Structured Journaling

As I was reading Tuesday morning, I came across an Art of Manliness article discussing Benjamin Franklin’s journaling habits. The article explains Franklin’s well-known practice of tracking how well he observed a list of 13 virtues. It goes on to mention a journaling aspect to this daily routine that I didn’t remember. Every day, Franklin would journal the answers to two questions: “What good shall I do this day?” in the morning and “What good have I done today? in the evening.

I've journaled off-and-on for about six years, and my approach has been almost completely unstructured. I have never set a time, used the same format or even journaled at a consistent rate until three days ago. While creating a blueprint for an ideal week, I allotted a time each morning for journaling. Now that I have a set time to journal each day, I’d like to follow Franklin’s example and answer a series of questions each day.

I don’t expect to create a list of questions in a two-day period and stick with it for the rest of my life. I will tweak, add and remove questions over the next few weeks of journaling, but I hope to have a somewhat stable structure by January first. That being said, here are a few questions I’ve come up with:

  1. What have I learned?
  2. What do I need to learn?
  3. What have I changed?
  4. What do I need to change?
  5. What good have I done?
  6. What good do I need to do?

Note: I’m not including the date, the weather or my location because that information is automatically collected by the app I use, Day One.

Journaling is a deeply personal practice and something I've found extremely beneficial over the years. There are numerous benefits of journaling. It’s even touted by psychologists. But I’ve found it personally valuable in three primary ways:

  1. Journaling has helped me work through difficult situations. I’ve often found myself writing prayers in the middle of my entries.
  2. Journaling provides a record of important moments. Most of my international trips, life-changing decisions and critical transitions have been recorded in one of my journals.
  3. Journaling helps me understand myself better. I don’t know how to explain this, but it’s true.

For those of you who have never journaled or have fallen out of the routine, pick up your pen or open that app. Start writing down your thoughts. Set aside some time each day or maybe once a week. Try mimicking Franklin with a list of questions or free write. Whether you follow a structure or not, my suggestion for you is to start journaling and start today.

Questions for readers

What questions do you suggest I add to my list?

What structure (if any) do you apply to your journaling?

What value do you receive from journaling?

What tools do you find most helpful for journaling?

ThoughtsTimothy Buck