Why You Need to Start a Creativity Journal (and How to Do It)

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Traditional journaling is a fantastic way to clear your head, get rid of stress and center yourself to stay productive. But if you really plan to make it to the top, you also should keep a separate creativity journal.

What is a creativity journal (and why should I start one)?

A creativity journal simply a journal intended specifically to keep track of and work through concepts. It’s designed to let you consider as many possibilities as you can in an organized, objective way. So while you might come up with some great products or other sellable results as you explore options, the real benefit of using a creativity journal is simply training yourself to look at problems or ideas under many lenses, and learning how to avoid automatically dismissing potential paths because of conscious or subconscious biases.

How do I put a creativity journal together?

There’s no real right or wrong when it comes to creativity journals–after all, you’re supposed to get creative! You can use a Google Doc, traditional journal or even a 3-ring binder or expandable file folder.

Some people truly love the convenience of a digital creativity journal, especially if they can use it in conjunction with other applications. But other people prefer the look and feel of a physical, hard copy option. Still other people use a mix, creating on paper and then uploading images or using digital journals designed to mimic the paper experience.

The most important thing is that the tool you choose to use is

  • easy to access at any time,
  • able to provide the level of security or shareability you want, and
  • intuitive and feels comfortable for you to use repeatedly for the long-haul.

What are the styles of journal available?

Creativity journals can mesh a huge range of activities and styles. For example, you can use your journal for general brainstorming, drawing, jotting down items you’d like to remember for later (including dreams), answering prompts, mind mapping, pulling together inspiring quotes or stories, and even scrapbooking. You might also want to consider an area of the journal for positive and relaxing activities that can get your mental juices flowing, such as coloring pages or puzzles you like.

When you’re thinking about which style(s) to use, consider the ways of communicating that feel especially easy to you. If you’re a very visual person, for example, it might be more useful for you to have an unlined journal that allows for sketching, color coding or other graphics. Be honest with yourself about how much you need on the page to remember your concepts, too. If you know you’ll forget details if you don’t bullet them all out, for example, give yourself the room to do it. At the same time, exploring different styles might improve your ability to think about or communicate your concepts in many different ways to others, which can be incredibly useful when you need to pitch to different audiences. Have fun challenging yourself a little, even as you acknowledge your natural modes of self-expression.

What should I consider when using my creativity journal?

Useful questions to ask yourself when working in a creativity journal include:

  • What would happen if I…?
  • What resources would I need to…?
  • What does this make me remember or think of?
  • How many ways could I…?
  • What do I feel when…?
  • What emotion am I wanting to convey?
  • What senses am I using to…?
  • What are the most important keys to keep in mind?
  • What details would others need to know to make sense of this?

When should I use my creativity journal?

Creativity journals really are anytime affairs, so long as you respect your own limits and are considerate to others. Pull them out any time something interesting pops into your head you’d like to explore, when you need inspiration, or after a long day of traditional work for a change of pace.

You can schedule a time to work in your creativity journal if you like. Some people enjoy this because then they know they’ll have some consistent down time where they can let their mind wander authentically without sacrificing other tasks. But because you never know when a good idea will come, taking a “whenever” approach can work well, too. The most important thing is not to pressure yourself, because worrying about production or quantity can create anxiety that actually cuts your creativity down. If you set aside 30 minutes to journal and nothing really comes during your session, that’s OK. You’ll probably have better luck next time. And by the same token, if you jot a ton down unexpectedly in 5 minutes and feel like you don’t need more time in the journal for that day, that’s OK, too. Quality always matters more than achieving a quantity or time quota.

If you are dealing with something particularly heavy, those issues can distract your brain and keep you from relaxing into a good state of creative flow. So if you find yourself “blocked”, don’t think you’re not creative enough to do a creativity journal well. Focus on sorting out those worrysome issues first, and then return to the journal.

Deciding on content

You can put anything you want in your creativity journal. The only rule is that you don’t limit the content by demanding immediate relevancy or follow through. Certain ideas might not be doable right now, for example, because we lack specific technologies. But that doesn’t mean the ideas are bad. See the journal as a depository for things you could solve or do, not that you have to do. You’ll likely come up with dozens more concepts than you could finish in a lifetime, so just hone in on projects that interest you the most, or that could have the biggest influence. Even if you don’t have time to explore the rest, someone else might later. And if you start working on something and later decide it’s not worth your time, don’t be afraid to let go and pivot to something new.

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