Some things I’ve learned after writing over 4,000 daily journal entries
originally posted in January 2017
Do you ever have those moments when you realize just how quickly the days seem to pass? Days turn into months and years faster than I can believe, but fortunately I have some ways I manage this. In fact, earlier this week I crossed a major personal milestone: On January 2nd I logged my final entry in the daily journal that I've kept for the last 11 years! That's 4018 entries that span nearly 400 pages of a specially-designed journal that I received as a gift from my Aunt back in 2005.
Not only does this journal help assemble a chronicle that spans years of my life, but the simple act of journaling forces me to actively think about (and then write down) the little things that make up the many little steps along the way.
As I reflected on my accomplishment, and look ahead to starting the first pages of my next journal, I realized how much I've learned through the journaling habit. There are a few that stand out, which I'd like to share with you.
- There's something about a written journal that a digital one can't compete with
- There's big value in a DAILY journal habit--and keeping up can sometimes be hard
- It's not the destination, but the journey--and the journal lets me look back and remember the little details
There's something about a written journal that a digital one can't compete with
When I take out my journal and put it on the desk, I hear an earthy [thud] as I let it go and it lands. It's the same sound an ancient book would make, except the details inside are ones that I'm very closely tied to.
There's also something very satisfying about flipping through the pages of a big book and seeing all of the memories that have been captured. Sorting lists of posts just can't compete with that tactile experience.
Writing the day's entry down helps better commit the details to memory--and I mean the physical act of putting pen to paper--much more effectively than just trying to remember the experience. The short entries I log in the journal allow me to pick out a few highlights (or sometimes lowlights) of any given day.
Daily journaling can be hard, but leverage some good tools to help make that easier
Typically I find some time on the weekend to look back at the week and scribble out a few lines for each day. Unfortunately, sometimes life gets busy with travel (usually work travel), commitments with family and friends, and other priorities that get in the way. Over the course of 11 years, I've fallen behind on my journaling a good handful of times.
Fortunately there are some great ways to piece back together what happened last Tuesday (or any day)--and this is a place where technology can help. Here's a list of some of the different ways I catch back up:
- Emails - I'll sort my email (Outlook for work email, Gmail for the personal stuff) by date and look for the date in question. After reading a few emails I'm usually able to remember some other things that were going on that day.
- Social media - while I'm not much of a Facebook user, I do use Twitter, Instagram, and other social media services. It's pretty easy to go back through my timeline to find something worth writing about
- Evernote - I've mentioned before that I love using Evernote--and one of the powerful capabilities it has is its search. I'll search for items created or modified on the day I'm missing
- Text messages - I will check the history with some of the important people in my life to see what we communicated about
There are certainly others, but you get the idea. These tools are actually helping me keep my classic paper journal filled with interesting stories.
It's not the destination, but the journey--and the journal lets me look back and remember the little details
One of the best things about this specific journal is that it represents a very low time commitment each day.
The per-day entry length is only 4-lines of a standard letter-sized page, which most days takes under 5 minutes to log.
Because it takes so little time and effort each day, I'm able to spend an extra couple of minutes looking back at "what happened this day 3 years ago".
Much in the way Google or Facebook give reminders of old posts and pictures, the journal is set up so each day has its own page, making it very easy to look further up the page at "this day in my history".
I look back and see entries that span from when my wife and I hadn't even considered dating, through marriage, cross-country moves, and the birth of our wonderful daughter. I see my progression through different job roles--the many opportunities and lessons learned. I see little moments I captured after making new friends and keeping in touch with old. I see some of my thoughts on current events (and also the trends that didn't last).
Today (January 5th) 5 years ago I wrote about taking my grandmother to the airport. I remember that time together, and as fate would have it that was our last time together before she had a stroke only days later. Would I remember that car ride, acting as "Matthew the chauffeur", if I didn't have this little reminder every year?
Each entry sparks another memory of related stories, some of which I didn't even journal about, but I still remember when I take that walk back through my own past.
My aunt, who gave me the Journal 10+ over a decade ago, was over at the house during the holidays and I pulled out the journal to show her that it was nearly complete. After we swapped some stories about journaling, she asked me if I had a new one to continue in the new year. My answer was "of course"!
If you're interested in the specific journal I use, you can find more information and order it here (non-affiliate link). If you do order one, or if you want to keep a regular journal, I'd love to hear about it in the comments section below.
Originally posted on my Connecting the Data blog in January 2017.