The benefits of putting pen to paper — yes, writing like your great-grandparents did — can make a huge difference in your life. Here’s how journaling can help to improve your focus and well-being.
In this age of screens and smartwatches, it’s easy to get caught up in all things digital. We take notes on our devices. We calendar on our phones. From AI to VR, high tech pervades our lives. But even in 2023 there are still benefits of putting pen to paper and writing the same way our great-grandparents did — with analog technology that will never go out of style.
Many experts refer to this act as “journaling.” They call it that even if you aren’t technically writing in a journal. And it can have a huge impact on your life. Some experts say putting pen to paper can help improve focus. Several studies have shown that journaling can reduce overall levels of depression and enhance your sense of well-being. A 2005 study indicated journaling can even improve your working memory.
Start your day off with pen and paper
Lynda Monk, director of the International Association for Journal Writing, says the simple act of writing with a physical pen in a physical book can serve as meditation and start your days off on the right track.
“I think there’s value in unplugging from all the technology to truly connect with ourselves,” says Monk, who lives on Salt Spring Island in British Columbia, Canada. “It’s a noisy and distracting and busy multitasking world we’re living in. It can overwhelm people. Journaling gives you the chance to unplug. We charge our phones to make sure they keep working. Journaling is the chance to charge ourselves.”
Monk starts every day with putting pen to paper, even if she plans to spend the entire day on a computer or other device. She says she does this to carve out time to hear her own thinking and unlock her creative mind.
She also says it works.
Of course, this suggests journaling could help entrepreneurs brainstorming new businesses or self-employed workers who lack coworkers they can bounce ideas off (yet another reason to find a collaborative, hybrid workspace).
Many great business leaders have kept journals: Bill Gates, Richard Branson and Oprah Winfrey, to name a few. In a 2017 blog post, Branson noted that putting pen to paper was one of the secrets to his success. “Ever since I was a child, I have made lists of all kinds, including short-term tasks, long-term goals, and resolutions,” he wrote.
While journaling is one of the easiest habits to adopt, it’s not something one can incorporate without intention. Monk suggests starting small — no more than five minutes every day. She also advises that aspiring journal-keepers store implements close to bed, so they can participate as soon as they wake up.
“Those first 45 minutes upon waking from our sleep state represent one of the most creative time periods of the day,” she says. “Carl Jung talked about this — you’ve got more access to your subconscious at that time than you do at any other time of day. When you look at it that way, the journal becomes a playground where you’re the expert of your own experiences and everything you write is right.”
Try keeping it short and sweet with Bullet Journaling
For those who don’t necessarily want to commit to writing full paragraphs in a traditional journal, another option might be the Bullet Journal.
This Instagram-friendly, diary-style approach is the Twitter (er, X) of journaling, reducing ideas and goals into short and pithy digestible chunks. The heart of this approach is the daily log, where participants are encouraged to list thoughts and activities in single sentences or sentence fragments.
Creator Ryder Carroll says this has the same effect as traditional journaling, but it takes up less time.
“When there’s a barking dog outside, you can’t hear anything else,” he told The New Yorker back in 2019. “But when you go to the window you realize there might be something wrong, you think about it, you get the context. It’s barking at something. You actually get up and look. And, for me, writing is that process.”
Whatever approach you take, putting pen to paper can be rewarding in many ways. At the very least, during an era when few of us utilize this “antiquated” technology, there’s beauty in the throwback.