I’ve been journaling every day since February 2020. The impact that this habit has had on me mentally and emotionally is absolutely massive. Among so many things, my memory & recall has improved, my ability to navigate difficult conversations has grown, and I feel more clear about my needs and wants than ever before.
Journaling helps you build a sense of real personal progress. You can look back and see exactly how far you’ve come. No more moving the goalposts on yourself, or discrediting the growth you’ve gone through.
Not long ago, I decided to put this habit to work in my professional life as well. I began working on a prototype for my own business journal. While I prefer to go without specific writing prompts in my personal journal, I found that prompts help me massively in business journaling.
I began with 8 questions, some simple (“What did you spend most of your time on yesterday?”) and some more complex (“How do you intend to approach your work today?”).
I printed these questions out on 10 sheets of paper and committed to answering them first thing every morning for 2 weeks. After each 2 week series, I would reflect on which of the 8 questions I was getting the least value from. Then I would switch that question out with a new prompt.
Six months later, I’m on version 12 of the Business Journal (now named “Productivity Journal”).
I can say definitively that this is the best iteration yet. Taking the time to answer each of these questions in writing every morning ensures that I’m able to rest easily at night, knowing that I took care of what is most important each day. Each and every question serves a tangible, specific purpose. The prompts scaffold into each other, building clarity and insight.
The questions usually take around 10-15 minutes to answer. I’ve found that you easily earn back that time throughout the day due to the increased focus and clarity gained from this simple exercise.
To honor the Productivity Journal’s 6 month anniversary, I decided to share the 8 prompts with you.
One last tip: I’ve found that it’s incredibly important to answer them in order, and to not just answer them quickly in your head but actually write down your response.
Writing Prompts for a Productivity Journal
1) How did I spent my time wisely yesterday?
This one is easy. What did you do well yesterday? What do you deserve to be patted on the back for? It could be how you spent your off moments when taking a break from work. It could be taking the time to plan out a task before you began it. The more consecutive days that you answer these prompts, the longer your answer gets to the question.
2) How did I spent my time unwisely yesterday?
Avoid being overly critical of yourself here. Was there a point in time when your focus waned, frustration grew, but you just kept working away at solving a stubborn problem despite not making much progress? Perhaps you should have taken a step back and re-examined what your goals where for that activity. Or perhaps you got pulled away from the most important work on your desk by an email, or allowed yourself to scroll social media for a little too long after lunch.
Again, the objective here isn’t to beat yourself up. What we’re trying to do is learn from our past, and help ourselves recognize patterns of behavior that are not serving us well. Answer this question often enough, and you’ll begin catching yourself earlier and earlier when you drift into unproductive territory.
3) What did I learn yesterday?
This question is so important. It’s one of the only questions that has remained since my very first iteration of the Productivity Journal.
You could write about general topics you learned about, things you learned about clients/colleagues, or specific lessons you realized. The more specific you can get, the better.
Sometimes you can only come up with one or two things, and that’s okay! The purpose of this question isn’t to puff yourself up or brag, it’s to make sure that you remember what you learned. To make sure you don’t have to waste your precious life learning these lessons over and over again.
4) What is the most important thing right now? (Alternatively: What is my top priority right now?)
If possible, try to nail this down to one specific thing. If you only make progress on one thing today, what should that thing be? What is the biggest variable right now that will determine your long-term success? Adopt a long-term view. Try to focus on things that are important, rather than urgent. Proactive, rather than reactive.
5) What time-sensitive tasks or conversations require my attention today?
What things need to get done today? Who needs to hear from me? It helps to reference your calendar for this question, to see what’s coming up later in the week. The longer you keep answering these questions every morning, the shorter and shorter this list will get.
Eventually you’ll have days where you have absolutely zero urgent things on your docket, because you’ve been so focused on being proactive about the most important things before they become urgent.
6) What is the right perspective to have about today's work?
Why is today’s work important? What does this work allow me to do elsewhere in my life that I love? Why am I the one that must do this work? How does this work impact your reputation? How others see you?
I often use this prompt to remind myself that I chose this path for myself. I’m only here today, doing this work, because of the decisions I’ve made in the past. I am responsible for the fact that this work is mine to do and no one else’s.
7) What is the right kind of effort to bring to my work today?
I know what you’re thinking… 100% effort! Give it everything I’ve got! No prisoners!
That’s just not a realistic mindset to have. Some days, your work requires great energy and focus. It might be a day to just put your head down and grind. Or it might be a day where you need to think more critically or do some planning, and as a result should be more stimulating and creative. Other days, it’s important to approach it with a sense of ease and patience.
One big factor in determining right effort is your energy level. You have to be realistic about your energy level. Some days you will feel capable of putting in 8 or even 10 hours of hard, high-energy work. Others you won’t. It’s important to be realistic and not beat yourself up about your limitations. We only have so much energy to give. If you constantly give 120% every day, you WILL burn out.
8) How will I stay mindful of what's most important throughout my day today?
This is a contract with yourself about how you will carry these takeaways with you throughout your day, rather than simply closing the binder and leaving your intentions behind with it.
Sometimes I set reminders on my calendar, or stick post-it notes on my desk. Recently I’ve begun wearing a rubber band on my right wrist, as a recommendation from performance coach Dr. Erik Korem. Every time I look at it, I’m reminded of whatever I decided is most important today. Then I lightly snap it against my wrist and reset my perspective to focus on that priority.
The details of the plan itself isn’t as important as making a plan in the first place. Without a plan, you will inevitably lose sight of what’s important for what’s immediate or urgent. And then you’ll be stuck playing catch-up, feeling like you worked all day long but didn’t get anything significant done. That’s a great recipe for self-criticism and depression.
Download a Productivity Journal Template for Yourself
If you’re interested in putting these prompts to good use, I’d like to make it easy for you. I’ve made a PDF of my Productivity Journal 12.0 available to you as a free download.
No gotcha's, no email sign-up required. Just free-free-free-free!
I challenge you to give it a try for just one week. See for yourself. You have nothing to lose, and everything to gain.
If you liked this post, ESPECIALLY if you ended up downloading the template, please consider subscribing to my email list below or at this link. Plenty more templates and productivity tips to come!