3 Ways I Use My Journal to Examine my Life

“The unexamined life is not worth living.” ~ Socrates

If you ever see me at the office, coffee shop, or around town, you will see me with a blue notebook in my hand (or at least in arm’s length). It’s my brain and heart on paper. My journal isn’t anything fancy. In fact, it’s an inexpensive Exceed Hardcover dot grid that’s available at my local Walmart. I’ve discovered cheaper notebooks serve me well. Some journals that are “too nice” keep me from writing freely in them, because I think I need to save them for a special purpose.

What would you see if you cracked open my journal? You would see a combination of the three following practices: morning pages, time blocking, and evening pages (or Examen). The three practices are fluid for me, and I don’t have a set time other than the obvious. Morning pages are at the start of the day and evening pages are near bedtime. I do time blocking throughout the day.

 1) Morning Pages

Almost every morning, while the coffee is brewing or short after, I grab my journal to free-write three pages. I came across the idea in The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron. It helps declutter my mind and reveal what is percolating in my heart. Sometimes this practice erupts into a heartfelt inky prayer on the page. At other times, it allows me to process what tasks I need to accomplish for the day. If I don’t complete my morning pages, I feel out of step for the rest of my day.

2) Time Blocking

Soon after I’ve jotted my thoughts on the page–or it may be beforehand–I follow the practice of time blocking advocated by Cal Newport. It’s a two-page spread, with each page divided into two columns. I use the lefthand spread and respective columns to track my schedule. The left column I label “planned” and I block out the hours that I need to accomplish various tasks. The right column I label “actual” and this is where I record how my day played out. On the other side of the two-page spread, the columns are labeled “tasks” and “ideas.” This is where I dump anything that pops into my mind, so I can circle back to it later. Also, I use a modified bullet journaling technique to manage the tasks listed.

3) Evening Pages (Examen)

Finally, I try to carve out time before I turn in for the night to reflect and pray over the events of the day. The first two practices feed into this, so I can look back over what I wanted to accomplish and what I got done. Ed Cyzewski’s book Pray. Write. Grow., helped me start using the Examen created by St. Ignatius of Loyola to grow spiritually.


              A quick peek in my journal (something I don’t think I’d want), you would see morning pages, time blocking, and evening pages. These practices allow me to keep a check on my heart and analyze my life. Again, these practices are fluid, and I may or may not keep them perfectly, but I’m happy with my consistency. Do you keep a journal? What things do you include in your journaling? I’d love to hear about it in the comments below.


4 thoughts on “3 Ways I Use My Journal to Examine my Life

  1. I have this thing for cheap notebooks too! Though I’m stuck between wanting an enjoyable experience every time I open my journal and having a crappy book I can just do anything in. Anyway, thanks for this post!

    1. Thanks for commenting, Stuart! I think I’ve found a happy medium with the Exceed Notebooks at Walmart. They’re durable, but don’t break the bank. I feel no guilt for scribbling and scrawling in them. And dare I say, skip a page! 😉

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