TRANSCRIPT: Ep. 016: How to Increase Focus with Journaling


Today we’re gonna be talking all about writing in the journal. So for that, stay tuned.

Today we’re talking about how journaling helps me focus. Since today’s episode is all about journaling, I wanted to make sure that my free resource is going to help you get more success in journaling. So that’s why today freebies are our daily journaling prompts. So you can explore your daily creative potential with thoughtful introspective prompts. To get access to this free resource, all you have to do is head on over to that will give you the link to the prompts as well as any other things that I’m going to talk about in today’s episode.

So here’s what we’re going to cover today. I’m gonna talk about different planners that I’ve used. And I use the word planner and journal a little bit interchangeably because these days a lot of planners actually come with journaling features. That’s because a lot of people who are in the organization/productivity/planning space know that the biggest roadblock most of us have in terms of reaching our goals is gaining clarity about what those goals should be. So in some of the best planners, they’re going to give you space for you to daydream and brainstorm and journals.

So in addition to hearing about journals, you’re gonna hear a little bit about some different kind of planners. I’m gonna talk about The Five Minute Journal. I’m gonna talk about Michael Hyatt focus planner. I’m gonna talk about Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way. And just some general journaling things that I do and my family has tried to maintain focus. But for the most part, we are talking about journaling today. I think journaling is so important.

One of the questions I get asked all the time is from my listeners who have trouble focusing. I know for some reason that creative minds who are always getting new ideas also have trouble focusing on that one thing. So that is why this episode is dedicated to a deep dive into one of the strategies I use to quiet my monkey mind and stay focused throughout my day whether I need my focus for art-making or working on my business to move it forward.

One morning ritual I find invaluable is the daily journal practice. And I say daily, and I admit I’m not perfect, I don’t do it every single day but when I do do it it makes a huge difference. I have a bunch of journals that I turn to that help me stay mindful.

Now many artists refer to this practice as morning pages, so if you’ve ever heard anyone say they do morning pages all they’re talking about is writing a page in their journal. Now this phrase was coined by the author Julia Cameron in her The Artist’s Way.

When I do my morning pages, I generally blend from Cameron’s instructions to write three full pages, actually, I really write three full pages, and it depends on the size of the page. She doesn’t say what size that page needs to be in her book. And three pages if it’s a pretty substantial size journal that can take a long time to fill, so I generally just fill one page, doesn’t matter what size it is. You can even just write a few sentences, by the way. And if you really hate writing or if this whole practice intimidates you, I highly recommend The Five Minute Journal which is a fill in the blank journal. It comes in a book or app. I do recommend that you use the book. I was using this app for a while and so I started getting annoyed that there was one more thing I needed to do with my phone. And that would lead me to more distractions.

So I really like physical journals and I love having a record you can flip through. But the five-minute journal has some basic prompts that you do at the beginning of the day and some prompts that you do at the end of the day.

So here is how those prompts work.

First of all, they always have a place to write the date. They’ll have an inspirational quote and then they have a prompt I am for dot dot dot and space to write three things. Then they have what would make today great space to write three things. And then a space for a daily affirmation. I found the “what would make today great” especially helpful because it really turns the responsibility on to you, to be in control of your own happiness.

So an example might be what would make today great; maybe it’s wearing red lipstick, maybe it’s you going out and buying a salad instead of making your lunch or calling a friend. So it forced me to focus on things that I can do to make today great and I always try to pick things that I have control over.

So what would make today great, it shouldn’t be somebody calling you and they want two thousand dollar commissions, you know you don’t really have control over that. Yeah sure, that would make today amazing. But if you pick things that you actually have control over and that you can do, those are the types of things I like to put into my journal and I actually commit to them.

Now, inside The Five Minute Journal book which makes this practice really helpful is they actually have a space for the night time to reflect. So the things that they have are three amazing things that happened today that keeps you in the mind of thinking about what was great about today. Keeps you in gratitude and then if you did have an art sale that’s where you would put that in and it just keeps you positive.

But the second part of the question that I love is how could I have made today even better. And that really helps you think about for the next day, what can you do that would make the day great. And notice the language, this is how I could have made today even better so it keeps the focus of your happiness’ responsibility on yourself. And sometimes when I do my morning pages, when I’m not working inside that journal I will still use those prompts. Other times, I just write.

Writing is a really good way to clean that dust off the top of your head. So if you were perseverating on a thought the best way to stop overthinking it is just to write it down. It decently tells your brain, “Hey, you don’t have to keep thinking about this because Miriam has written it down and she’ll get to that later”.

Now my kids also love journaling. I have two kids. They’re now in college but they started embracing journaling when they were in high school.

My daughter is a musician. She writes what she calls daily morning pages. The way she does it looks a little different than the way I do it. What she likes to do is copy quotes down that she finds either in her meditation app or on Instagram. And for whatever reason, writing down those quotes put her into a positive frame of mind. So that is her version of journaling and morning pages and I think she does it every day.

Now my son, when he was sixteen, started using the official Five Minute Journal book. He loved the fill in the blank approach. Then he ended up chucking that and started working on fitness and a diet journal which he kept very religiously. And that really helped him stay disciplined when he was wrestling. He wanted to wrestle for college and now he actually does wrestle for a division three school in NYU. So that really helped him.
There is a saying that says things that get trapped get managed. And another saying that I like is where attention goes, success flows. So all these things journaling, tracking, different versions of just writing. But what I embrace the most is just the journal getting that dust off your head. Like I said if you have things that are bothering you, the best way to process is writing.

There was actually an article recently in The New York Times called writing in a journal can help. And it pulls from research to talk about how writing aids your memory, it helps your sleep and they even found that it helps intelligence.

So the longhand writings that Julia Cameron proposes in her The Artist’s Way Book is a strict stream of consciousness that somebody does as soon as you wake up. It’s not meant to be art, it’s not meant to be good writing. So if you’re wondering what you should write, it’s more about just brain dumping all that angry, petty, whiny stuff that you have about your art. But it’s also really good when there are things going on that are upsetting you. And there are lots of things going on that upset us, it’s probably nothing new is bad news. But there seems to be a lot of bad news lately and if it upsets you as it upsets me, it really does help to write these things down. Now Julia Cameron says to do it every day. I do not do it every day, I would love to do it every day because I know whenever I do it, I have a better day, more productive day.

But the research that was shared in this New York Times article in a 1988 study in a book Opening Up: The Healing Power of Expressing Emotions by Dr Pennebaker, his research found that even a one 15-30 minutes session of focus journaling writing can be beneficial. And he even said that he’s actually not a fan of writing every day because he found that people who write every day about the same problem, they end up ruminating about it even more which is the last thing that you want to do. So Dr Pennebaker advises writing for 15-30 minutes a day. And he says three to four days is enough to write about that same thing. And if you don’t benefit from writing about it then stop writing about it.

However, I found that writing really does help me uncover what my goals should be. One of the biggest things that can be hard for somebody who’s creative, who’s always coming up with good ideas is, and bad ideas are what is that one idea that they should be focusing on. So I found when I write, and I write down everything that I feel like I need to do that day, it really creates clarity for me on what I should be focusing on that day.

Another journal that I really like a lot, and if you haven’t guessed by now I’m kind of a journal junkie, is by Michael Hyatt and it’s his The Full Focus Planner. He puts them out so that you have three months worth of journaling. And he actually advises you to use it kind of as a day planner. You start the three month period by writing down your goals. And he asks you to write about your motivations. He asks you to choose rewards. He asks you to choose your next action steps. So there is the three-month view.

Then he asks you to break it down by the week, what is the most important thing you’re going to do that week to move that goal forward. And then there is space to reflect at the end of the week on your goals. In addition, he has a place for your daily tasks. He wants you to put in your planner so there are little columns where you actually can put in your appointments. There is a column for you to put in the daily tasks that you need to get done.

And the other thing I really like is the daily threes. So he asked you to declare what the three most important things that you have to get done that day to make the most impact. And then he has a page just for writing notes where I would recommend that you use your brain dumping or things like that if you choose to go with this method. Like I said in the beginning, I generally do a blend of things. I don’t think there is one perfect planner but this one I found very helpful.

The whole idea of writing your goals for three months, writing your goals for the week and reflecting on how all those things worked out and what you can do to move things forward, he also doesn’t just focus on work. What I really like about Michael Hyatt’s book is he also has the place for you to create what he calls rules for rejuvenation. Things you want to do to relax over the weekend, things you want to do during your mealtime. So there’s, basically, a life balance.

And the other nice thing when you do buy these journals is not a big investment, you’re going to get access to his free video training on how to create your ideal week and basically how to use this planner. So it’s like free mini-training on creating better focus by using the planner. It’s a planner but it’s also really a journal.

Now if you are still stuck about what to write about, my favorite writing prompts are for gratitude, daily intentions, and affirmations. This practice gets me in the mindset of being in control of my day’s direction and also being in control of my own happiness. You don’t have to go buy a special book or an app to create these productive patterns in your day. You can even journal on a piece of scrap paper.

And I just wanna add that that sounds a little bit like a commercial for Michael Hyatt’s stuff, I did an affiliate for Michael Hyatt. If I post some links inside of my blog posts or anything on Amazon, I do earn like a very tiny commission on that and I hope that you will buy through my link because that’s what supports this podcast.

But anyway I am recommending those journals just because these are things I’ve tried and I’ve used. And although I said you can do things on a scrap piece of paper, really it’s best to get something that’s pretty that you can keep on your night table or perhaps in your purse because that way you’ll be more motivated to use it.

The other thing that I like to do is decorate these things with stickers. So that is probably another topic. Talking about just planning, in general, I wanted to keep us focused mostly on journaling. For journaling, you really, ideally need a very pretty blank book with lines or not depending on what you prefer and a gorgeous pen with flowing ink. That’s really all you need.

So for those of you who just want to write in a pretty journal, that’s why I put together today’s freebie all about prompts for you. If you want to know some daily prompts and you want to get your hands on my journal prompts, I have a freebie for you. If you head over to my blog and go to, I have a list of daily journal prompts that you can download absolutely for free. I also have some additional information that you can get if you stay on my newsletter about journaling and how to make it more creative because as artists, we don’t just want to write, we also want to create pretty things. So if you want that daily journal prompts, you can head over to my blog to get access.

I want to give you a little bit of a heads up of what is coming up in future episodes. So coming up down the line in a couple of weeks, I will be giving you my complete morning routines since that is something people ask me about a lot. And I’m also going to be talking about how to focus better throughout the day. But journaling is definitely one that has helped me and I would love to hear if you journal too.

So if you journal or you want to try it or you try it, I want to hear from you to see how it works out. So here are the different ways to get in touch with me. You can leave a comment on my blog that’s all about journaling. You can also send me a direct message on Instagram. I do see all the comments, I do see all the Instagram direct messages. My Instagram handle is schulmanart. I would love it if you followed me there. And if you really want to be helpful, I would love it if you left a review over on iTunes. Find my episode, search out for The Inspiration Place, search for that and then if you want to find the episode, click on it and you scroll down you’ll see a review. And right below that, you’ll see a link that you click on that says write a review, click on that, hit the five stars. Leave me a review, I would love to hear from you what you found valuable about this podcast, it helps other people find the podcast, but also if you are an artist and you want to get your name out in the world, it’s one more way for you to get your name in front of my listeners. So that’s it for now, I hope you found this valuable. I’ll see you next week, same time, same place. Have an inspirational day.

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