Most of us abandoned diaries (paper diaries) years or decades ago, in favour of computer and or smart-phone calendars. Indeed, many of you have grown up this way. Many have never used diaries or calendars in any format. It is likely that today’s generation see social media as having replaced the personal diary. Most of us probably consider journals and “journaling” as something that only old people, odd folks, and authors/writers do. And yet there are some real and perhaps surprising benefits to be had from using diaries and or journals…

Using a diary as a tool, whether electronic or paper, or both, helps with organisation, planning, time management, memory, and more. This is generally fairly obvious and most white-collar workers cannot function without some of diary or calendar to manager their time. But good time management can help with personal life as well as work life so we might do well to consider suing a calendar for more than just work. Diarise social events, exercise sessions, family outings, etc. This is something that can be done on a computer, phone, or with a paper diary (yes!).

Using a diary or journal to write down thoughts and ideas, and to record events is what we sometimes call journaling. This is something that only a few people do regularly and that’s a shame because there are some very real benefits, including:

  • A diary can record things that have happened and it does not forget stuff in the way that our minds often do. So simply writing things down is a way to ensure they are remembered. It is also true that simply remembering events, in the act of writing them down, exercises our memory and that helps too (especially if it is a daily habit).
  • Writing skills. Literacy is a foundation skill in today’s world. The more literate we are, the better. This applies to everyone. This is increasingly important in the modern world. The habit of writing every day will build our writing skills over time.
  • Writing things down is a healthy way to process and consider events. It is a way to digest, reflect, and internalise things so we live more mindfully. It helps to better understand our lives and our world.
  • Writing is a form of expression and it is a creative process. Few of us are poets and authors but still, simply writing down thoughts and memories and ideas is creative and helps us to develop creative minds.
  • Problem solving. The act of writing things down tends to focus our minds. It helps us think more clearly about scenarios, options, choices, decisions, and likely outcomes. This builds problem-solving and logic skills.
  • Goal setting. Leading from other benefits listed here, journal or diary writing often involves an element of goal setting. And writing-down goals is one step close to making them more than just “pie in the sky” (as so many so-called goals actually become).

Social media? Some will argue that social media has replaced diary-keeping in today’s modern world. Certainly social media does involve the documenting of our lives and experiences and the richness offered by modern mixed-media platforms is compelling. But social media is inherently public, which creates a range of additional considerations (privacy, competition, envy, purpose, truthfulness, etc.). We believe that there is still a place for the private diary or journal. One that is NOT shared, or shared only rarely and with very carefully selected folks. There is value in private thinking and personal reflection; value that social media cannot offer. In the simplest terms we are usually more honest with ourselves privately than with others, are we not? Look at the list above and ask yourself how many of those benefits can come from posting on social media platforms?

Diaries and journals remain valuable today. We would advocate a daily habit of personal private diary-keeping before any social media posting (by all means do both but start with your own personal reflections first). Try it!

Written by Dr Colin Burns