An Exceedingly Simple Guide to Keeping a Journal

journaling tipsI have to confess: I’ve never been good at keeping a journal. Until this year.

It’s always been something that I’ve wanted to do regularly, and over the years I’ve started journals in many different forms. I have bits of journals in several notebooks and in several computer files, but while they’re interesting, they’re more a testament to my failure to keep a journal going for very long.

But this year has been different. I started a journal on January 3, 2012 and have an entry for just about every day since then — nearly 3 months might not seem like a lot to you, but it’s about six times what I’ve ever done before, and at this point I have confidence that I’ll keep it going for at least a few more months.

What has changed? I instituted a few “tricks” to keep the journaling simple, easy, and sustainable.

My Journal Rules

I wanted to make sure the journaling was as easy as possible, so I have no excuses. So I instituted a few rules that have worked very well for me:

1. Only write a few bullet points. I don’t write full sentences — just a bullet point for interesting or important things that happened each day. I only have to write 2-3, though sometimes I write 5-6 if I did a lot. I mix personal and work stuff together. By keeping each day’s entry short and simple, I make it so easy to journal that there are no excuses — it only takes a few minutes!

2. Keep my notebook where I won’t miss it. I put my notebook where I have coffee in the morning. I’ve been using an old Moleskine that I found in my closet that I’d started using as a journal in 2008, on my trip with Eva to Thailand. It really doesn’t matter what kind of notebook you use, but I’ve found a physical notebook is best because on the computer, I’ll tend to forget or be distracted by other computer tasks (damn the Internet!). When I see the notebook as I sit down to drink coffee, I remember to journal. Btw, one of the lapses in my current journal came when I changed my morning routine and started drinking coffee on the couch instead of at my desk — my journal stayed on the desk and I forgot to journal for more than a week. I had to fill it in later, which wasn’t easy. Which brings me to my next rule.

3. Don’t miss more than 2 days of journaling. I missed almost two weeks once, as I just mentioned … and later when I had to fill in back entries, I had a hard time remembering what I’d did. I had a couple other lapses like this, usually because visitors change up my routine, and I’ve found that looking in my calendar and emails helps jog my memory so I can get most of the main things into the journal. But it’s far better to journal the day after the events happen, when things are still fresh. I’ve found that two days later is also fine, but at three days, you start to mix up the previous few days and forget some things. So if I don’t journal every day, I will make sure not to miss more than a day or two.

That’s it. Those three rules work very well for me, and have helped me keep a journal for the last several months.

Bonus Tips

And here are a few more tips (some were said in the paragraphs above as well):

Physical notebooks are better than computer journals, as you tend to forget computer programs or get distracted by the Internet. I also like the physical act of writing pen on paper, which I do far too little these days. That said, if you prefer a computer journal, keep it simple. I like text files rather than a dedicated journal program, because text files are pretty much forever, while other data formats can become obsolete if the journal program gets discontinued.

What physical notebook you use doesn’t matter. I use a pocket Moleskine notebook witha soft cover. I use a hard cover pocket Moleskine for my workout log, which I’ve been using since last year so I can see my progress. Those are my only two notebooks. I’ve used other notebooks too, and they work well. I like the pocket notebooks because they’re easy to carry around if I want to journal on the train (which I don’t do often) and don’t take up much space on the table next to where I drink coffee.

Journal before you get on the computer in the morning. Recap your previous day. If you start on the computer, I’ve learned, you’ll forget about the journaling. Don’t put it off!

If you forget to journal for a few days, use your calendar and the emails you sent as reminders for what you did.

Remember, keep it short! Just a few bullet points of the main things you did. Here are my bullet points for Wed. Mar. 21, 2012 for example:  1. gym – end of week 6; 2. drafted ZH post on 3-step happiness algorithm; 3. wrote mnmlist post on being OK with things as they are; 4. bought groceries, gifts, decorations for Noelle & Chloe’s birthday party.

I like that I can look back and see what the highlights are of each day — this helps me to know if I’ve been focusing on important stuff, or frittering my days away.

I highly recommend keeping a journal. It takes minutes a day, and looking back on your life is something that seems deeply satisfying.


By Leo Babauta of


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