Journaling to Create Order Out of Chaos

Journaling to Create Order Out of Chaos

Roy Jones

Journals and Traveler’s Notebooks are used for a wide variety of reasons.  A structured approach to organizing and working through life’s issues that run on a continuous loop and clutter our minds can be effective at reducing stress and help us create solutions and resolve issues. Many people have tons of great ideas and approaches to journaling. Trying different approaches and layouts can prove to be beneficial. It can be inspiring and at the same time overwhelming to see all the various practices and layout styles of this tool that are used by so many people.  While I also use some additional unique approaches, I have found the following foundational journaling routines useful for creating order out of chaos in my life. I hope the following list of my favorite basic journal uses will provide you some constructive ways to use your Journal or Traveler’s Notebook for your success. 


To-Do List

The most obvious item to include in your journaling practice is your to-do list.  Creating a to-do list keeps your ever-growing and never-ending list of tasks right in front of you.  As you identify new things to do, write them down instead of trying to remember them all.  Keeping a running tally of to-do items in your head, generally results in tasks being forgotten and opportunities missed.  Putting the to-do items in writing usually makes the list less overwhelming. In your mind the list often seems larger and more intimidating, creating stress and anxiety. In writing, you can physically see a list that is typically smaller and more manageable than it seems when you are trying to recall all of it over and over again by memory. By first reducing it to writing, it instantly becomes more manageable.  You can then prioritize the items and tasks by order of importance and dates they must be completed.  

I typically create a monthly to-do list at the beginning of each month.  I then make certain that any of the tasks that have strict due dates are worked on in a timely manner, so that I am not surprised and pressured to complete them at the 11th hour before they are due.  I compare this to college days, gradually working on a research paper over a period of time, rather than pulling an all-nighter the day before it is due. (I am one of those who learned this the hard way.)  Gradually working toward accomplishment of a task greatly reduces stress and typically has better results. As tasks are completed, you can cross them off your list and have the sense of accomplishment of seeing a tangible record of all you have accomplished over a period of time. 

The items on your to-do list should include things you want to do and enjoy doing, not just the daily mundane tasks and responsibilities.  

Day’s Events 

Another useful journaling practice is to keep track of your experiences throughout each day. Write a brief description of things you did each day, interesting conversations, notes about a holiday or birthday celebrated, accomplishments, events that were gratifying, visits with family or friends, as well as things that did not go so well, etc.  This practice helps you to recall that each day included some enjoyable and beneficial moments and was not just a series of working through mundane tasks and difficulties. 


Daily Reflection and Gratitude

Daily reflection naturally goes along with documenting the daily events. Whether it is part of your daily events or a separate list, self-reflection on what you are grateful for and thoughts about the events of the day is a great way to identify some meaning and value from each day.  Even on bad days, try to find something, even the smallest thing, to be grateful for. Sometimes, the thing to be grateful for may be a lesson learned. Daily reflection and identification of things you are grateful for helps to make each day more positive and improve your perspective. 

 Goal Setting

Goal setting and achievement tracking are sort of a long-term version of the to-do list.  They typically are more like projects with end results you establish for yourself. Explicitly stating your goals, new year’s resolutions, ambitions, and aspirations in writing in your journal really makes the goal more tangible and real, rather than just something you wish for or dream of happening. Just like the to-do list items, writing the goal makes it more tangible and manageable to actually begin working toward. Once the goal is established, break it down into smaller actionable steps you can take to work toward the achievement of the ultimate goal. Remember to be specific in identifying the smaller steps and milestones that move you closer to success. These action items and steps should be part of your to-do list to accomplish the milestones and attain the ultimate goal. Achievement of the goal is reached by continuous action and work. Having clearly defined goals and actionable milestones allows you to monitor your progress.  Seeing real progress that you have made will help you to stay motivated to continue to focus on your next milestone until you have reached your defined goal.

 Track Progress and Growth

If journaling becomes a continuous habit, you will be able to look back across the history of previous entries and see how much progress or growth you have made in various areas of your life. It is motivating to see the accomplishments toward goals, tasks completed. There is nothing more inspiring than to see your own progress and accomplishments.  Just remember; do not become discouraged over missed targets and goals.  This is not an exercise to point out failed attempts. Where targets were missed, re-evaluate whether they are still worthy of working on again. Maybe they were not realistic at the period in time that you attempted them. Or perhaps a revised approach and strategy will prove successful. Use the missed goals to re-evaluate and become better at defining goals and setting strategies to reach them. 

Record Ideas and Keep Your Thoughts Organized

How often have you come up with an idea or had a lightbulb moment or a thought and intended to come back to it later? However, later you could not recall your stroke of brilliance; or you entirely forgot the idea.  I must admit, this happens to me frequently.  A benefit of keeping a journal nearby is that you can promptly record your ideas or thoughts as they occur to you.  You can then revisit the ideas and create actionable plans or further explore and decide how to further use the ideas.   If an idea is not captured, it is typically lost forever. 


Whether you are new to journaling, or already maintain a journaling practice, I hope these journaling basics are useful to help you reduce the continuous loop of clutter occupying your mind and create order out of life’s chaos.  


Wishing you great success,