-book that is always with me, I use my FF personal planner, day on 2 pages. I include photos, scribbles, cards, anything about my days. I also have an index, which I have used a bit.

    Love your blog bunches.

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  12. I blogged about my journaling setup a while ago, and the gist of it is the same. I have a 5 year journal in which the bare bones of my day are described. I ADORE that discipline - I'm over halfway through my third year of doing it and love looking back on what I was doing exactly a year ago. I also have an undated book which is my actual journal. I write in it semi-regularly, however much I like, and I've taken up pasting in cards, ticket stubs, occasional photos, etc. I love doing that and I want to do it more! That journal varies - right now it's a somewhat fancy leather one that's quite thick. Next time it might be a flexible paper notebook. The size has to be at least 5" by 7" for me to be able to paste things in.

    I too was inspired by that post you reference, about journaling the everyday. It's such a great post.

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    1. bluebonnetreads, I have a 10+ journal and I am working on year seven. I am so proud of myself and absolutely paranoid something is going to happen to it.

      I would like to keep a longer journal as well, but haven't made the commitment. That's why I keep reading blogs like Laurie's. I hope they will motivate me.

      BTW, my Twitter handle is @ElaineReads, so we have similar online names.

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