Keeping a journal might seem like a holdover from your bygone days of tea parties and sleepovers, but this remnant from childhood is anything but childish. Keeping a journal, even if you’re only jotting down a few words or sentences every day, can be an invaluable way to organize your thoughts, keep track of your best ideas and help you advance in your career or your business.
First — pick your journal. If you’re like most of us, the idea of buying a journal conjures up images of brightly colored Lisa Frank books with tiny locks and keys that would likely be lost before we had a chance to fill its pastel pages. Go ahead and toss that image in the trash bin where it belongs. For journaling, you need a high-quality notebook that can easily store all your ideas without falling apart. Moleskines, the favorite of authors and entrepreneurs alike, can make a great journal. They come in a variety of sizes, so you can pick up a small one to carry with you throughout the day or a larger one to keep on your desk or at your bedside.
Now that you have a journal to use, what purpose can it serve for you?
1. An idea storage facility
We all have those great ideas throughout the day — when we’re in the shower, when we’re mixing our morning coffee or while we’re driving through traffic. Sometimes our best ideas come to us right as we’re about to fall asleep, or right after we wake up. Having a journal handy to write down those ideas is the best way to keep them safe so you can review them at a later date.
Don’t fall into that trap of telling yourself that you’ll remember these ideas. You might think your memory is like a steel trap, but when it comes down to it, we take so much information in during the day that it’s easy to forget even the most important ideas. Studies have shown that writing things down using pen and paper helps memory retention as well, so by writing down your ideas, you can make them easier to remember even if you don’t have your journal handy.
If writing isn’t your thing, dictating into your phone or another digital recording device is a great way to keep all of those ideas in one place. It doesn’t help your memory retention quite as much as writing your ideas down, but it can be a useful alternative if pen and paper won’t cut it.
2. A lesson teacher
In theory, we’re supposed to learn from our mistakes so we don’t make them again, but in reality, that rarely happens. We’re quick to put our mistakes behind us but slow to learn what those mistakes can teach us if we ever do learn at all.
A journal can be a great place to write down your mistakes. Once you have them written down, you can analyze the situation, figure out where you went wrong and figure out the best steps to take to grow. You don’t need to double back and fix your mistake. Instead, you need to use it as a stepping stone to grow and develop as a person.
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3. A soundproof room
Occasionally, we all have bad days and just want to walk outside and scream our frustrations at the sky. Unfortunately for most of us, that will end with someone calling the police and you having to worry about a disturbing the peace charge.
Keeping a journal provides you with a soundproof room where you can scream, rage and vent all you want without disturbing the neighbors. It’s a safe place where you can get your frustrations out in the open and process them, without worrying about bottling everything up and potentially snapping on the object of your frustrations.
This isn’t just good for your career — it’s good for your health. One study by the Harvard School of Public Health found that bottling up all your negative emotions can actually increase your risk of developing heart disease and some forms of cancer. Protect your career and your health — keep that journal handy and vent often.
4. An advanced to-do list
We all write our to-do lists, whether on post-it notes or the memo app on our phones. The lucky ones will remember where they put them and actually get them done. For the rest of us, they get forgotten, collect dust and eventually end up in the garbage. Keeping a journal can help you make sure those lists, work-related or otherwise, get done.
Creating a bullet journal or a hyper-organized to-do list can help you keep track of all the things you need to do throughout your day, week and even month. It’s essential if you work in a busy or fast-paced environment where deadlines are fast approaching or quotas have to be met.
Starting a bullet journal is easy. Some websites might try to convince you that you need a lot of fancy tools or toys, but all you need is a good pen, a journal and something you can use to draw straight lines. Take the time to spend 20 minutes setting up your journal, and if you keep up with it, you’ll never have to worry about missing a deadline or forgetting an important meeting again.
5. A dream board
We’ve all heard of dream boards. You plan out your next five or 10 years, write it up and put it on a bulletin board or somewhere you’ll see it every day. They’re designed to help turn your goals into something tangible and give you a way to keep you on the path toward them. They inspire you, but if wall or desk space is at a premium, they can also be a great source of clutter. That’s where a journal comes in.
Use your journal as a portable dream board. Reserve a few pages for things that inspire you — quotes, magazine clippings, pictures or anything else that makes you want to get up and work toward your goals. That way you can keep your inspirations with you no matter where you go.
6. A step builder
Everything we do has steps we have to follow. Wet, lather, rinse and repeat. Add water, then coffee and then turn the coffee maker on. It’s all a series of steps, and when we’re trying to progress in business, in life or in anything, we have to take the time to figure out how to build that next step.
Keeping a journal is a great way to keep your step building in one easy-to-access place. Don’t lose track of your progress by looking backward. Instead, look at the progress you’ve made and use that as a stepping stone to help you move up and forward.
7. An “out-of-the-box” thinker
You’ve probably been told to think outside the box your entire life. We’re all encouraged to sit in boxes and think outside of them, but when you spend so much time inside those four walls, it can be hard to get out of them again.
Keeping a journal is a great way to encourage your out of the box thinking. When you write down your ideas, you have to go over them again and again as you get them down on paper. This gives you a chance to see the ideas in a different light, effectively encouraging out-of-the-box thinking.
You don’t have to write your deepest, darkest secrets in a bright pink, locked journal, but keeping a journal, a notebook or a moleskine with all your ideas, advice and inspirations in it is one the best and easiest ways to help your career.