The Best Way To Journal (& In Just A Few Minutes)

You probably already know the many benefits of journaling, but it just takes up so much bloody time. Right? And you’ve read over those few entries you made as a teenager and, well, let’s just say they wouldn’t set the literary world alight.

Still, you can’t help feeling you’d love to have a record of your life and a place to store your thoughts, ideas, and deepest secrets.

Now if only you could find an easy, effective way to do it that didn’t require an extra hour a day… 

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How to start a journal when you're short on time

At the dawn of this new decade you may find yourself wondering what you were like ten years ago. How has your life changed these past few years? How far have you come? What were you doing, reading, listening to, watching, enjoying? How were you spending your time? Who were you spending it with?

These are all questions I’ve been asking myself lately but, apart from a few photos and vague recollections, the truth is that I don’t really remember. I don’t have a good account of it.

I don’t know how far I’ve come because I don’t really know where I started.

And so the girl I once was has essentially been lost to me. That’s such a pity because she made me the woman I am today.

New Year's Eve 2009. It snowed. =)

It’s one of the main reasons I now journal – to keep track of things that would otherwise fall foul of the sands of time (and my atrocious memory).

I wish I’d started a lot sooner than I did.

But better late than never, so if you’re ready to put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard) and start recording your life, whether for yourself or future generations, let me share what I think is the best, most effective way to do it.

It’s called mind sweeping.

I learned about it in David Allen’s “Getting Things Done” (a book I highly recommend if you’re a productivity nut like me) and it’s honestly changed my life.

I know it will change yours too.

David Allen's book "Getting Things Done" | GTD Method

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Essentially, it’s where you keep a notebook beside you (a notes app is fine too but there’s something magical about putting pen to paper) and then, at various points throughout the day, you “sweep” your mind clean of random thoughts and write down anything that occurs to you.

It could be an idea, a memory, a reminder, a note of what you’re currently working on, a funny thing your kid just said, an interesting quote, what mood you’re in, what the weather is like, what you’re going to have for dinner…

Some of those may seem rather mundane but remember that even things that seem insignificant in the moment can snowball into something so much bigger.

Or perhaps, over time, those small things will start to form a recognisable pattern.

Too often, journals end up being a highlight reel of all the “big” moments in your life – new boyfriend, new job, big move…

And while those things are great, they don’t really define a life.

Plus, those are the things you’re probably going to remember anyway, whereas what you’ll really want to know is all the little details, and what was happening in between.

For instance, I can remember all the major moments in my daughter’s life, but without my mind sweep notebook I’d have completely forgotten that when she was two years old she watched a Hello Kitty video in Polish and mis-heard me when I told her it was a different language. Her reply?

“That’s not a sandwich, it’s a kitty cat.”

So you see, it’s all about the simple things that, taken together, paint a pretty clear picture of what your everyday life is like, from the silly to the insightful.

Mind sweeps help you preserve and treasure those little moments that, in the end, add up to magical memories.

Scout -- August 2016 -- My Mama Didn't Raise No Fool

Another benefit is that it can take as much or as little time as you like. The biggest barrier to journaling for my younger self was that it took too long. I have a slow hand but a racing brain, and so regular entries required about an hour.

Not so with mind sweeping. (Or, at least, not necessarily.)

You’ll have a clear outline of each day, whether you sum it up in a sentence or two or you devote a whole page to a ‘dear diary’ entry.

This also eliminates any wasted space, as I found was often the case with those ‘day per page’ type journals.

With mind sweeping you simply write the date, scribble as much or as little as you like, and then skip a line and start again the following day.

No wasted space, no wasted time.

Just a solid, raw account of real life.

2017 Mid-Year Review (with free worksheet): How I do a mid-year review so I'm always achieving goals (even if I sometimes slip up), including a free worksheet so you can do one too. Mind sweeps.

So grab any blank notebook (my preference is for an A4 spiral-bound so I have plenty of space and can fold it back on itself) and any pen that feels comfortable to write with (black BIC ballpoint ‘round these parts), and start writing an account of your life.

Whether you keep it to yourself or eventually share it with others, I promise you that those everyday moments you capture will all add up to a truly extraordinary life.

All you have to do is live it and capture it, one short sentence at a time.


If you want to see a little more of how I incorporate my mind sweep notebook into my daily life, as well as how it fits into my planning system, watch this video:

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