Blank journal and pen on wood

Mine is a simple journaling system. Although, of course, I think it can be further simplified. This is already a simplified version of what would otherwise be a very complicated system. My tendency is to create a specific journal for each life area, each interest, each intellectual pursuit. With this current system, I’ve done my best to bridle this tendency.

This system will change in the future as with any system in my life. But this current June 2018 version is practically what I’ve been using for at least a year already.

This post outlines what happens the moment an idea pops out of my head until it becomes something shareable. I publish my thoughts primarily here on the blog and on my email newsletter. I intend to create a visual representation of the process in the future. But for now, this would be it.

Stage 1: Spark.

An idea pops out of my head. This happens in different situations. Sometimes I get ideas while I am in front of my laptop. Sometimes when I’m somewhere else in the house—doing the dishes or practicing on my yoga mat. Most of the time, I get them while I’m outdoors in nature. Because of this tendency, I need different tools to catch my ideas in different situations.

After being with my thoughts for a very long time, I’ve noticed that they have different natures. Each of them tends to come at particular times of the day and in certain locations. Because of this, they want to be held in a specific kind of journal.

My system captures six kinds of entries. These are:

  • Tasks/Intentions
  • Creative Ideas
  • Livelihood/Business Ideas
  • Inspirational Musings
  • Intellectual Musings
  • Five-Minute Journal entries

Stage 2: Catch.

Because of their unique characteristics, I have to use different journals for different ideas. However, there is one thing common about all my catching tools: they have to have both a digital and a physical form. The physical journal serves me well when ideas come within the confines of my home. Also, there is something cathartic about the old act of writing through pen and paper.

However, I also notice that most of my ideas come when I’m out of the house. This is the reason why I need a digital journal. In the past, I have a few installed on my smartphone but I have gone down to a single app: Evernote. Whatever app I use, it is important that it has a web or laptop counterpart so that I can transfer what I capture in my phone to my computer and vice versa.

Below are the specific journals I use for different kinds of ideas.


  • Physical journal: A medium-sized blank journal
  • Digital journal: Evernote

My physical journal houses my tentative tasks and intentions for the day. I usually write them after my yoga or meditation practice in the morning. Writing my priorities by hand in the morning helps me reflect on whether or not they really are worth my time. In the past, I have a separate physical journal for tasks. However, upon simplifying, I write the most important tasks I have to accomplish at any given day in the same journal where I write my five-minute journal entries.

I use Evernote to house my daily intentions which I schedule throughout the day after I’ve written and identified them in my physical journal. However, my Evernote app contains a lot more than my tasks. Since I started using it in 2015, I’ve accumulated a lot of notes and created my own note-taking con productivity system. It is a combination of the principles in David Allen’s Getting Things Done (GTD), Leo Babauta’s Zen to Done (ZTD), Jacob Lund Fisker’s Early Retirement Extreme, and Danielle Laporte’s The Desire Map.

I’ll probably have to outline my Evernote system on another post.

Creative Ideas + Livelihood/Business Ideas

  • Physical journal: A medium-sized blank notebook (also, sometimes, a larger sketchbook for more complex ideas)
  • Digital journal: Evernote; But I have used both Notes (iOS) and Simplenote (Android) in the past

My creative and business ideas jive together on a single journal because they have one unique characteristic: they only get developed when there are no lines written on the page. This is why a plain, blank notebook or better yet a sketchbook does a really good job for these kinds of ideas.

Although it won’t do the same magic that physical blank paper does, Evernote is also helpful in capturing ideas while I’m outdoors. I used to have separate capturing apps for my different ideas but today all my digital notes are captured in a single Evernote notebook. I, later on, review these notes and transfer them to designated digital notebooks for archiving or to my to-do list if they’re actionable items.

If you want a separate place to capture incoming creative thoughts, the simplicity of the iPhone’s native Notes app, with its dateless entries and very limited functionalities, could serve you well. If you are on Android, Simplenote is the best option available for this purpose. I only wish it didn’t have a title function because it could disrupt one’s thought process.

Inspirational + Intellectual Musings + Five Minute Journal Entries

  • Physical journal: A medium-sized blank/lined journal
  • Digital journal: Five Minute Journal; Evernote; but I also used Journey (Android) in the past

The difference between my inspirational and intellectual musings is their tone of voice. My inspirational voice developed after a few years of writing online. This voice represents my artistic side. However, I have another voice that I couldn’t quite give up because it has been with me for a long time and completes my whole personality. My inner intellectual voice is interested in logic, science, and research and this is why I have to make a distinction between the two, although of course, they can always be great partners for a beautiful book (see for example Charles Eisenstein’s Sacred Economics to see a beautiful combination of the inspirational and the intellectual).

My inspirational and intellectual musings have one thing in common: they develop in narrative form. This also sets them apart from my other ideas. Some develop into full articles that are publishable with very minor edits while others are simply too messy to publish. Whatever form they take, the beauty of these musings is they get me in a state of “flow” almost as if an invisible hand is guiding me towards the end of the thought process. This is why I enjoy writing them in my physical notebook.

While on the go, I use Evernote which easily syncs with my laptop where I format articles for publishing. Before simplifying my digital system, I used the Journey app. It was a delight because it has an accurate time, date, and location stamp system which I find cool. Knowing when and where I wrote a particular entry reminds me of the exact experience when I was writing it.

Last year, I found out about the Five-Minute Journal, a journal designed to help people apply research-based positive psychology advice through a daily, easy-to-do journaling practice. It was effective for me. It was the only system that made me keep a journaling practice consistently both in the morning and in the evening. I used their mobile apps but recently I began writing my entries on the same journal where I keep my inspirational and intellectual musings.

Stage 3: Filter.

My filtering process is simple. Sometimes, it could take a while to go through my past journal entries and handpick what can be edited or developed for publishing. Of course, tasks won’t be published at all. Sometimes, I get concepts from my Creative + Livelihood/Business journal but most of the time they are are just too raw to develop. Usually, I get article ideas from my inspirational and intellectual musings.

Stage 4: Keep Private.

All tasks, most creative and business ideas, and a handful of inspirational and intellectual musings will never see the light of day. My five-minute journal entries do not need to be published. Once I have expressed them to myself, they have done their purpose.

Stage 5: Publish.

I publish most of my works here on the blog. I also share them with my email newsletter subscribers. If you have not subscribed yet, I encourage you to do so. You can subscribe here.

In the future, I might have to get my thoughts furnished and reach out to bigger channels where more people can appreciate them. But as of now, I’ve realized that the process of catching my ideas, revisiting them, seeing patterns and hidden realizations, and sharing them to a few people who would feel educated, inspired, and moved to action by reading them, is more rewarding than getting a lot of publicity. Even if I do build I bigger audience, I think this internal process will still be the best part of being a writer.

So there it is, my very own journaling system. Feel free to copy it, or even better, reach out and tell me about your own system. I might learn a thing or two from you as I have from other people for the past years.