How do you keep a journal? Just say “ARGH!”

I stink at journaling.


Journaling is a productive use of time. It has been shown to:

  • Relieve anxiety and depression
  • Lower stress
  • Increase creativity
  • Boost gratitude and happiness
  • Improve memory
  • And much more


Yet, I still stink at it. Every time I sit down to journal, it turns into a blog, or a letter to my kids, or a grocery list.


But I really like the benefits of journaling, so I decided to see if there was an easier way to do it other than staring at a blinking cursor on a blank Word doc.


I started by Googling “journaling prompts”. A researcher and writer with whom I’ve collaborated before, Margarita Tartakovsky, provided some here.


Although journaling prompts work for lots of people, seeing the lists upon lists of prompts and questions made me feel tired and unmotivated.


All I could say was “Argh!”


Not one to give up easily, I asked myself what functions I wanted my journal to perform.


First, I wanted my journal to help me focus on gratitude. I cannot ignore the research that shows how important it is to practice gratitude.


Second, my journal could help me improve my horrible memory. My brain is like a sieve. I have few memories of childhood, and my kids often remind me of stuff from theirs.


Third, my journal should help me remember the good things I do for others. I am very hard on myself and typically forget (see above) about the times I have been generous or giving.


Fourth, I wanted my journal to help me feel hopeful and optimistic about the future. I can sometimes be a “worst-case scenario” person.


That’s when it happened…ARGH became an acronym for my journal.



My journal will have four sections:  A.R.G.H.





In this section, I will list any things for which I feel grateful. This list will be in bullet-point format and will be as long or as short as it needs to be.





This is where I will tell my future self some short stories about my life. Future Melissa will appreciate these anecdotes and details.





Here, I will list the good things I did for other people. Yes, I know that generosity is its own reward, but I’m not making the list to post on Facebook. This list is for me. When I’m feeling like a selfish, substandard human, these reflections may help me climb out of the pit of despair.





This section will be a challenge, but I need to build these mental muscles. I will write about better tomorrows, the concept of impermanence, and other hopeful things I see in the world around me.



The Mechanics of Journaling


If you like nice hard copy notebooks, go for it. Writing in a journal by hand would be an obstacle for me, so I have chosen Microsoft OneNote.


If you have never used OneNote, click here to learn. It’s relatively straightforward and comes with Office 365.


I created a new OneNote Notebook (labeled “Journal”) and then created the following tabs (i.e., Sections):

  • ARGH – with pages for each day that I do the ARGH exercise
  • Goals – where I will track my annual goals and store my monthly progress reports
  • Values – for my core values (as I have been wondering where to store that list anyway)
  • Nice emails – a place for the nice emails I receive from clients that make me feel good about my work. I will use the “Send to OneNote” button in Outlook to gather those emails in one place. Instant emotional lift!



You don’t have to create the same sections as me, of course. You may want your journal to serve other functions. Your neuroses are different than mine.


I plan to journal once a week on Saturday mornings. I will add it to my Outlook Task list because it will never get done if it’s not on that list.


I plan to “Go for the 80.” I will aim to write in my journal 80% of my Saturday mornings, not 100%.


Perfection is not productive,


But journaling is.


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Dr. Melissa GratiasMelissa Gratias (pronounced “Gracious”) used to think that productivity was a result of working long hours. And, she worked a lot of hours. Then, she learned that productivity is a skill set, not a personality trait. Now, Melissa is a productivity expert who coaches and trains other businesspeople to be more focused, balanced, and effective. She is a prolific writer and speaker who travels the world helping people change how they work and improve how they live. Contact her at or 912-417-2505. Sign up to receive her productivity tips via email.


  1. Sheri Steed

    I love this! I, too, appreciate the many benefits of journaling but struggle to be consistent. I like this format. One thing I especially like about it is that it’s portable. If I’m away from my desk and something is on my mind, I can just open up OneNote.

    • Melissa Gratias, Ph.D.

      Thank you, Sheri. Good reminder to make sure that you have OneNote downloaded onto your phone and tablet.

  2. Seana Turner

    I am not a formal journal keeper, but I do have a prayer journal where I jot down thoughts and prayers each morning. I find it is terrific to look back and see what has happened in my life, and answered prayers. It makes me feel thankful to see how many difficulties have been resolved. Some of my worries I don’t hardly remember having! I think it can be a very calming process.

    • Melissa Gratias, Ph.D.

      “worries I don’t hardly remember having” Wow. That’s a benefit of journaling that had not occurred to me.


    I journal, I have a gratitude journal that sometimes I can stare at for hours, I use keep a grief journal after my husband passed, just past the 2 year mark so I don’t journal in there as much, now I do what I call brain dumps, so what ever is on my mind I up on paper/computer

    great blog Melissa, great ideas and suggestions….thank you!

  4. Linda Samuels

    I love your commitment to journaling that works for you. Your sections sound great! And how you’re organizing it using OneNote looks good too.

    I’ve been writing in journals for a long time- for almost 50 years. It’s something I enjoy doing. They’ve served different purposes- from gratitude or meditation journals to sketchbooks and idea exploration. I’ve recorded moments in time, talked myself off a ledge, and celebrated things I’m proud of. I’ve laughed, cried, and everything in between.

    One of my favorite things to do is to go back and read previous entries. I used to do this during vacation and travel times (pre-pandemic.) Although just recently, I reviewed passages from the past year. What a year! There are always discoveries and perspective shifts.

    I’ve tried using digital journals, but I love putting pen to paper, so it’s old school for me. I have no requirement about what the journal needs to be or how frequently or infrequently I write. I am so grateful to have the journals. They’ve helped me through some dark times and reminded me of joyous ones.

    Wishing you all the best with your ARGH.

    • Melissa Gratias, Ph.D.

      What a beautiful story of your life you have created, Linda. I especially love how the format has changed over the years. I will take that to heart. I love variety, and will likely do the same.

  5. Julie Bestry

    OK, then sure to make your note on Saturday that your call to me today was an A and a G. APPRECIATE my fabulous company and then take note that you GAVE me a delightful boost to my mood! 😉

    I’ve never managed to keep a journal more than 5 days straight, and I don’t seem to keep up with ANY kind of streak unless I do it daily. Maybe it’s because I don’t feel like I need to do the R and the G? (I remember everything that happens to me, and my self-esteem is probably already overdeveloped.) Keeping a journal that only I will read just doesn’t resonate with me even though I believe all the research, but I email and call people in my life. Maybe I’ll just need to incorporate telling my peeps about what I appreciate and hope for?

    As always, you’ve inspired and charmed. You rock, Doc!

    • Melissa Gratias, Ph.D.

      Like you, I have struggled with the feeling that journaling “just for me” is a waste of time. I like your idea of sharing your thoughts with friends, though. Two birds/one stone – you elevate yourself and show love to others. As proficient as you are with social media, you could take your journaling there as well. Just a thought. BTW, anyone reading this should follow @ProfOrganizer on Twitter if you like clever writing and liberal politics.


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