Achieve simple, stress-free productivity THROUGH journaling ideas + WRITING THINGS DOWN THE OLD-SCHOOL WAY.

journaling ideas


“Hello Dean, I’ve been binge-listening to your podcast for a few days and I’m loving your insights on productivity and meaningful work. My self-development question for you is on simplifying my way to success in the coming year. I want to adopt a simple yet effective system for achieving my goals and maintain my motivation to stay focused every day. But what I struggle with most is, that I can’t get myself to follow or stick with a complicated system like GTD. I know GTD works, but I really just want something simple. My question: If there was one single productivity tool you would recommend to get myself in order this coming year, what would it be?”

—(Question submitted by: Eileen E.)

In my 10 years of studying self-development material on topics like human motivation, productivity, and peak performance; I’ve only ever come across one single productivity tool that’s been reliable enough to recommend oner and over again…

The tool I’m talking about is

  • more flexible than anything I’ve come across,
  • is incredibly portable,
  • and it never—ever—runs out of batteries.

What’s this magical piece of productivity technology I’m speaking of?

Is it an app? No.

Is it a watch? Negative.

(It’s a bird! It’s a plane!)

It’s… a journal?


Yes. The productivity tool I speak of is indeed a journal… A simple, classic, paper-based productivity solution that’ll sky-rocket your success in the new year—and every year for the rest of your life—if you use it regularly and religiously.

Going old-school: why get a journal?

First things first—if you do not want to invest the 10+ hours it takes to learn how to incorporate a system like GTD into your life, then it’s probably better to use a paper-based approach to productivity. Why? Because without a trusted system, you’ll end up with a “to-do” list that’s too disorganized and daunting to even think about looking at.

Before adopting a solid productivity system that I could make my own—something flexible, trustable, and easily customizable—I was addicted to productivity porn…

..I used to go from one productivity app to another; usually switching apps once the to-do list became too long to manage and too stressful to look at. When it would get to that point, I’d just abandon ship, and jump aboard another boat, believing it was better than the old, when in reality, it was nothing more than the same boat with a fresh, new paint job. Finally, I’d end up in the same situation as the last app—an overwhelmingly unorganized black-hole of unfinished actions and projects that blocked my focus and flow more often than it cleared the path for such experiences… And what did I do in response to this?—Thinking it was the app developer’s fault that I wasn’t getting things done, I’d switch apps again!

I repeated this none-sense cycle for years before finally realizing I needed a better way—for me, that “better” way is a customized version of the GTD methodology. Yes, it does take a long time to get the hang of it, but once you put the upfront work into learning the system, everything else really does become simple, thus clearing the way for stress-free productivity.

Do I still use apps, though? Yes—I use an app called OmniFocus. It’s a structured, GTD-based app that I absolutely love.

But hey—what works for me may not work for you.

And if you’re trying to simplify and you hate the complexities of adopting a system, then get yourself a journal.

Journaling ideas — a few reasons why I love journals

  • They’re conducive to creativity—For projects and productivity, I like to keep it digital; but for real journaling, goal-setting, brainstorming, outlining, and idea-generating, I bust out my Moleskine + a freshly sharpened Palomino BlackWing help me make the connections that can turn my thoughts into something tangible/useful/valuable.
  • Journals are flexible—When I’m struck with something worth writing down while I’m on the go, I pull out my journal and quickly jot it down. Later on, I can process the paper into my digital system by snapping an HD photo of it, and it to its proper place.
  • Journals help us form our thoughts—I do ALL of my goal setting on paper first, only afterwards do I transfer them into my system. I do this because I find that writing down my ideas, goals, and even my problems, can help me develop new and novel ways in which to deal with them effectively. Research also indicates that taking the time to physically write things down helps us remember and recall our experience—the moment we captured our thoughts on paper—when we review what we wrote at a later time.
  • Journals hold more than ideas—they hold all your warm n’ fuzzy memories, too—I’ve literally cried happy tears reviewing and reflecting on my old journals—especially the ones where I’d written down some of my biggest goals and all the reasons why I wanted them so passionately. It’s a wonderful feeling to look back and experience the gratitude of having gone from where I was when I wrote down a goal/intention/plan of accomplishment, and how far I’ve come when I reflect upon it a couple years later.

Ideas for how to use a journal

If you ask a million different people about how to use a journal, you’ll get a million different answers. The best way to use a journal is whichever way works best for you. Personally, I used a leather bound paper journal for literally everything in my personal and professional life for a long time before I adopted GTD and converted over to a paper + digital combo.

Whichever way you approach it, the key to success is this: you need to use it regularly, and it needs to be flexible enough to be taken with you every where.

With the aforementioned in mind, it’s a good idea to consider splitting your journal into separate sections (which you can do easily with little sticky dividers + labels.)

  • Use one section to write down your yearly/long-term goals, medium-term goals, and short-term goals.
  • Use another section as a journal or time-log: jot down your daily thoughts, ideas,
  • Invest in a quality one that feels good to use. If you don’t enjoy using it, you simply won’t use it.

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