The Magic of Journaling…
Let’s talk about a super-effective way to boost productivity with your practice, training, diet, or almost anything else important to you. I’m talking about keeping a specialized journal. I’ve done it on and off, at various times through the years, and have always gotten remarkable results from it. In fact, I almost always have at least one going on, in addition to my standard “life” journal.
So here’s a point of distinction:
Life Journal vs. Specialized Journal
I call the standard diary-style journal a “Life Journal.” Here is where you simply record the events of your life daily, weekly, or whenever you want, and pretty much just riff about what’s going on. These are great to maintain for a variety of reasons, and I always recommend them. Go here to an older blog post for a detailed overview on this kind of journaling.
The specialized journal is dedicated to the documentation of one particular pursuit. It could be based on your working out, running, practicing, diet, writing, etc. The idea is to hit it virtually everyday.
Here are a few examples, although I would recommend starting with just one:
The Training Journal
For a training or running journal, simply record your workouts. It can be as simple as documenting the distance and pace that you ran on a given day, or what routine you did at the gym. You can also drop in a one or two-sentence note here or there about how you were feeling physically or energetically on that day, any aches and pains you were dealing with, etc.
(Here is an example of my training journal from my first marathon in 2012. There is around 24 weeks of examples in this section of the blog!)
And let me emphasize something right here: the greatest progress I have ever made in my weight training or running was when I kept some form of a training journal and had specific number goals in mind. It’s the combination of the relentless attention to numbers (distances, times, weights, sets, and reps) combined with a structured method of recording your progress (like a journal) that really gets the results.
Why? Mainly, because as the old saying goes, “the numbers don’t lie.” You will be able to see, quantifiably, what kind of improvements you’ve made, where you’ve hit a plateau, which specific routines produced the best results, which exercises or routes tend to create the most fatigue and, perhaps most importantly, when your routine has become a bit too “routine” and you need to push yourself out of your comfort zone. No more guessing or trying to recall key info about your training. It’s all right there in your journal.
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The Practice Journal
If you’re a musician, you could have a practice journal where you document the what, how and why of what you worked on each day. It could also be a repository for any special notes, links, thoughts, or anything else that might pop up. This will bring some left-brain structure into your practice routine.
If you choose the daily approach, then each day you would make it a point to document how much you practiced, what specifically you worked on, actual notation of certain exercises you’ve been working on, or any combination of these things or other ideas. This is especially effective when you have a goal to hit either a daily or weekly quota of hours, which I highly recommend for at least certain times of the year.
This kind of meticulous documentation of the what, when and how much with regard to practice might sound like kind of a poindexterish thing to keep track of. But again, it’s always been those times that I’ve adhered to a specific quota of hours and other such details one might capture in a journal, that I’ve made my best progress.
The most important thing about this process is that you get into a ritual of writing in your journal every day or two. And whatever you decide will be your schedule, you want to do your best to stick to it.
The three main advantages of this approach are:
1. You will establish some accountability into your routine every week.
2. You will have one main source of compiling all of your valuable material that you’ve been working on.
3. It will serve as an ongoing source of inspiration for you as you occasionally flip through the journal and reflect on all the work you’ve done.
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The Food Journal
Again, the idea is pretty simple. You write down everything you eat and drink over a given period of time; 3 to 7 days on the short-term, or month-to-month on the long-term. Be brutally honest with the details, and if you’re doing it initially to evaluate your current eating habits, be prepared to freak. I’ve consistently found that most people have no idea how much shit they actually consume… even as they tell me things like “I hardly ever have any sugar,” or “I’m virtually vegan since I seldom eat animal products.” And then once they actually document their eating regimen, they wind up tripping out at the results.
You will likely have a similar experience. But you have to be super honest and document everything that goes into your body. This is the only way to truly know where your vices reside, which foods to cut back on, how few veggies you’re likely eating consistently, and so forth.
This kind of journal is great for starting a new eating regimen, as well, because there’s a sense of immediate accountability; once you consume whatever it is you’ve consumed, you know you’ve got to write it down.
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Traditional or Screen-style Journals?
And finally, about the type of journal you will use; notebook style or computer/app style. The best one to use is the one you will actually use!
For a practice journal, where you might be writing down musical examples or specific exercises you’ve been working on, a standard journal with pen or pencil may be the way to go. But for all other kinds, I prefer note-taking apps like Evernote or Simplenote. These are great because they work cross-platform; you can make or review entries on multiple devices. Plus, if you have a smartphone with voice recognition capabilities, you can even speak your entry into the app and watch the words magically appear in your journal. Gotta love technology…
But you could also try specific programs or apps that are designed for this purpose, like GymBuddy – an iPhone app. This is one of my faves because I can record my workouts at the gym as they are going down, entering the set/rep/weight info into the iPhone on the spot while scoping out tunes.
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To kick things off, I would start with just one type of journal – exercise, food, practice, running/walking, etc. – in a format that’s easy to use, then stick with it. Try it consistently for at least one month and watch what happens…