How I keep a simple daily journal

I sent a (really short) email to my main crew over at Really Short Emails with a simple subject line…

Do you keep a daily journal?

The responses were plentiful! Plenty of yeses and nos, different styles of journaling, and varying frequencies…

Twice per day, once on Mondays, whenever it makes sense…

Some keep theirs focused on personal goals, others used their journal was a work log.

It varies!

One reader wrote back and said, “Am I doing it wrong?”

There is no wrong, but I find certain styles of journals can be more cumbersome than they need to be, which leads to journal burnout and inconsistency.

I wanted to take a quick moment to post how I journal, with the big caveat that it’s always changing, I’m not always 100% consistent and I’m starting to research other journal methods and philosophies (which will yield new blog articles, I hope.)

Here goes…

My one-minute journal template

For me, the act of journaling helps me answer three simple questions… “What am I doing,” “How am I doing,” and “What’s goin’ on?”

To do this, I begin each day with a new journal entry in SimpleNote, a note-taking app that syncs across my phones, tablets, and laptops. It’s always accessible, so I can add, update, or refer to journal entries whenever I need to.

I copy and paste this template:

Ask these in the morning…

What is the most important task for the day?

How did I sleep last night?

How do I feel?

Ask these at night…

What did I accomplish?

What did I learn, read and listen to?

How did I feel throughout the day?

What is one thing my family did that’s amazing?

I’ll break down each section, but for the most part, that’s it! You can swipe this for your own journaling pleasure, or reply in the comments and let me know what you do!

Breaking down the template

I start each morning by opening up a new note and copying and pasting the template.

What is the most important task for the day?

In a perfect world, I’ve already given thought to my most important task of the day. If not, I organize my mental to-do’s for the day and choose the one thing that must get done. I’ll add more than one thing to this question’s answer, but I always place the most important thing first. While I’m listing these, I’m mentally visualizing when and how these things will get done.

How did I sleep last night?

It all requires energy, and for me most of that energy comes from a good night’s rest. This is a quick note on how the night went. My sleep is not consistent (#kids) so this is an important footnote for me to assess each day. You may not need this question at all if sound sleep is your norm.

How do I feel?

Be honest. For me, this questions addresses physical and emotional ups and downs. Monday blues? Write it down. Back pain? Write it down. Stomach cramps? Write it down. Pumped to jump out of bed and get a workout in… yup, write it down!

That’s it for the AM. Answer those questions and get at it!

Mid-day I’ll check-in. Usually at lunch.

What did I accomplish?

Are you doing the things you set out to do? Did plans change? If so, how’d you pivot? What are you getting done instead? Have any hard conversations? Get any good/bad news? Keep a simple log of the actions you’ve taken on this day.

What did I learn, read, and/or listen to?

If you are like me, you consume a wild amount of stuff. Most of these go in one ear and out the other. I find that if I don’t write things down, I forget them. So, here’s your opportunity to write things down. Jot down a list of the things you’ve consumed. If you have time, write down a key takeaway, or how it made you feel or change your perspective on something.

How did I feel throughout the day?

What’s happening in your mind and body? Jot down how you feel, mentally and physically. This lets you start to identify trends. When I do X I feel great! When I do Y I feel like a garbage pail. Next week, try doing more X and a little less Y.

What is one thing my family did that was amazing?

You could replace family and add friends here, or include friends and family. Whatever makes sense. The goal is to reflect briefly on the great things that happen around us when we don’t pay close attention to them. Friends and family are doing beautiful things all the time. Unfortunately, we live in such a noisy time that recognizing those things requires our attention. Stop for a second and give it your attention.

(Optional) What did I eat/drink?

I have health issues tied to food allergies, particularly gluten. My stomach is pretty solid, but consuming the wrong thing can lead to fevers, fatigue, and mood swings. I’ve learned my best bet is to avoid gluten, and most dairy products. The problem is that gluten hides in a lot of things. For that reason, I’ve decided to keep a daily food journal alongside my everyday journal. I literally write down everything I eat. Sounds overwhelming, but it’s not bad if you check in a few times each day. This log helps me keep up on my health, match weird symptoms with potential causation, and pick up on trends that can help me be my best self and perform my best day in and day out.

How do you journal?

Let me know in the comments! Weekly and monthly goal journals? Five-minute journals? Bullet journals? There are so many different styles these days. I’m about to start a research effort to learn more about each, experiment, and report back. Let me know what styles I should keep on my radar.

Thanks for reading, and if you enjoyed this article, you might dig my really short daily emails over at Really Short Emails.


Tom Tate

I'm a suburban polymath living just outside Philadelphia with my wonderful wife and three kids. Digital marketing nerd for a SaaS company by day. Rabid movie, music, game, and book consumer by morning, noon, and night. I share life hacks and learnings via email at Weekly Coffee. I also host Power Time Podcast, a Nintendo retrospective. Sometimes I write stuff. Most of the time, it's on the internet.