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To Journal or Micro Journal: The 21st Century Question

Keeping a record of our daily lives comes to us naturally. From Mary Jane’s “Dear Diary,” all the way back to cave paintings and stories recounted around the fire, we’ve always felt compelled to memorialize our thoughts and experiences. And as many ways exist to achieve this goal as people who do it. Lately, micro journaling has burst onto the scene. Some avid journalers have used this short form for a while, but in a world of increasing demands on our already limited time, more and more of us see it as an excellent way to record our thoughts. What makes up a micro journal, and how does it differ from the longer form? Which one should you try? A quick look at each will give you all the answers you need to make the right choice for you.

Journaling v. Micro Journaling

Which one you choose depends on a few things. Take a minute or two to consider these questions:
  • What do you want from your journal? A detailed accounting or exploration of an experience or topic? A quick blast to bring back the sights, sounds, and feelings of event? A task list or a laundry list of the day?
  • How much time would you like to put into your journal? One minute? Five? Thirty? As long as it takes to get it done?
  • Have you tried to keep a journal in the past? What did you like and dislike about it? If you stopped, why?
  • Why now? Self-exploration? To talk things out? To keep track of things? This goes hand in hand with the first question.
At the simplest level, it comes down to one thing: How in-depth do you want to go?

The long and the short of It

We typically envision the long form when we think of journals. The Dear Diary- or Captain’s Logtype of writing comes to mind. Here we can vent, explore our feelings and emotions, wax philosophic about things, or just clean the day’s clutter out of our minds. Our musings can last a paragraph or two, or go on for pages. This form can help you work out why you ate that ice cream when you vowed to avoid it, relive the thrill of a first date or a fantastic day, or give you a handful of sentences to feel sorry for yourself and get over it. Micro journals usually involve a word or a sentence. But don’t let the length fool you. This little package of dynamite carries a big bang. In her video on micro journaling, Ariel Bissett tells us that she just has to read a four-word bullet point and, “. . .instantly I remember the entire day.” Her entries include things, like:
  • Started Game of Thrones
  • Reached 50,000 subscribers
  • Cried because of We Were Liars
These short word pops fill her head with a flood of memories. Powerful stuff for a few words!

Why go micro?

Why not go micro? Even if you have a passion for full-length journal keeping, this abbreviated form can allow you to spend even more time clearing away the dust, working through issues, or enjoying a little time with your favorite person. Something as simple as, “Food truck burrito mouth party,” or, “He’s having a bad day, not me,” can help keep a positive spin on the workday. The last one can even unleash your compassion and help you to turn the other person’s day around. Others might have more in-depth reasons for going micro. Kids, spouses, friends, work – all of them eat up our time. Some of us aren’t blessed with the writing gene and find trying to express ourselves in a long-form frustrating. And, you know what? Some of us just don’t want to spend that much time spilling our guts or documenting our lives. We find that like those trips to the gym, our visits to Journal Land become farther apart until they disappear. “As long as I can remember, I have tried to keep a journal,” Ariel says. She remembers wanting to keep a diary, even as a small child, but feeling terrible at it. “I don’t know what it is, I just always end up dropping the project.” Despite an admiration of those who spend time every day chronicling their lives and the many benefits of sharing her thoughts with herself, she felt like she just couldn’t do it. But then, thanks to her mom, she had an epiphany. “I can do it. I just can’t do the methods I’ve been trying.” One day, Ariel’s mom brought in one of her old calendars. It featured beautiful pictures of London, England, that she loved, but also contained a lot more. “The thing I love about this calendar is not the photos. It’s what’s below the photos,” she says. She doesn’t remember why, but that year she decided to mark each day with a simple bullet point of what she’d done. It included things like, “500 Fish Puzzle,” and “Toronto, got lost.” Those short phrases brought back memories of things she’d totally forgotten. “Flipping through all of these entries made me realize that this is exactly what I want from a journal,” she says. “I want to be able to look back on times of my life that maybe I’ll not remember clearly because they were a while ago.”

The high and the low of the long and the short

The benefits of different kinds of journal keeping depend on the needs of the person keeping the journal. You might like spending time with pen to paper, fingers to keyboard, or mouth to mic, enjoying the waterfall of thoughts that spill from your mind. Or maybe, like Ariel, a brief bullet point opens the gates of your mind, letting your imagination and memory do the rest. In your quest for the perfect journal, remember, you don’t have to pick just one. And even if you do, you can still try the other at any time. Just give yourself two weeks, or preferably a month, to test drive your new style. Think about how it feels while you’re doing it, how you feel immediately afterward, and how you feel looking back on it. But most of all, remember: keeping a journal is all about you!

About the Author

Nathan graduated from the Professional Writing Program at the University of Oklahoma with a Bachelor of Arts in Journalism and a minor in history. He earned his Master’s of Business Administration from Webster University. While working in newspaper, his stories appeared regularly above the fold and appeared on the AP Western Wire and in the Multiple Sclerosis Organization’s magazine.
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