How I Journal

I got Day One 11 years ago. My first entries were random, with pictures. I was just trying the app out shortly after my birthday. Within a day or two of getting Day One, Sandy Hook happened and I journaled a very short piece about how horrific it was to hear on the news of an elementary school shooting. Because of that, every time December rolls around, Day One reminds me of “11 years ago today” and I read that entry about Sandy Hook and I’m instantly transported to my desk at an office in downtown Denver when I read on the news about this horrific shooting.

Not all of my entries are sad or horrible, but that to me is a reminder of the value of journaling. To remember where I was, and what I was feeling, and how life has progressed in the years since. This became especially important after I became a parent in 2019.

Daily Journals
I started my habit of journaling every single day after being introduced to Austin Kleon’s logbooks by way of my friend Cary. This was probably sometime around early 2015/late 2014. Both my friend Cary and Austin Kleon used physical notebooks, but I had already been using Day One very intermittently so I decided to just use Day One.

I was pretty good at times for using it daily, probably logging every other or third day on average for years. A lot of my initial logs are not very interesting, just saying I “chatted with Will for a bit” and that I “went to work. Looked at bikes.”

By mid-2015 I realized that these kinds of entries weren’t that interesting to me, and asking a bunch of questions only kept me from meaningful captures, so I simplified quite a bit. Having a more free-form entry asking “What happened today?” really opened up my journaling a lot more than most other changes.

This is about the time my consistency really started to pick up:

In January of 2019 we began our fostering journey and opened our home to a 14-year old boy named Noah. (spoiler alert, we adopted him in October of 2020 🎉) This is when I really endeavored to journal more, especially when we had some really intense and deep family therapy in the summer of 2019. I now have an unbroken streak since July 22, 2019, over 1,600 days ago.

Some of the tips for keeping a streak:

  1. Have a routine. I use an Apple shortcut I created and run it before I go to bed. This shortcut captures things like my calendar entries, and creates a minimal template with the date, calendar entries and a simple “What happened?” type prompt. I don’t edit this, and save the entry and go to sleep. The next morning on my computer, I’ll fill in the “what happened?” prompt. I’m usually a bit more verbose when I have a full keyboard in front of me, and 10 minutes to journal.
  2. Keep it simple. Most of my entries are just simple recaps of what happened for the day. I rarely explore my emotions or go deep into what happened. A quick and simple description is all that is there.
  3. Add a photo. I did this very intermittently in the past, and I’m trying to do better going forward. But it’s so fun to see photos from 10 years ago in my journal, and it adds so much extra context.
  4. Don’t go backfill. This was a tip from Desiring God that I read about journaling years and years ago — if you miss a day or a week or even a month — don’t backfill. Just start from where you are. When you feel like you need to fill in previous days, you create a backlog that grows and grows and feels hard to get over with. Just start with today and don’t worry about the past.
  5. Don’t really worry about the streak. Focus on the things that are valuable for you. For a long time I just journaled on the days I had something to say and if I got busy — I didn’t really worry about missing that day.

Longer form journaling
So that all covers the daily journals, but I really find value in long form journaling. I find that by keeping a daily journal, I’m really able when I need to focus on deeper emotions and deeper issues going on when I sit down to journal.

Before I kept a daily journal, I felt like I had to explain what was going on or the context of life when I wrote a journal. Now because I have the context already logged each and every day, I focus on how I’m feeling or the deeper patterns I’m noticing. Here’s a peak at my different journals.

My main journals are the Daily Logs entries, which I keep every day. And the Journal category which are when I sit down and write when I feel like I need to write. Many times I’ll write these longer entries when I feel like I need to process something. I often find that the process of writing things out helps clarify my thinking. Sometimes I just want to capture a moment. Here’s one of the shorter examples I don’t mind sharing:

I have 17 entries in this journal for 2023. None so far in December. They range from entries like the above, to an entry sharing my thoughts as we were about to meet our 14-yo foster son after a week in a behavioral treatment center for suicidal ideation and all my fears, hopes and — honestly — mostly just fears. Many of the entries are just random, or thoughts I have in my head that I need to get down on “paper”. When my nearly 20-yo cat died in 2022 I wrote down some of my favorite memories and photos in the middle of my grief.

Some additional structure
Probably in 2020 when everyone felt hopeless due to Covid, I created an entry I dated to Dec 31 with 50 memories I loved from the year. And another post on the same day with the books I read, and some of the movies and tv shows and other media I enjoyed. I have done that every year since — most years I just create an entry early on and date it to Dec 31 and keep it up to date throughout the year, but this year I have been slacking so this looks like something I need to take care of this week!