Five Minute Journal Technique

This exercise might interest people here.

I’ve always struggled to journal consistently by opening a blank page and writing a stream of consciousness. My new method is inspired by the “Five Minute Journal” approach, which is to spend just five minutes writing a few bullet points in response to some prompts first thing in the morning. This simple, quick habit provides a lot of benefits in just a few minutes a day and is a good base to build a writing habit on. The hard part is being consistent and simply opening your editor to get started writing. Some days I’ll write just a few simple thoughts, but often I’ll get on a roll and have a lot more to say.

… Here are some lists that I’ve been working through:

I was doing a similar exercise called “object writing” recently, based on the book Writing Better Lyrics by Pat Pattison. You write about an object prompt for 10 minutes per day first thing in the morning (stopping at exactly 10 minutes). Then you can go back to the journal later and mine it for (lyric) ideas.

Another journaling technique that was mentioned here a few times is bullet journaling, but I don’t know much about it yet:


Tim Ferris’s has good recommendations on journaling. He said the Artist Way has helped him a lot.

The 5 Minute Journal prompts in the actual 5 minute journal are good prompts too. Thanks for sharing!

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Some interesting finds Josh.

Related to some of the bullet journal (aka BuJo) and journaling space you will eventually come across the idea of “morning pages” which is a technique where you spend a block of time (usually in the morning, but ideally just before you want to do your creative thinking work) where you write for a set amount of time or number of pages. The goal of this method (and to some extent bullet journaling) is to clear the cruft and extraneous details out of your head to be able to better prioritize and focus on your creative work. There’s a relatively large group of people doing this as a technique, so even knowing the phrase can help one to find the literature.

Tangentially related to this and memory (via our old friend rhetoric), I’ve been doing some significant research into the commonplace book tradition and general note taking with an eye towards knowledge acquisition, creation, and spaced repetition systems. This has led into research into the areas of the zettelkasten, digital note taking, digital gardens and the like. All fascinating areas which overlap memory via rhetoric. I suspect that many mnemonists in the Renaissance used commonplace books as physical written memory palaces, though I’ve yet to find anything in my research that directly links them other than the relationship they have in the long tradition of rhetoric in Western culture. Since you mention music and writing lyrics, I recently noted that Eminem has a commonplace technique which he calls “stacking ammo” by which he compiles ideas for his lyrics. His method is certainly less structured than a traditional commonplace book, but the overall form traces back to our friends Aristotle, Cicero, and Quintilian.

If you delve into some of the Bullet Journal and journaling literature you’ll find a subculture of people (YouTube has hundreds of people with entire channels dedicated to the topic) who write into their daily/weekly planners and decorate them with stickers, washi tape, photos, calligraphy, drawings, etc. I’ve called some of this “productivity porn” before, but if you search commonplace book on Instagram or Pinterest you’ll find examples of people whose journals and notes are becoming physical memory palaces where the visuals are likely helping them remember portions of their lives or what they’re writing. The stickers and images to some extent are serving the purpose of drolleries seen in Medieval manuscripts as mnemonic devices.

And finally, tangentially related to all of this is another interesting sub-genre of memory and note taking called sketchnotes which combines active listening, writing, and drawing into a mnemonic related note taking activity. I’m actually a bit surprised to find so little on the technique here on the forum. Searching for sketchnotes on social media will provide lots of examples and there are many “What are sketchnotes” short videos on YouTube that will give you an idea of what’s going on. Many of these talk about a memory component, but not being mired into the sub-topic of rhetoric, they’re usually not using the same framings we would (here on the forum), though the effects one might expect are the same.

Some related richer resources for these areas, to help people from going down the rabbit hole within the performative social media spaces:

  • How to Take Smart Notes: One Simple Technique to Boost Writing, Learning and Thinking–for Students, Academics and Nonfiction Book Writers by Sönke Ahrens
    • This touches on note taking within a zettelkasten framing, but is also applicable to the commonplace book tradition
  • Sketchnote Handbook, The: the illustrated guide to visual note taking by Mike Rohde
    • This is one of the bibles in the space and gives a solid overview of what, why, how, etc.
  • A Brief History & Ethos of the Digital Garden by Maggie Appleton
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