3 Journalling secrets NOT found in a schoolgirl’s diary

Daily JournalAfter mentioning the importance of having a daily routine or action plan for goal achievement in my last post, I have been asked to elaborate on the benefits of journalling or keeping a diary as I was more accustomed to refer to it in the more “English” environment of my former countries. The “I would have more…… if I did ….” question exercise will also get more explanation

I have kept a diary or daily journal for most of my working life, I have used small pocket type diaries and big expensive ones with a whole range of nice looking special pages to track expenses, personal details, telephone numbers and addresses and more. The trouble with those is that most of the special pages never get used and it is a major headache to transfer all the other stuff to a new book each year.

Now I use a combination of  a fairly plain diary with a page for each day and 2 plain notebooks. The diary is used to record appointments, events, a brief summary of the weather conditions (farming habits persist) unusual happenings, important thoughts, details of the day’s walk or horse ride.

A 9½ x 6 or similar notebook is used as a Gratitude Journal and another is used for my daily action plan.

Each day has a separate page in the Gratitude Journal, the top part is for recording 5 things to be  grateful for:

  • A person
  • A thing
  • An experience
  • An opportunity
  • Any thing else or another one of the above.

The next section is for 10 “things that went right yesterday” or 10 successes if you prefer. These can be quite mundane, it does not matter how trivial they may seem when first attempting the exercise. The point of it is to focus on successes and positive events, not disappointments or problems. Nobody else needs to ever see your journal so just start the exercise. Some of my “things that went right” include entries like:

  • I published a blog post
  • I walked for 30 minutes
  • I read 2 chapters of a non-fiction book
  • I met 3 new people at a business event
  • I got a new customer or client

When we have persevered with this exercise for a few days, it gets easier and the benefits of recording successes soon help us avoid dwelling on setbacks. It develops a habit of looking for positives and recognising that we do make progress every day.

The last few lines of the page are for the “I would have / be more/ ….. if I did / had……”  exercise. This is an excellent way to generate ideas. The first step is to turn a negative statement about a lack of something or an obstacle into a question.

For example if the lack is sales revenue we could ask the question ” I would have more revenue if………?”

Now we need to get creative, throw away the judgement and come up with 4 or 5 answers:

  • If I had more customers
  • If my customers placed bigger orders
  • If my customers ordered more frequently
  • If I had a bigger product range
  • If I had some higher priced products

Or the answers could go in a different direction:

  • If I increased my sales force
  • If I introduced radio ads into my marketing

Very often the answers will lead to more questions, a hierarchy of questions and answers might be revealed. Sometimes no clear answers emerge for days, they will eventually, we must just keep doing the exercise until they do.

The third notebook is for the daily action plan, mine has a very simple lay out:

Task #     Task           Category      Estimated time         Actual time

Self explanatory, I have tried various methods of prioritising tasks or activities and eventually settled on just using 2 categories:

  • Important
  • Not quite as Important

If things that need doing are neither important or urgent, they do not get into the day’s action plan until an easier day comes around, then it is amazing how many have either resolved themselves or no longer need attention. I do keep a longer term “to do” list in a folder so that I do not lose track of things that will need attention in the days or weeks ahead, but I do not let that clutter up my daily action plan.  The daily plan is a product of weekly goals which are recorded on an index card and the weekly goals come from the 90 day goals.

Throughout the day, I record the time I spend on each activity and write it in the “Actual time” column at the end of the day when I prepare my plan for the following day. On Sunday evenings, I prepare both the weekly plan and Monday’s plan.

That is it, 30 to 45 minutes preparation on  Sunday evening to set the week up and then  30 minutes at the end of each day to prepare for a good start the next morning.

What are the benefits?

  • The gratitude journal gets us in a positive frame of mind and helps us realise how fortunate we are compared to most of the world population.
  • The 10 successes shows us that we did get things done and had more things go right than wrong.
  • Recording daily events, thoughts and ideas establishes a record of our lives, something to refer back to when we do our archive exercise at the end of the year.
  • For Boomers like me, a wonderful reminder, years later of special moments as our children were growing up, or fond memories of a parent no longer with us.
  • A series of diaries or journals provides the detail in the tapestries of our lives.

Before leaving Africa, I had over 30 years worth of Diaries, they were too bulky to bring to Canada but they are still there, secure for now. I live in hope that the Zimbabwe situation will be resolved in my lifetime so that I can go and collect them. Those diaries represent the entire birth, infancy, childhood and school years of my two boys. Later, sparser, entries recording the ups and downs of their adult lives, the births of my grandchildren, their moves to new houses, new cities and new countries.

The last visits to my parents before they were ambushed by terrorists are also there.

All the names and happy memories of many beloved dogs, cats and treasured horses appear on the pages, happy memories mixed in with reflections of sadness at what was happening to our wonderful country, and then again in a second country.  Pages with more personal details and thoughts not intended to be shared. A  record of career and business highlights and challenges, successes and disappointments too.

There are just some of the benefits of journalling or “keeping a diary”, if you would like more information, send me an email on the “contact me” page or leave a comment after this post. If you have another system that works for you, tell us about it in a comment.

Disclaimer:   The system and routine I have described here is a hybrid that I have settled on after many years of trial and error, some people prefer a simple journal using a single book, others prefer a digital method on a computer, smart phone or tablet. My system has been strongly influenced by many wise people either directly or from their books. Whatever works better for you, the discipline of having and using a system will provide the benefit, not the format in which it is recorded.

The 4 major Influencers of my system are:

Further Disclaimer: I have no commercial interest with any of the above and do not benefit financially by recommending them, I do so because they are all very good.


Wishing you success in all your endeavours.


Peter Wright





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