Thinking About Journaling


This morning I was flipping through my journal looking for inspiration. As I came to a list of potential articles for the blog, I was struck by the importance of journaling in my professional practice.  I use a journal every day, just not in typical ways.  My journal has a table of content, sticky notes, lists, writing, drawing, and lots of non-traditional content.

As a child and youth, I had tried to keep a journal but I always lost momentum when trying to write my thinking down on paper everyday.  So, I journaled in fits and starts until adulthood.  I traded in my journal for the ‘to-do’ list.  I found the ‘to-do’ list very satisfying being able to cross items off my list. My list evolved into a combination of items and notes from meetings or important things to remember. This version worked for many years and gradually transferred to an electronic platform. 

However, when I went back to school, I realized that I missed the paper/pen aspect of recording information.  In fact, there was something to be learned from pen and paper writing that was not available from my phone, tablet, or computer. Early on, I took a class from Dannelle Stevens, who with Joanne Cooper, wrote the book, Journal Keeping: How to Use Reflective Writing for Learning, Teaching, Professional Insight, and Positive Change (2009).  This class taught me the art of journal writing and freed me from some of my hang-ups on what can and can’t be done in a journal. 

The act of choosing the journal is of great importance.  I think of my journal as a second brain or external hard drive. Journaling for me became a way to capture ideas, notice patterns in my thinking, and reflect on my practice. It is where I am able to give myself permission to slow down in my practice, creating space to think deeply about how I work. 

It took a few tries but eventually I found the type of journal that fit my way of thinking.  I knew that keeping a journal that would really help me to dig into my practice, required one that matched my style of learning.

I wanted a journal that had lots of space, neither blank or with lines. Being a kinesthetic learner, I find it most helpful to capture my thinking in non-linear ways, so my journal has faint graphic print on each page.  I also chose a hard covered journal, so by the time I filled the 170 pages or so, it was still in one piece. 

These are tips from Dannelle, which helped me in thinking about organizing my journal. Organizing your journal supports your ability to go back and make use of your thinking and reflections. I always leave the first few pages of the journal blank. The first page is always the Table of Content, where I capture the theme of each page (which I number).  This has saved me countless hours looking back through past journals to find that idea or plan.  I also save the next few pages for quick reference content.  There are always two pages for resources.  When someone mentions a book, website, or other resource, then I flip to the front of my journal and write it on the resource pages. This also helps me to find information quickly. Right past the resource pages, I have two pages for contacts with names, emails or phone numbers and then a sentence about the connection. Thus the front of my journal become my quick reference guide.

As I move into my journal, I capture ideas from meetings, make list, draw concepts, and use sticky-notes to express my thinking. I find sticky notes very helpful, especially the 1-inch ones and I am always careful to only place one idea per sticky.  With a single idea in a sticky, I can then move my ideas around in my journal until I feel that I have clarity. I often combine sticky notes and writing together in my journal, a habit that I have transferred to the white board in my office (which I capture on my smart phone before I reconstruct it). In fact, I am now known for this habit and when people visit my office, they always examine my thinking on display.  I like to think of it as a giant journal page.

With over a 1,000 pages of journaling behind me, I now feel that I can honestly say that journaling part of my everyday life.  Journaling affords me the opportunity to have a professional dialogue with myself. It helps to focus my thinking and problem solving.  I don’t think I could go a day without it.

What do you think about journaling in your professional life?