Keeping a journal is a common approach to both building self-awareness and learning from specific events or activities. Journalling can be a regular habit (e.g. daily or weekly), or done when specific triggers occur. Either way, keeping a journal is one of the most useful personal development and learning habits you can develop.
Benefits of keeping a journal
Writing in a journal can be what Charles’ Duhigg refers to as a ‘keystone habit’ in his book The Power of Habit:
“small changes or habits that people introduce into their routines that unintentionally carry over into other aspects of their lives.”
A keystone habit helps lock other habits into place. As such I recommend regular reflection via a journal as a high leverage learning habit, and an excellent starting point for anyone wanting to be more effective with their personal learning.
The following articles discuss a range of benefits of keeping a journal:
- Why Keeping a Daily Journal Could Change Your Life
- The #1 Self-Awareness Habit
- The Productive Benefits of Journaling (plus 11 ideas for making the habit stick)
More specifically, if your intent is to learn, keeping a journal is a form of sense-making; it helps you to make sense of and experience or even, see patterns and connections over time, and improve how you learn.
When to Write
You can either write on a regular schedule (e.g. daily or weekly), or when a specific event occurs (e.g a project milestone, after a recurring meeting). Research on habit formation indicates that you are more likely to develop a habit if you identify a cue or trigger for doing the action you want to take. For example, when you sit at your desk after your afternoon coffee, after your morning walk, after your weekly team meeting.
For many people scheduling an appointment in their calendar / diary helps to protect a block of time to write.
The time required to write in journal regularly does not need to be large. You could invest as little as ten minutes a day to gain significant benefits over time.
What does a learning journal look like?
There is no set format for a journal. A blank page can be daunting, so having a standard structure will make keeping a journal easier. The following articles have some suggestions regarding structure and prompts:
- Exploring a Learning Journal by Victoria State Government Education and Training – note taking, guided questions, photo journal
- 20 Types of Learning Journal by Terry Heick
One simple structure developed by John Driscoll is to use three questions:
- What? Describing an event
- So What? Analysing the event
- Now What? Identifying what you will do (or do differently moving forward)
Experiment with formats. Combine different formats to figure out what you enjoy and find effective.
Journal entries can be made either by hand-writing or typing. Each has their pros and cons – try both and see what you prefer.
My Personal Journal Practice
My Year 8 English teacher introduced me to journaling, and I’ve maintained this practice on and off for close to four decades. When I commenced journaling hand-writing was the only option. I enjoyed the tactile sensation of writing on paper, the look of my journals lined up on a bookshelf, and the ease of flicking through the pages. However, I was always concerned with privacy as it is easy for someone else to look through a physical notebook, and this led to some self-censoring. I’ve recently gone fully digital, including scanning a one-metre high stack of old paper journals (as shown in the photo).
I use Evernote for my journal as it synchronises across all my devices and has very good search capability. I’m interested to explore how my thinking on different topics has developed over time by searching for entries by word, phrase or tag.
I primarily use two formats – freeform writing for deep reflection and prompted entries on a daily and weekly basis using the following lists of questions:
This post is part of a series by Michelle Ockers outlining different ways of taking charge of your own learning. It was developed following delivery of a keynote on the topic ‘Future Ready Learning’ to provide resources for participants to explore approaches covered briefly in the keynote. Michelle can be contacted regarding keynote speaking on this theme at Michelle@michelleockers.com