One of the biggest barriers to dedicated journaling is a perceived lack of time. I say “perceived” because there’s always time hiding somewhere. You just have to scare it out and grab it.
Twenty minutes is a respectable amount of time to spend journaling, especially if you do it daily. In my experience, journaling daily for 20 minutes provides better results than journaling for an hour twice a week. Plus, it’s easier to find 20 minutes throughout your day.
What Are You Already Doing?
The easiest way to carve out a pocket of time for journaling is to associate it with something else you’re already doing regularly. Doctors often recommend that a patient store their new medication next to their toothbrush. You don’t have to remind yourself to brush your teeth. But when you’re about to, bam – there’s the visual medication reminder.
What habitual activity can you attach journaling to?
For me, it’s going to work. I have to go to work anyway. Well, I don’t have to. But I don’t have to pay the rent or buy groceries, either, if you want to nitpick.
Associating journaling with going to work means no extra trips and no extra planning. I just leave a little earlier.
The Key to Finding 20 Minutes
Here are 20 spots you might be able to claim for a journaling session.
1. Before work or class
I already have to get up, get dressed, and get myself to work by 8:30 AM. It’s cake to make room for journaling. I just set my alarm clock thirty minutes earlier, and perform the exact same routine. Now I have 30 minutes to write.
Sometimes I write at my desk. Sometimes I write in an empty office with my iPod. Sometimes I sit in the break room. And sometimes I stop at the cafe on the way to work and write there.
No matter how I do it, there’s almost no additional planning required, and no extra steps.
2. After work or class
Maybe you’re not a morning person. If the thought of getting up half an hour earlier sounds like cruel and unusual punishment, how about after work? I could just as easily finish up for the day and write before departing the office.
Or I could stop at the café on the way home, and create a post-work unwinding ritual.
3. During lunch break
Even if you only get a thirty minute break, that leaves plenty of time to unpack your brown bag lunch and write for twenty minutes in your journal.
4. While commuting
If you take the train, subway, bus or ferry, there’s a perfect chunk of time you can repurpose to include journaling. If you’re in a vanpool, journaling might present a bit of a social challenge. But if you’re up for it, dig in.
5. Picking up the kids
Maybe you need to pick the kids up at school at 2:30. Can you get there at 2:00 instead, and bring your journal? Park and write in the car. Sit in the passenger seat if you need more room.
I’ve written many a journal entry in my car, especially when I was younger. For awhile I worked at a meat packing plant on the swing shift and got my lunch break at 8 PM. I’d sit out in my car and write for the hour, listening to the radio. I even bought a hard-bound notebook with a spiral because it worked best for auto-writing.
6. During dinner preparation
Next time the roast is in the oven, use that time for a journal entry.
Better yet – if you share your home, see if you can convince somebody else to make dinner so you can write. This works in my house. Especially since my partner is a much better cook than I.
7. Bath time
If privacy is at a premium, may I suggest the bathroom for writing? Hey they even make waterproof field notebooks for ecologists to use in the wetlands – I bet they’d work well in the tub.
If you have kids and a partner, perhaps you can persuade your other half to manage bath time. A new nightly slot for journaling just opened up.
8. Before you get out of bed
In her book The Artist’s Way, Julia Cameron recommends writing three longhand pages before getting out of bed each day. She argues that once you get out of bed, all bets are off. Personally, I’m not awake enough to write coherently at that hour. But if you are, setting your alarm half an hour earlier might be a good solution for you.
9. Before lights-out
Hop in bed 20 minutes earlier, and enjoy journal writing as a way to rewind and recount the events of the day. You may even get better sleep out of the deal.
10. Waiting rooms
I’m amazed how much time I spend in waiting rooms. If you always carry your journal with you, these pockets of time will become more productive and less frustrating.
11. During soccer practice or piano lessons
If you’ve got kids and they’ve got activities, use that time for journaling. Whether you wait while they’re participating or you come back to pick them up half an hour earlier, you can wrangle a spot to fit some writing in.
12. While doing laundry
A cycle in the washer runs about half an hour. A perfect slot of pre-measured time for you to get out your journal and write until the spin cycle’s done.
13. Walking the dog
Find a bench or grassy spot somewhere along your dog walking route where you can sit down and write for 20 minutes while your pup investigates the area. Or take him to the dog park.
Or write while walking. Before you pooh-pooh the idea, hear me out. When I lived in Boston, I worked at one end of the Boston Common, and the subway stop was at the opposite end. I got one of those reporter’s notebooks that flip up, and a pencil that you wear on your fingertip.
I actually figured out how to write while walking. It sounds crazy, but it can be a fun challenge.
14. At the car wash
I go to the full-service Pink Elephant Car Wash. They clean, dry and vacuum your car while you wait. The whole process takes about 20 – 25 minutes, and I spend that time in the lobby journaling.
I’ve also snuck in a session in my car at the automatic car wash, although that’s rarely longer than 10 minutes. I usually have more fun taking photographs of the rainbow soap on the sunroof.
15. While grocery shopping
Sign up with Instacart or Peapod and have someone else do your grocery shopping for you. You can save shopping lists and payment info. Using a service like this means your grocery shopping is done with the click of a mouse. Now you can sit back and enjoy some writing time while somebody else deals with crowds, parking, and lugs your heavy bags right to your front door.
16. At the salon
Sitting under the dryer waiting for your hair to dry? Sitting in the lounge awaiting your color to process? Perhaps you’re just killing time until your pedicure dries so you can walk out. Break out the notebook and seize this pocket of time.
17. Waiting for take-out
Instead of calling ahead for your take-out, walk in and order. Then sit down and write while you wait for the food.
18. During television commercials
If you watch an hour of television, you’ll see 15-20 minutes of commercials. Keep your journal close by and write during the adverts. It’s not the sustained attention that works best for me, but it’s better than nothing.
If you watch your favorite shows on DVD or Netflix, you won’t have to see the commercials at all. Then you’ve got your extra time to write.
If you’re feeling truly rebellious, shut off the television all together. It’s amazing how much time you free up.
19. On the exercise bike
This is one I haven’t tested personally. But I see people reading at the gym all the time on the stationary bike. Is it any more difficult to write? All you need is a notebook with a firm writing surface.
My little Acer netbook laptop would even fit right on the magazine ledge. I could journal electronically during my workout. It would probably distract me from the pain, too.
20. Before Meeting a Friend
If you’ve got plans to meet up with a friend or a date, get there twenty minutes earlier and do some journaling. You’ll experience the added benefit of being punctual.
Some of these options will work better for you than others. It’s a matter of lifestyle. The essential key is associating journal writing with an activity you already do habitually. Remember that twenty minutes a day will give you great results. Keep it simple!