Journaling is immensely valuable, but I believe we can all recognize how challenging it might be to stare at a blank canvas and decide what should be defined as our entry of time each time around. Still, that said, the “just write!” philosophy as well as a little bit of structure in the form of writing prompts can quickly clear that problem up.
So all we’re left with now in our awareness of journaling as a positive behavior is, well, making the time to do it.
Today I want to cover a very convenient way to access and complete your journal entries through a digital tool called Notion.
Now when I say convenient, I mean for a whole host of reasons – be it because you can use digital-only functions like search, sort, filter, and more… A digital journal is generally more accessible – We carry our phones with us all the time. One can include pictures, or links.
There’s also the freedom to pick any template one wants to apply for the time and focus of your journaling, whereas on a physical journal, you’re stuck with the template that’s already designed for each page (not always a bad thing if just deciding your prompts is enough to wade you from writing).
If you’re someone who’d rather write into something physical, given you love the feeling and experience of actually writing (which has many perks), then allow me to save you some time by recommending a few journal designs you can buy that are quite popular for their effectiveness.
First there’s John Lee Dumas’ Mastery Journal. Then we have Ryder Carroll’s Bullet Journal. Lastly, we have The 5-Minute Journal created by UJ Ramdas and Alex Ikonn. Another reason why I share these journals in spite of my focus right now on organizing and customizing your own digital journal is inspiration.
We’re free to take from these designs the best prompting structures we want, and incorporate them to our desires through Notion. Of course, these aren’t the only structures to look at – I’ll also be sharing another tool, Robert Plutchik’s Emotion Wheel – that can easily enhance how we enter in our state of mind.
So without further ado, I’d really like to dive into my favorite way of journaling digitally:
How To Journal With Notion
Allow me to first introduce Notion, for those who may not know: Notion is an information management system (fancy talk for store all your notes and documents here).
Google Drive is also an information management system, as well as Evernote, One Note… what makes Notion stand apart is how it is designed around these smart databases, or excel-like tables where the columns can be defined by different properties which ultimately create a diverse yet cohesive information-connecting experience throughout.
Let’s take a look at what I’m talking about.
So as you can see in the above image, I have this row-column table, where each row is actually a journal entry. From left to right I have columns that represent the following:
- My entry’s title (for me that always ends up being some quip about what’s going on in mind the second I ask myself “what’s going on in my mind?”)
- My current state of happiness, measured between 1 and 3 stars. (The property being used here is single select – I can only pick from 1 of my created options of stars)
- A 1-sentence summary of journal entry (I either leave this for the end of my journaling entry writing, or if I know the premise of my entry, then I’ll do this right after the title.
- The date my entry was created (automatically filled out – a useful, already embedded property!)
The final three columns, or properties, are all multi-select options. Multi-select allows me to pick many options (much like a check all that apply). The options in these columns are words related to how I’m feeling emotionally at the given moment, and each column depicts a different level of emotion. For example:
In the emotion level 1 column, I can choose to select being happy, sad, disgusted, surprised, and so on.
In column 2, the word choices become more clear, as I can pick peaceful or trusting (which fall in line with feeling happy) as well as vulnerable (which can* fall in line with sad) and disapproving (falling in line with disgusted).
Column 3 similarly goes into deeper word choices courageous, thankful, fragile, hostile, worried…
The idea behind this setup is that I get to very effectively read through a list of words which can help dive more deeply into the particular emotions I’m experiencing, all to the convenience of a multi-select.
This is the genius of Robert Plutchik’s Emotion Wheel, now designed into this smart database where I keep all my journal entries. And this is just looking at the database from an overview standpoint. Watch me open one of my entries.
Here’s what it looks like when I open an existing page (journal entry) that I’ve created from time past.
The Entry Itself (Notion Pages)
Here I went ahead and opened one of my entries. This pops up the associated “page” – it’s a lot like opening up a word or google document, but see how there’s more still.
Above, you can see my title, followed by all the properties I just listed out – the 1 sentence summary, my happiness single-select, my emotion level multi-selects… all of these properties I can change and manipulate inside here. Then, outside of being able to explore more property options, there is the actual meat of my entry here below. This is where I’m free to write.
Now, I want to highlight that in this entry, I actually used a template I based off the 5-Minute Journal design. When I first created the entry, I was prompted to choose if I wanted to write on an empty page, or pick from one of the templates I made. In this case, I chose the template which then pre-filled my page with headings that act as my prompts writing about certain things.
This is again, carbon copying what you would experience in any pre-designed journal structure. Of course, you can’t physically write into Notion, but you can indeed type, and if speed is your concern, and time is of the essence, well, typing is faster than writing. Now that we’ve essentially re-created any possible journaling design – save for ones that inspire drawing that would require some more effort…
I now want to showcase the experience I love most with journaling in Notion. Changing the view.
Journaling About Time
Within a few clicks, all my journal entries have now been organized onto a calendar view, showing me when those entries were made.
If you’ve ever wanted to review all of your entries from a given month, a given day of the week, or even a given time of the day, this is one way of actually seeing it! Just like that.
Again, this is the power that Notion provides. To summarize, Notion allows you to:
- Create entries with properties that you can customize to your heart’s content. These properties can then be sorted, searched, filtered…
- Create templates for your entries (based on any known design prompts) from which you can pick at any time. Want the 5-minute journal experience for the morning and the weekly review experience for the weekend? Long as you make the template, it can be done.
- My favorite: You can always change views which may give different perspectives when looking at all your entries. You’re not stuck to seeing everything in table. You can have a calendar view, a Trello-like Kanban board view, a gallery view…
This to me is what makes Notion the perfect tool for digital journaling. Of course, a journal doesn’t have to be the only thing you keep in Notion, and that brings with it so many opportunities to really get fancy with how you interconnect journaling passages with the information about any contacts you keep in another database within Notion. The same could be said for how you add To-Do items onto a To-Do list that’s actually another database in your Notion, which you are adding to right from your journal entries!
The possibilities of this tool are huge, but I digress, this article is about the power of keeping a journal, and so I’d like to close on that subject.
A Final Analysis of Journaling
If I may, I’d like to invite we look at just what journaling is from a very practical standpoint, and also what it can be when used to its fullest extent in your time in life.
Journaling at its heart is the capturing of information – information you possess about yourself. Usually its your own thoughts, experiences, emotions… all documented to the effect of helping you better understand yourself. We journal to improve the way in which you go about our future choices. Journaling is an operation of time that’s focused on review, planning, and also just thinking things through.
When we keep a journal, it would create the greatest amount of value for our time that we do at least 3 things with it:
- It would make a lot of sense that we get value out of journaling in the present moment. Especially with the right structure or prompts, we can guide ourselves very effectively towards an analysis of what’s going on in our world and what we want to do about it. Again, this is typically for the moment of now, although entries about reviews of the past in aggregate can also make a lot of sense. That brings us to 2;
- As we go about creating a list of journal entries, our viewpoint expands further: Now we begin to have perspective over time across our more recent entries as well as our later ones. It may go without saying that we do have to invest the time to review the expanse of our journal entries – especially as they grow in number. Toward this end, it really helps to keep your journaling organized, and later on you can already imagine that I will promote digital journaling to be the better way of organizing and searching back in time. Again, in a sort of review of our reviews type fashion (no pun intended), we can create special entries that aim to summarize our sense of self from journaling. Because there can be so many things to try and connect and correlate;
- Again, given the right structure(s), we can very distinctly capture our emotions from our thoughts from our plans and so on. It’s sort of like making a dish with all the individual foods separated at first (think a simple chicken with rice with green peas) – we can mix it all up and get a combination taste, but we can also taste each piece separately. So over time, as we recognize this same meal or at least certain parts of it, we can separately compare the peas from way before with the peas from this afternoon, if you catch what I’m getting at.
So first, create entries for the power it provides immediately, using structure and prompts to guide our jotting toward what we want to work through.
Second, keep organized and review entries as they begin to stack in number – investing the time to re-read them – with the intent to summarize those entries into super entries.
Third and finally, In line with how you organize your journaling, where possible, separate the various components of what you can capture so you can analyze them distinctly.
This is precisely what a well-designed physical journal is capable of helping you do. However, its going to cost you, and you can’t change the fundamental design without having to go and buy a different type of journal.
And this is where a good digital journal comes in with being adaptable, data-rich and so more quickly analyzable, but also lean! Physical journals take up space and need storage – digital journals exist in the ether – no physical space required.
It’s for this reason that I so strongly recommend keeping a digital journal, and with that, keeping said journal with Notion.
Here: This is a link to a template I created for you to get started with. I wish I had this when I first started in Notion (to be frank, the community has many templates for you to play with).
This template comes with a version of Robert Plutchik’s Emotion Wheel already designed in the column-properties. Within each page, I took Khe Hy’s (another prominent Notion productivity expert) 3-heading morning and evening entry builds. Feel free to try all these out, and see for yourself what kind of experience you can imagine over the next day, week, and month of journaling.
Before You Go…
I’ve one final trick to share with you about journaling digitally – this comes from the reality I see a lot with our digital working world.
Most of us live throughout our personal and professional lives on our web browsers.
Notion has a fantastic web app experience, meaning it would make sense that you keep it open as one of your many tabs that you have open, but of course that begets the problem:
How would you encourage yourself to journal (on Notion specifically) when you have to constantly open up the tab (which isn’t even that big a hurdle, but still) amongst the sea of tabs you may already have open.
I’ll be writing another article on browser tab management soon, but for now I’ll leave you with this: You should close most of your tabs that you have open, as they take up a lot of juice on your computer and for the most part are probably never to see the light of day – and even so, they probably won’t do you much good if you aren’t absorbing their respective information properly.
What I would kindly invite however, is that you take advantage of a special feature that most browsers have about tabs. It’s called Pinning Tabs.
Right-click on a tab (for example your notion tab) -> and click Pin Tab. Now watch as your notion tab shrinks to just an icon AND jumps all the way to the left of all your open browser tabs.
Here’s what happened:
If you have but a few tabs open, you may have noticed that those tabs will show both the tab icon and the title of the page you are on. When you pin a tab, only the icon shows. Here’s what I’m talking about:
This simple feature can make a big impact on your overall web browsing experience, should you be inclined to organize your browser tab behavior a little more mindfully.
Allow me to invite you do this: Pin your notion tab. If you decide to pin other useful/repeatedly visiting tabs like your calendar, gmail, drive, spotify, take note of the order they’re in.
Now use Ctrl + number key (1,2,3,…) to hop between those pinned tabs.
Whereas Ctrl + Tab allows you to cycle through every open tab you have, Ctrl + number key takes you to the tab that’s located in the number key position from left to right of your open tabs. Because pinned tabs always take priority, you can effectively order your most used tabs and then jump to them quickly.
This little trick can then turn your browsing experience into a more controlled hub, where Notion is but one hub where you document what you’ve explored and sought to store from your thoughts to whatever you find on the internet. Again, one of the beauties of digital journaling – links, images… you get the idea.
That’s all I have for today. Let me know if you end up using Notion. Are you journaling right now? What’s your take on digital vs. physical journaling? I await your thoughts in the comments section below.
All the best,