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Journaling: Your Work-Life Balance Power Tool

How to master your home and professional life using a notebook and a pen.

By Bull Garlington

Work-life balance can be tough for attorneys, but journaling might be the best tool you have to develop a rich, value-based balance.

You’re grinding through a serious document, your mind churning out words a mile a minute, a frigid Diet Coke at the ready, when one of those irritating information lozenges slides into your laptop window on the upper right. “Work-Life Balance Important to Well-Being” comes at you in bold capitals. There’s a tiny image of a serene woman, surrounded by house plants, sitting at a perfectly clean desk. Smiling. You slap that tab closed, slam your Diet Coke, and yell out, “I’m balanced when I’m moving, loser!” To the dark. At 3 o’clock in the morning.

And it is an aggravating irony that an industry like law that values insane productivity also admonishes lawyers to get a life. Stupid @#$% law industry. If you’d wanted a life you would’ve gone into theater management or urban gardening, like your college buddies. The thing is, all of them, every single one, are getting the same desktop lozenge as you — and each and every one of them is ignoring it exactly as hard.

It’s Not a Meme: Balancing Your Work and Life Does Matter

The grind is killing people every day. Not just by dropping dead in the break room. Sure, that happens; but there are other deaths less dramatic. The kind that sneaks up on you. The kind where you’re in your mid-50s and realize you don’t have many friends, haven’t talked to your family in six months, and can’t remember the last book you read that didn’t have “law” in the title.

Balancing your work and your life isn’t about numbers. It’s about worth. It’s about space. It’s about mindfulness. Sure, it’s about spending quality time with your kids or your significant other, too. But it’s more about spending quality time with yourself.

It’s not about scheduling and to-do listing and GTDing yourself into some kind of out-of-office bliss fest. It’s about developing the inner you as passionately as you develop the professional you.

Here’s a simple analogy about why work-life balance is crucial.

The more you neglect to build an inner life in favor of grinding through case files, the more that inner life fades and the closer you come to being all shell. Without a vibrant, rich interior to support it, that shell is fragile. To build that rich interior, you have to spend time with yourself.

You could take up running, getting your body out of the office and onto a trail to get your head out of the game. But there’s a chance you’ll spend that time going over your work, which may help you burn calories as you run faster and faster to get away from [endless screaming]. You could turn to yoga. You could read. You could learn to cook a nice steak Diane.

None of those, however, really address the fundamental practice of building an inner life: talking to yourself.

Keeping a Journal Helps You Tune in to Your Own Radio

Writing your thoughts down on paper gets them out of your head where you can see them. At first, your journal is going to be a mess. But eventually, it will turn into a daily practice you can’t wait for.

Over time, you may reignite a sense of self you’d lost to your to-do list. And you may discover a few things about yourself you’d forgotten. You might even start getting better at your job.

But jumping into journaling isn’t easy for everyone. You might want guidance. I’ve spent the last year testing work-life-balance and guided journals to bring you three I feel are really good at taking you along one of the important paths to a vibrant personal and professional zen: the path of productivity, the path of self-discovery, and the path of deep devotion.

work life balance full focus planner book


The Full Focus Planner Will Make You Fully Productive

Michael Hyatt is a consultant to megastar CEOs. Recently, he developed a planner system that helps professionals look past the small victories of daily work toward the slow and graceful improvements one can achieve by looking at their long-term goals, habits and free time.

At first glance, the Full Focus Planner may seem intimidating. It’s expensive. It’s cloth-bound. It’s got a lot of sections and tools. Reading Hyatt’s popular book “5 Days to Your Best Year Ever” or understanding his “Free to Focus” method might be helpful, but they aren’t required. Hyatt’s made very clear video tutorials to help you get up and running.

work life balance Journaling

The Full Focus Planner teaches you to build useful habits and develop good rituals. The daily pages have two checkboxes at the top so you can track your morning ritual and your work startup routine. There are two more checkboxes at the bottom for your end-of-day shutdown and evening ritual. Which might lead you to ask what the hell a morning and evening ritual is, which might lead you to Google “evening ritual,” which will leave you with a lot of questions about chickens and goats and hooded robes. But look, that’s not what Hyatt means.

Your morning ritual is your daily habits prior to working. Brushing your teeth. Getting coffee. Doing yoga. Shouting at innocent bystanders (just me?).

Your evening ritual is the opposite mode: Brushing your teeth, choosing exactly the right silk pajamas, reading a good book in bed before falling asleep.

A Healthy Sleep Schedule Is Vital for Work-Life Balance

Which brings up Hyatt’s unique spotlight on sleeping. The Full Focus Planner makes a point of directing you toward a healthy sleep schedule. Hell, the damn thing has a spot for planning your naps on the weekend.

If you’re planning your weekend naps on Monday, then your ballet of work-life balance is at the Baryshnikovian level and, also, can I come work for you?

Hyatt’s planner is effective for a lot of reasons, but its greatest gift is right there in the title: Full Focus. By concentrating on long-term goals every day, you don’t lose sight of the efforts required to achieve them. By making personal time as much a priority as professional work, and by keeping you thinking about that, the journal helps you develop a sense of division: “Work goes here. Rejuvenation goes here.”

Finally, the design is user-friendly, easy to understand and looks pretty sharp.

work life balance

2. The Monk Manual Guides You Into Serenity

This journal is theoretically designed to help the user develop the daily habits of a studious, devoted monk. It is quite up-front about its theological component, which could be a problem for some. Most professionals tend to keep their faith pretty low key. But a journal is private, so the spiritually oriented work in the Monk Manual is protected by the social contract of not reading people’s !@#$% journals.

Your Monk Manual arrives with gifts. There’s a nice pocket notebook, a welcome letter actually signed by Steve Lawson, founder of the Monk Manual, and a heavy, square card. On one side you will find a four-point quick start guide and a QR code that opens video tutorials. On the other is a postcard to your future self. On it you commit to using the manual for 60 days, and write down a statement of your specific long-term goal plus the name of someone you can reach out to if you get sidetracked. The card is designed to fit into a pocket in the back of the manual so you can check it anytime.

The Monk Manual is most useful to people for whom a work-life balance means a centered, spiritual interior life.


3. Plumb Your Emotional Depths With the MindJournal

The MindJournal is marketed to men. Since the text often addresses men directly, if your chromosomes don’t have a Y it might get irritating. Otherwise, it’s a fine tool for developing the habit of talking to yourself on paper.

The MindJournal asks daily questions meant to get you into the habit of exploring your emotions, stating your intentions, showing gratitude and finally enjoying a little time that’s entirely about you. However, those are all short sections. The real value comes in their program of prompts designed to tap your keg of self-evaluation and purposeful reflection.

This series of questions is divided into three parts, each successively more probing:

  • The first one: Describe your day.
  • Deeper into the manual: Who’s got your back?
  • Finally, there are no more questions; the rest is blank pages. The designers assume that by then you’ve pumped up your scribbling muscles and can Marcus Aurelius yourself on paper without being goosed.

At first, I found the MindJournal lightweight. I’m rocking four or five journals every day, keep a reading diary as I plow through the classics and do a bullet journal for weight loss. I’m used to pouring my feelings onto reams of paper using barrels of ink. But I’m not the MindJournal’s target market. That would be emotionally reticent men who want to build a more meaningful interior life. Men who do not journal but recognize it might be valuable. For those men, this journal is perfect.

“MindJournal is on a mission to bring back the legacy of guys keeping a journal,” says co-founder Ollie Aplin. “Years ago, the idea of any man sitting and jotting down his thoughts was commonplace. Over the years this has sadly been lost. And with it has come an epidemic failure to provide men with the necessary tools to cope with modern-day life.”

What I took as lightweight is really a carefully crafted series of thoughtful questions written to inspire new journalers to write about themselves. The questions speak to a broad variety of personalities, so they are written in a general tone. But their effect is to ignite a fire of self-discovery, probably for a newly philosophical man in his 30s, not a crusty old curmudgeon who’s [deleted] years old.

Journaling: It Worked for Twain, Einstein, and Darwin

There are many, many structured journals. I selected the three above based mostly on my wingnut tendencies and because they represent typical examples. I passed up a lot of great products, like the journal from the Daily Stoic and the Clear Habit Journal from Baron Fig.

Ultimately, journaling in almost any capacity is helpful for developing balance. Even a blank journal with no structured guidance, just you pouring your heart out on paper, is deeply effective. It worked for Twain and Einstein and Darwin. It’ll work for you.

Read more Analog Attorney here.

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Categories: Analog Attorney, Lawyer Time Management, Work-Life Balance, You At Work
Originally published May 29, 2022
Last updated June 9, 2022
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Bull Garlington Bull Garlington

Analog Attorney columnist Bull Garlington is an award-winning author, columnist and public speaker. He is the author of the books “The Full English,” “Death by Children” and “The Beat Cop’s Guide.” He prefers South American literature, classic jazz, Partagas 1945s, a decent Laphroaig, and makes a mean chicken and andouille gumbo. His company, Creative Writer PRO, offers top-shelf content for small and medium-size businesses. Follow him @bull_garlington.

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