Quick Tip: Be More Productive By Using a Journal
One of the biggest setbacks with productivity is the tendency to get distracted. Our minds wander. We think about everything else that needs to be done. We think about what we're working on, but can't focus on one part of it and get lost. It's very common, and it can lead to a lot of time thinking and very little time doing. To help clear out our minds, it can help to get the ideas out and to make them physical in some way. Tasks that need to be done can be put into a todo list (which I will cover in another post). All of those other thoughts? Well, most of them can go into a journal. Here, I want to discuss just how using a journal can help to increase your productivity.
When writing in a journal (and it doesn't have to be a "Dear diary" type of journal), we take the thoughts in our minds and get them down on to paper. Whatever comes to mind, wherever your mind wanders, I think it can be good to get down on paper (or on a document on your computer).
By having the thoughts out of our minds and in a more physical format, we no longer need to worry about possibly forgetting that information. If a thought is important, it often will pop up in our minds regularly in order to remain "fresh" in our memory. While this generally works well, it can cause two problems: 1) distraction when we're trying to focus on something else, and/or 2) eventually forgetting because our memory isn't perfect.
By removing the need to constantly remind ourselves of the thought, our minds become clearer to focus on other tasks. Once your thoughts are in a journal, you can take comfort in the knowledge that the ideas are there for you to reference whenever you need them, and that reduces cognitive load.
That is, our minds can only focus on so many things at a given time. The more thoughts we have popping up in our minds, the less "room" there is for the important thoughts related to our current task. By clearing out the unnecessary thoughts, we free up that "space" and can use it more productively.
When working on a big task, it can be easy to get lost in knowing were to start, what should come next, and what the finished product should look like. If we need to work on something across several sessions, it can be hard to track our progress. As a result, once we come back to a project we may need to spend some time just trying to figure out where we left off. (That's why commenting is so popular in fields like programming, and journals can act like our own personal comments).
By keeping a journal, it's easier to keep a log of your progress. This can help you understand all of the components in a task, what order they need to happen in, what they should look like, and so forth. You can even make notes about ideas you'll need to consider in the future. For simple tasks, a todo list may be more effective, but for general ideas and thoughts you'll likely benefit from a journal.
By writing in a journal, it can also be easier to think about the desired end product, then to write down the process of achieving that product in reverse. Just like solving a maze can be easier when you start at the finish, sometimes projects can be easier to break down when you start with the finished idea. By thinking about the final product, not only can the timeline and process become more clear, but you help to clarify how that end product should look. When you have a clear idea of what you're working towards, it becomes much easier to make progress in the right direction.
For example, let's say you're designing a website. Starting from scratch when you don't know what the design will look like in the end wouldn't get you very far! Instead, it's good to consider what the final product will look like, then to work backwards to figure out which pieces need to be created and in what order. You can note what types of things to consider once you get to a certain step, and this can all be in a free-flow of thoughts on paper/screen. After you get the ideas clear and have an idea of what needs to be done, it can be a lot easier to put together a list of tasks and a timeline that will be effective.
When we're working on something, it can be very easy to get caught up in the current task. We can obsess with getting it perfect, even when there are higher priority tasks to be working on. Todo lists can be good to keep track of what priority each task has, but initially deciding the priority of bigger projects can be more difficult. You need to consider the benefits of the final products, the amount of work needed, how long it will take, and so forth. That's hard to do when just writing a list!
By keeping a journal, you can write about your progress on various projects, consider how your estimates of the costs and benefits may change, and you can adjust priorities more easily. It can also help to write more about the high priority things in your life, such as your family, to help make sure you're maintaining focus on those things at least part of the day. That can push you to put your time in perspective, and to decide if you are spending the appropriate amount of time on different aspects of your life.
Along with helping to make priorities more clear, keeping a journal about the important things in your life can be very motivating. You can more easily see progress being made because there is a log of what's happened. Ideas for improvement can flow more easily thanks to your cleared mind, which can increase your feelings of preparedness and readiness. It can also be reassuring just to know that you aren't forgetting about the important things in your life.
If you're really stuck with your productivity, then possibly the most useful benefit of keeping a journal is better understanding of yourself. If you write about your thoughts, you can begin to notice patterns. For example, if you constantly find yourself writing about not knowing where to start, then you will likely benefit from making your tasks smaller and more concrete. If you write a lot about being overwhelmed, you can make sure you're practicing good self care and work to identify ways of making the task less daunting.
If we're having these kinds of thoughts all the time, you may feel that you're already aware of them. And, to some extent, you may very well be aware of them. But by actually showing a pattern, by being able to see just how often different thoughts and feelings come up, it's very possible you will have an eye opening realization. There is a good chance that the thoughts and roadblocks are even more common than you think, and that knowledge can be powerful. This can again play back into increasing motivation, as tasks will seem more manageable once you notice your roadblocks and can address them.
There are arguably many more benefits to keeping a journal. In this post, I wanted to focus just on the ones related to productivity, and the points I covered are the benefits I've noticed most from keeping a journal.
So how should you keep a journal? I purposefully didn't mention any specifics, because it really is a personal decision. I recommend you try different formats, different styles of writing, writing about different things, and see what ends up being the most helpful. You don't need to write a lot every time, and you don't necessarily need to write on a schedule. But by maintaining a journal and using it somewhat regularly, you'll likely begin to notice some benefits. Starting is as easy as getting some form of journal (physical or electronic), and writing whatever comes to mind!
Do you keep a journal? What types of benefits have you noticed? Or if you don't have a journal, what (if anything) makes you hesitant to start one? Let me know in the comments!