Focus On This Podcast

62. Reflections on a Journaling Experiment



You’re convinced journaling is a good idea, but you just can’t seem to get started. You have a laundry list of reasons—there’s no time, getting started is overwhelming, or you just can’t seem to find a rhythm that works. But you’re tired of watching yourself make the same mistakes and lose out on personal and professional growth. 

Here’s the good news: you’re not the first person who’s tried to start a journaling practice. Our team, representing a range of journaling experience, just finished a 30-day experiment with the brand-new Full Focus Journal. In this episode, we’ll dive into what we learned and invite you to try an experiment of your own by joining us for a community-wide journaling challenge. 

In this episode, you’ll discover—

  • How to fine-tune when and where you journal
  • Why you might need to “mature” your view of journaling
  • The value of prioritizing journaling in challenging seasons
  • How journaling shapes the way you move through your day
  • What makes accountability so powerful—and how you can leverage it

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Episode Transcript

Verbs: Welcome to another episode of Focus on This, the most productive podcast on the Internet, so you can banish distractions, get the right stuff done, and finally start loving Mondays. I’m Verbs, here with Courtney Baker and Blake Stratton.

Blake: What is up, Verbs? And also, Courtney, how are you?

Courtney: Yeah. It’s good.

Blake: It’s good?

Courtney: Yeah.

Blake: You’re not in your closet right now.

Courtney: I’m not. I begged to start recording back in my office. Not that I don’t love the closet and setting up a whole podcast studio down there and sitting in an uncomfortable chair while I’m eight months pregnant, but it kind of was wearing on me just a little bit. It’s nice to be not surrounded by my clothes for a hot second. Verbs, how are you doing?

Verbs: You know what? I’m doing great, Courtney. Thank you for asking. Luckily enough, we did stock up on some toilet paper, so we haven’t felt any of those woes recently. Although I will say… I think I’ve said this before on another episode. If you do have younger children, it would be wise to stick with two-ply toilet paper.

Courtney: We may not need to talk about toilet paper and scarcity of toilet paper. We may start the whole scarcity mindset about toilet paper again, guys.

Verbs: Yes. So, moving along…

Blake: That’s next week’s episode. Right? A mainly toiletry-oriented podcast next week. Tune in. It’ll be a happy Monday. What are we talking about this week, though? What’s on the docket?

Verbs: Here’s what we’re talking about today. Knowing why you should do something and actually doing it are really two different things. Last week, we talked about journaling, but what would you say to the listeners who want to journal but just can’t seem to get started?

Courtney: Well, I would say… And, Verbs, I may be speaking for you too.

Verbs: Depending on what you’ll say next. Sorry, go ahead.

Courtney: We’ll find out. You’re not the first person who has thought, “Journaling might be a good thing, but I just don’t do it.” I would say that would be me. The three of us started this 30-day journaling experiment, kind of a challenge, and I had to say on my initial recording of where I was before we started I had not been a journaler since I was a teenager. It kind of was a new thing. Again, I know how great it is. I know there’s a lot of learning to be leveraged, but actually doing it had never been part of my daily life.

Blake: Previously, you had been resonating with Dashboard Confessional lyrics and writing about how those were applying to your love life as a teen. Is that what you’re saying?

Courtney: Exactly. No, I was not even cool enough for that. Didn’t I say this on the last episode? I actually still have some of my teenage journals.

Blake: Stop the podcast. Hard redirect. Go find those. We are reading those aloud to the listeners.

Courtney: Oh my gosh. I actually could go do that. Seriously. I’m pretty close to our attic, and I could just hop in there.

Blake: We should have that as a bonus. If someone buys one of our brand-new journals from the Full Focus store, they can get a transcript or an audio file of Courtney reading her journals. That would be great.

Verbs: But wait. Courtney, would you have considered it journaling back then or was that more diary material?

Courtney: I would have probably called it a diary, which I feel like is kind of part of the problem as adults. We still have this teenage view of journaling. Or at least for me, my concept of journaling did not mature past my diary days. Again, I would be beyond embarrassed for anyone to read the very boring diary entries. I think that’s part of what these 30 days have been for me: a maturing of what journaling is and what the benefits are for me.

Verbs: Now, Blake, I think we might have mentioned this previously as well, but you would fall into the category of a professional, avid journaler. Is that a misstatement?

Blake: I mean, I’ve won a few regional awards in the past. Nothing major. If someone is having a hard time getting started journaling, I would say your barrier is probably just too high. Your expectation of what it has to be is probably too high. It’s almost like starting a meditation practice. People instantly go to “Okay. I’ve got to learn how to cross my legs and levitate somehow in order to reach nirvana here.”

The truth is if you closed your eyes at your desk for 90 seconds and just breathed, you would feel much better, if you just did that at the start of every workday when you sat down at your desk. It’s not next-level meditation, necessarily, but it’s a practice. It certainly is a start, and you can get the benefits right away. So, if you’re having a hard time getting started with journaling, my advice is don’t wait until you have a perfect plan. Just lower the barrier. Just start.

And by lower the barrier… I think this is a common example. “Oh, if you want to work out in the morning, put out your clothes and untie your shoes and buy nice workout shoes and put them there, and then you’ll be interested.” Certainly, you can do something like that. If the journal is on your bedside table or it’s on your desk and it’s open to the day and you just take five minutes, it’s really such a simple thing to start, because it’s hard to do it wrong, but it’s so easy to get some benefits.

Verbs: One thing I picked up on… And I am in the same boat as Courtney is. I feel like I haven’t been a consistent journaler in my adult years, but when I was younger, I would always carry around a notebook with me. Most of the time, if I was writing in that notebook to capture some kind of thoughts, I was either jotting down song lyrics or, during my devotional time, if I was reading, I’d capture a thought in that notebook.

But I feel like in the digital era, where a lot of those thoughts went from writing on an analog piece of paper to capturing them digitally in a smartphone, I kind of lost that consistency, because there’s no sitting down and letting those thoughts pass through the pencil onto the paper sort of thing, so I became more casual with how I captured my thoughts. I was reminded of that during these last 30 days of this journaling experiment. So, learning new things but ready to learn more. So, before we started this experiment, we prerecorded some of our thoughts, and let’s listen to what Blake had to say.

Blake: Blake here. My experiences with journaling have been very positive. I’ve been journaling on a regular or semiregular basis probably 10 to 15 years. Journaling by hand has always been a struggle for me. I’ve tried to do it in various ways, like before I get out of bed or before I go to sleep, and I’ve struggled with consistency when it comes to physical journaling. I think it’s just because I don’t particularly enjoy writing things down.

If you know my story with the Full Focus Planner, you know I was very resistant to using the Full Focus Planner, because I just don’t enjoy the physical act of writing. I love writing as a mental exercise, but physically writing has always been something I don’t enjoy doing, and I try to avoid paper when possible. However, the planner dramatically changed my life from a mental state perspective, and there’s a lot of science behind why that is, why I started sleeping better.

What this gives me the opportunity to do is build a little bit more structure, some consistency, even things like this experience tracker we have there. That’s an interesting tool. I’ve never really done something like that intentionally. So, I’m curious what the next 30 days will bring, and we’ll see where it can fit in. We’ll see. I’ll check back in with you in about a month.

Verbs: So, overall, Blake, how did it go? How were your 30 days?

Blake: I would say it was all right. These 30 days coincided with probably my busiest month of 2020 so far, so it was certainly a challenge, as the name implied. I definitely didn’t write every single day. I was not perfect. I know that comes as a surprise to our listeners who previously thought I was, but it was definitely not perfect. I think the biggest win for me was getting a stronger habit at the end of my workdays.

I realized the best time for me to do a quick journal… And when I say “quick” I mean typically less than 10 minutes. At the end of my workday, to kind of cap off the day and allow me to feel complete and powerful and grateful and ready to move on, I would just write in my journal. So, while not every day worked out perfectly for me, on the whole I definitely journaled more in the last 30 days than any time prior.

Verbs: That’s awesome. You mentioned consistency as well, but what’s a normal journaling week to where you feel like, “Hey, I’ve maximized my journaling days and I feel good about it”?

Blake: Well, something I had wanted to do but took this challenge as an opportunity to double down on was building consistency, capturing specific ideas every workday. Journaling on the weekend kind of free-form, whatever comes to mind, brain dump, extended time… I would do that still pretty consistently, but what I did this time around, because, like I said, I don’t particularly love to write things down by hand because it’s slow… I just made that barrier of entry as low as I could.

I would typically take time at the end of my workday before I left my office to write down, to do some journaling, and just answer some questions about what I noticed during the day. Sometimes I would take a prompt that was given to me, but typically, I was just trying to capture something I was grateful for, something I noticed during the day, and a potential lesson I could apply to the next day based on what I noticed from the current day. I would say my consistency really improved over the last month. All right, Verbs. I’m turning it back on you. I want to hear your pre-challenge thoughts on recording and then listen to how this month went for you.

Verbs: All right. Captain’s log, star date 9-14-2020, as we begin this journey expedition. As far as journaling goes, I am definitely not a consistent journaler at this point in my life right now. I guess there are many limiting beliefs I could attach to that, but I think for the most part, I always see journaling as kind of an evening type of activity.

Although I’ve had many good friends and family buy these blank journals as a gift for me, whether it be birthday or Christmas or what have you… They’re very nice books. It’s just having a book of blank lines and pages feels like it’s extra work at the end of the evening where I’m already trying to shut down.  So, in that regard, it just seems like extra thought work at the tail end of the day where, at that point, I’m just trying to call it a day and go to sleep.

I’m looking forward to this journal because I know in our last iteration of the journal we had prompts that give you things to answer versus trying to generate thoughts that just spill onto the pages. I love those prompts because it’s an easier process for me. So, I’m looking forward to using this journal, the new iteration of the Full Focus Journal, and we’ll see how it goes.

Courtney: All right, Verbs. I, first of all, love how you started off your recording, because it actually did sound like a space log.

Verbs: You’re right about that. It did.

Courtney: It didn’t have the normal Verbs… What do you say? Vocal butter? I think that’s what Blake calls your voice. So, I am curious. How was it? Like, just in general, after 30 days, what were your takeaways from it?

Verbs: In general, I thought it was good. I did appreciate the process. As I mentioned, normally my best time to journal would be at the end of a day, but overall the process, knowing that we were in the middle of the challenge, knowing that I wanted to write something down on the page at the end of the day, made me process the day differently.

Even earlier in the day, if there were things that happened, if there were moments I wanted to take note of, I’d kind of put a little bookmark there in my mind and say, “All right. This is something I’m going to want to journal and write about later on.” As well as getting through the first couple of days and using those prompts that are provided on the page.

Some of those prompts stay the same each day, which made me think about it the next morning. “Hey, here’s an item.” So, if I’m trying to answer the question, “What are some of my recent wins?” well, during that day I’m trying to pay attention to what is a win versus just kind of blowing past a potential win or just blowing past a win for the day, knowing I want to log that down later.

It really forced me into the mindset of acknowledging and identifying and recording parts of my day that I think I often miss, whether it be at work or here at home as a husband, as a dad. It forced me to slow down a little bit knowing that I wanted to capture those on that page at the end of the day.

Blake: Awesome. Well, Courtney, now I want to hear yours. What did you say before all this? Let’s run the tape.

Courtney: Hey, guys. It’s Courtney here, and I am sitting here with my Full Focus Journal, and I’m about to start journaling every day for a little bit. Well, hopefully for a lot of bit, for a long time. Up front, I want to say I have not really ever journaled. My husband is an avid journaler. We have books and books and books of his journaling, and I do really love when he will pull one out from several years ago and read what was happening on this day three years ago. It is really beautiful and fun to do that.

So, that is my limited experience. I’ve kind of always felt like I should journal, but I just, frankly, guess I haven’t. So, I’m really excited about this experiment and to see what I take away. I feel like it’s certainly an area of growth, and I’m interested to see if this tool helps with my own thinking and my own leadership.

Blake: Okay. Did you get some help with your thinking and your leadership, Courtney? How did it go?

Courtney: Yeah. It was really interesting. I will say up front that, at the end of it, I found it very helpful, but at the beginning, it took some trial and error for me to figure out a way that would work for me. Part of that was figuring out the time of day I was going to do this. I defaulted to nighttime. I think in my head that’s when you should journal.

Frankly, guys, it did not work for me. By the time I would get ready for bed… It may be that I’m very pregnant, but by the time I was ready to shut down for the night, I just couldn’t muster up the mental energy to put words on paper anymore. So I found it really hard. I kind of had set that expectation.

Where it really started to work for me (and I hope this is helpful for everybody listening if you’ve struggled with trying to force it into a certain spot) was actually making it part of my workday startup. I don’t know. It was almost like a little palate cleanser but for my mind going into the workday. It was like, “Okay. I’m going to write these things down, what has been happening,” and then moving forward.

I will say the other thing I thought would be hard was the prompts. I felt like I was going to think I had to answer all of the prompts. If you’re familiar with the Full Focus Journal, in the previous iteration it would have a question and then a certain amount of lines to answer that question. The new journal just has a list of questions on the left side, so you can kind of pick and choose.

What I found is I would start on the first question, and then, all of a sudden, I would find I had filled up the page. I don’t know if y’all were like that. Just that little bit of trigger got way more material from me than I would have thought. I think at the end of this, I come away with… Well, first of all, I should say the last 30 days have been challenging for me and for our country. It has been a tough year, but especially the last 30 days have been tough for me.

What I have found is spending the time, allowing myself to dive a little bit deeper into what’s going on in my thinking, has been hugely beneficial. I am really interested to see the continued effect of that over time, especially when things are tough. I feel like usually when things are challenging, journaling is the first thing to go. What I’m experiencing is that, actually, it’s one of those things I probably need to cling to more when things are difficult.

Blake: Okay, guys. I’m looking at our producer Nick, and he has pulled out something very, very exciting for this next segment. We’re going to hear some more about each of our own experiences with journaling and hopefully give you listening some inspiration to start the habit yourself.

What Nick is wheeling out… It looks to be quite heavy. I don’t know if you got this directly from the set of The Price is Right, but I do know you have some connections to Drew Carey, so I’m not surprised. Here it is. We’ve rebranded this to be the Wheel o’ Focus, and by spinning the Wheel o’ Focus, Nick will pull out a deeply relevant and insightful question and each of us will have an opportunity to answer whatever the wheel chooses for us. I’m excited. Yes, Courtney?

Courtney: Before you spin the wheel, I think we should go ahead and let people know the three of us have gone on this challenge, experimenting with journaling… Again, we’ve all had different experiences, but we are actually going to be opening up a challenge for you all to be a part of, and we’re going to have more information about that at the end of the show. But if you’re like, “Oh, I actually would benefit…”

Honestly, guys, if the three of us hadn’t been doing this together, I don’t know that I would have gotten that kickstart I needed. We want to allow all of you who are listening to also have that, so we are going to be opening up a challenge for you all. So, as we’re answering these questions, you can be thinking about if that is something you want to try out. This wasn’t just for us. We’re going to be doing this for you this month.

Blake: Yeah. And the winner gets a free car. Right?

Courtney: Exactly.

Verbs: It’s actually a motor home, guys. It’s an RV.

Blake: Oh, right.

Verbs: In true Price is Right form.

Courtney: Ooh, yes.

Blake: That’s excellent.

Verbs: And a trip to Cancun.

Courtney: All you have to know is the price of a bottle of Tylenol. Is it $3.27 or $4.63? You choose.

Blake: You choose, and you journal about it. That’s how you do it. All right, Nick. I would like to spin the wheel first for 1,000 points. Go ahead and give it a whirl for me.

Nick: Okay, Blake. Your question is…What caught you by surprise about journaling?

Blake: Ooh, what caught me by surprise? So, I think what caught me by surprise was how much I could learn during the week, how much I could learn just from noticing what was happening during my day. One of my favorite activities is the Weekly Preview because there’s that after-action review section where it says, “What worked? What didn’t work?” Sometimes it’s honestly tricky to remember what actually happened, but I always get some good stuff out of it.

When I was journaling, one of the biggest surprises was almost every day, there was something where I realized, “Huh. Why did I do that?” or “Huh. Why did so-and-so do that?” and I had an opportunity to learn a mini-lesson. That was kind of surprising. I didn’t realize just how much gold there was to be harvested just from recounting what was happening in my day.

Nick: All right, Verbs. Are you ready?

Verbs: I am. Just give me some elbow room here while I spin this wheel.

Nick: Okay, Verbs. Your question is…Describe journaling in just three words.

Verbs: Okay. Describe journaling in three words. Anticipate, process, record. Did I do that right? That process helped me remember those three things. That way, I was mentally prepared for journaling. The time of day I did it was mostly in the evening time, but that’s what I was trying to keep in my head. “All right. I’m going to assess my day, I’m going to process it, and then I’ll record it.”

Blake: All right, Courtney. Can you spin the wheel?

Courtney: Yes. Nick, spin away.

Nick: Okay, Courtney. Your question is…Did you pay attention to anything differently because of your journaling practice?

Courtney: Yes. I think for me the big thing was… This feels really deep, but I would say in general, I am just plowing through the day a lot of times, and what the practice of journaling helped me do was to acknowledge some of the feelings and processing through some of the things that were happening and, honestly, just be a little more present with myself, you know, how I was feeling, what was working, what wasn’t working.

I know we’ve talked a lot about this on the show, but I’m not great at celebrating wins, and that’s something I have to work at, but the process of journaling made that a lot easier for me. Similar to Verbs, it’s kind of like when you know you’re going to be thinking about that later, you mentally are able to bookmark it until that time comes. What I found was I was a little more in tune with what my mindset was and where I was winning with the things I could actually take time to celebrate, either me personally or the people around me or my team. So that was really helpful.

Blake: Look at you with the scuba gear. Love that. You have a daily scuba happening with your journal.

Courtney: It helped me be a little more Blake-like. I will say that.

Blake: And at the end of the day, isn’t that why we’re all here?

Courtney: Exactly. Yep.

Blake: Quick round. Lightning round. Here I go, Nick.

Nick: Okay, Blake. Where was your favorite spot to journal?

Blake: Where was my favorite spot physically? Let’s see. My favorite spot to journal is at my desk.

Courtney: No, mentally.

Blake: Well, listen. You’re asking a moody Four. “I think my favorite spot is when I could go to my childhood and unpack the wounds of not being able to run fast or jump as high.”

Verbs: We’re laughing, but this could be an actual vulnerable spot. But go ahead.

Blake: Okay. I’m just going to turn it back around. Favorite spot to journal for me is at my desk in my office. The reason is when I would journal at home, I felt like there was oftentimes some distractions or I’d be more likely to get pulled away. It’s almost like when I’m at my desk in my office and I am wanting to end my workday… Journaling there was helpful because it slowed down my brain and helped me unplug and do some rejuvenation before I shifted gears and shifted my context and went back home.

Nick: All right, Verbs. Are you ready?

Verbs: I’m ready.

Nick: What time of day did you usually journal and, on average, how long did it take?

Verbs: Let me say this. I actually didn’t even think about trying to switch the time of day like Courtney did, which now that she mentioned that, that would have been a spectacular idea. I actually ended up journaling more in the evening just because I thought I had a chance to kind of think through those prompts, and I figured at least by the end of the day I’d have something to write about. That’s when those thoughts were still fresh in my mind, so I chose the evening. Really, it would probably take me about 10 minutes at the end of the day to jot down some of those thoughts in the journal.

Nick: Okay, Courtney. Are you ready?

Courtney: Okay. Spin away.

Nick: What would be your biggest tip for a first-time journaler?

Courtney: Well, it would be find what works for you, you know, when you’re going to do it, how you’re going to do it, kind of experimenting with some options, really trying to look outside of what you would typically think of as when and how you journal. For me, again, I mentioned this earlier, but putting it as part of my workday startup routine was really helpful. It literally took me 10 minutes. In my head, when I think of journaling, I think it’s a longer process. It’s really not.

So, that was helpful for me. I really had to reframe. Again, I said this earlier, but it was this process of maturing how I approach journaling from my teenage diary, getting into all of the emotions… I don’t know. I just thought it was a bigger, harder thing than it actually is. So that’s what I would tell you. It is not a hard thing. It’s really easy. If you were like me and thought, “Yeah, I see the value there. I just don’t have the time. I don’t know how to get that done,” you really can do it and be successful at it.

Blake: Excellent. I think we can all agree that I won the journaling challenge. No. I’m just kidding. It sounds like it was great for all of us, and I’ll raise my hand. I definitely wasn’t perfect, but having a challenge was so helpful, because it’s hard to stay consistent, whether you’ve been journaling for a lot of years like me or are just getting started like Courtney.

Wherever you listening fall on the continuum of journaling, whether you’ve done it for years or maybe you’ve always been intimidated or just feel like you don’t have the time, we want to make it easier for you to get started, to not be overwhelmed, and to stay consistent. So, you are officially invited to our journaling challenge. Courtney, do you want to give more details?

Courtney: Yeah. This is basically a community-wide journaling challenge. It’s going to be from November 18-27. The first step is obviously to get a journal and then to join us by opting in to Michael Hyatt & Company’s Countdown to 2021. This is a group on Facebook where you’re going to get all the information on how to be part of this challenge. You can do that at Again, being part of a community of people who are pursuing this is going to give you that extra kickstart to installing this as something you do regularly.

Verbs: The good news is you don’t have to figure out how to create a journaling practice on your own, but you can actually leverage the power of our learning and join the community taking our journaling challenge. So, thank you for joining us on Focus on This.

Blake: This is the most productive podcast on the Internet. That’s the word on the street. So, if you are enjoying it, please share it with your friends and use #focusonthispodcast.

Verbs: And we will be here next week with another great episode.

Courtney: Until then…

Blake: Stay focused.

Courtney: Stay focused.

Verbs: Stay focused.