The Journal that Kept Me Alive

  Change almost killed me. Literally. At least it felt like I was going to die. Five years ago I transitioned from 19 years of faith-based service to a new phase but I had nothing to keep me anchored. The result was extremely high levels of stress that I masked by overworking myself. I was putting in 40-50 hours as a supervisor at the airport, commuting 2 hours to grad school, taking 12 hours of classes, and had one day to read all the books and write all the papers due that week. Then throw in some social life here and there to spice up the cocktail. Yep, crazy. It showed me that I can achieve almost anything, but liquid began to build up in my diaphragm because my body simply couldn’t keep up with that much activity, resulting in having to cut back dramatically so that I could sleep for more than 10 minutes at a time.

   Six months ago I discovered the best anchor ever and now I use it every morning. It is surprisingly simple but effective. It is called routine, and the heart of my routine is my Daily JO, the journal I can’t live without. The amount of studies and articles on the effects of a routine are overwhelming, so I won’t bore you with repeating them, but the problem so many of us have is actually creating a routine that we can stick to. I had a routine of sorts before, but it was crazy. When I ended that cycle I tried to develop a more balanced routine, but I still struggled to sustain it. Daily JO is the best tool I have found and now I use it daily.

   This is a small (7” x 5”) journal that lasts you one month so that you can stick it in your bag, purse or even a large pocket. It is not an agenda or calendar, although there is sufficient space to use it like that if you desire. Perhaps the most surprising feature is that it is completely made of paper. Yes, paper! Why? Our world is more and more distracting. As soon as I open up any electronics my attention is drawn in a myriad of directions. The whole idea of a routine is to keep me focused and concentrated so as to plan my day in that ideal state before all the interruptions begin. If needed I can take a picture of the daily page to keep it with me throughout the hectic day and refer back to it periodically, but writing on actual paper has huge benefits for our memory, as numerous studies out of Princeton and other institutions have proven. Often I find that I remember my goals for the day without having to look back.

  What is inside? Daily JO has a monthly planning section that goes over the highs and lows of last month. It then guides me through finding my main goals for this month and prioritizing them. Once I’ve identified the top goal and made a specific plan on how to achieve it I go on to the daily section. Each day I take 10-15 minutes to reflect on my life and my month and finally what I want to achieve today. I look at my emotions and my idea of myself, and I make intentional decisions about who I want to be. Each line has strong psychological and practical reasons behind it, but those will have to be in a future article.

  Daily JO can be bought individually or as a subscription service and regular e-mails will help guide new users through how to use it more effectively, although it is quite intuitive and doesn’t require any particular expertise to use as is. The most effective use also entails a small group that provides community. They meet regularly to share goals and work through obstacles together. That is completely optional of course but it helps tremendously with commitment and accountability. Naturally it has to be a group that has strong mutual trust either because they know each other or because they form around this practice. Often the help of an outside coach provides more expertise to find tailor-made solutions for individuals and the group.

   "The journal you can’t live without” is not just a tagline for me. Although I probably wasn’t close to actual physical death, it felt like it. Having a simple and sustainable daily routine has made me more effective, more centered, and a better leader, a better spouse, and a better person as a result. Why don’t you try it?