I Don’t Journal, I Do This Instead

by Alli Polin on September 16, 2014

Journaling Ideas Bullet Point Approach

There are tons of fans of journaling out there and you may be one of them.  I’ve tried, don’t get me wrong, but I just can’t get into it.  We’re supposed to journal, right? Ask most personal development gurus and journaling is touted as a way to tap into your hopes, fears and dreams and figure out the way forward.  I’ve read a million posts on journaling ideas and how-to, and I’ve left unmotivated.  Despite my desire to be a journaling aficionado, it’s clearly not going to happen and I’ve made peace with it.

I’ve had a series of journal fails over the years.  Each time I believed that this time my commitment would take me over the hurdle, past my roadblocks and onto a path of journaling bliss.

I bought a special journal to capture my children’s early years through sixth grade.  My oldest is now 11 and I think I may have documented how I felt about her first days of preschool, but probably not.

There was the time I couldn’t resist a gorgeous journal of handmade paper with a vibrant cover made out of an old scarf.  I brought it on vacation with me once and kept a beautiful log of our adventures, but lost steam upon my return home, and never went deeper than documenting facts.

A few years later I picked it up my colorful, handmade treasure again to write about my pregnancy.  I think you will not be surprised that after one or two attempts, I moved it from off of my bedside back to the bookshelf to look beautiful while it gathered dust.

I even brought journals with me when I moved from the USA to Australia two years ago.  I figured, if there was ever a time to tap into the power of journaling, this was it!  You can guess by now how that decision played out.

Journaling felt boring, and time consuming (I know, a coach should never say that).  I always felt like if I had the choice, I’d rather do something else.  Why do I want to replay all of the crap from my day on paper, I wondered.  After all, it was playing like a broken record in my head – I heard it loud and clear.  What I felt like I really needed wasn’t to replay my daily agony as I furiously wrote my heart out, but to see the goodness and let go of the rest – so I could rest! 

I always thought of journaling like a “Dear Diary” moment and even when I was growing up, in the throes of my teenage angst, it wasn’t my thing.  It doesn’t mean that over the years I didn’t want to be someone who journals. I always think of people who journal as more Zen, in touch with their inner feelings, and on the path of enlightenment.  Luckily, I’ve discovered a few alternative paths to get there since I still don’t journal, but I definitely do my 5-5-5… and have gotten most of my clients hooked along the way.  It may not be a traditional approach, but it’s a journaling idea that I strongly encourage you to add to your arsenal.

Journaling:  The Bullet Point Approach – What’s your 5-5-5?

I grew up working inside of organizations and eventually, for better or worse, I started to think in terms of bullet points.  Short and to the point, bullets were easy when long descriptions could quickly take me down a black hole.

Here’s how you can put the Bullet Point Approach to journaling to work for you:

At the end of every day, spend five minutes on your 5-5-5.  It’s easy!  While you’re sitting on the couch or in bed, grab your computer, iPad, notebook or (gasp!) journal and write down the following:

5 Personal Wins
5 Points of Gratitude
5 Work Wins

Do not over think it, just bullet them out.

Clearly, this was born out of my desire to let go and shift my perspective from the stressful negative moments of the day and turn towards the positive light.  It’s meant to help you to hit your pillow each night with a positive feeling about the day, tap into gratitude, and let go of the bad stuff that’s obscuring your vision of the good.  All it takes is five minutes of focus on your 5-5-5.

Here’s an example:

5 Personal Wins:

  • Took a walk at lunch
  • No arguing with the kids over breakfast
  • Got all of the laundry done
  • Had a great call with Jane
  • Closed my computer to cuddle instead of multi-tasking

5 Points of Gratitude:

  • My sister sent pictures of her kids enjoying their birthday presents
  • A good bottle of wine was waiting for me after work
  • My venti skinny vanilla latte was delish
  • My son left me a surprise in my workspace
  • I made it to the dry cleaner to get my stuff before they closed for the day

5 Work Wins:

  • My course works as designed!
  • I listened to the feedback and made some great updates
  • Was engaged and focused throughout the day
  • Feel excited about my next project
  • Remained calm when my buttons were pushed

The Bullet Point Approach to journaling is a way to pull yourself into a more positive mindset when you’re tempted to stay stuck in the problems and challenges of everyday life.

Hey – if you’re someone who journals, keep it up!!  You may also want to spice it up by adding the Bullet Point Approach and your 5-5-5 to your journaling routine.

What is your 5-5-5 for today?

For coaching, consulting or speaking Let’s Connect!


{ 27 comments… read them below or add one }

Tom Rhodes September 16, 2014 at 7:04 am

I like the 5-5-5 idea very much. And I am going to start tonight. I know that people don’t consider a blog post a journal. At the same time I see your posts and honestly my posts or writings somewhat like a journal. We share our learnings from everyday life. They may be focused on leadership but they do so from a view on reality not some pie in the sky. Fortunately for your readers you don’t hide it in a journal you allow us to see and learn. Can’t wait to see more on your e-course, sounds exciting.



Alli Polin September 16, 2014 at 7:15 am


I definitely think that there is an element of journaling in blogging. While I may not have a fancy journal on my shelf, every time I sit down to write a post I have the intention to share myself, my stories and make a connection – not only to share a lesson. I know that you do too.

I sincerely hope that you do give it a try tonight!! Let me know how it goes?



Chery Gegelman September 16, 2014 at 12:41 pm

Tom – I love that you reference the blog as a journal. I find that the more I blog the less I journal, and the more I write, the more I need to write!


Alli Polin September 16, 2014 at 10:47 pm

How interesting! The more you blog, the less your journal, but no matter what, writing clearly feeds your soul!


John Thurlbeck September 16, 2014 at 9:03 am

Hi Alli

Writing as a committed, often OCD, journalist I still very much liked your idea. I keep my diary every day, even on holiday. I have a beautiful Moleskine double-sided one and to the left I write my daily events and to the right my reflections on the day. I smiled when I read your bit about keeping the diary and then not going back to it.

As a great example, you will remember my trip to the US last fall, as you were looking forward to my blog posts. They never materialized, as I was submerged in other stuff on my return. So a great point made! However, you’ll be pleased to hear that I am planning to turn those journal entries into a book, working title ‘Forty Leadership Fables from the Freedom Trail’, which I will be starting later this year.

Now, having read your blog I think, I will follow Tom Rhodes lead and give your idea a try. I am going to adapt my reflection style to incorporate 5-5-5, as I think that would be an even more effective reflection process.

So thank you Alli for sharing that idea with us.

Have a brilliant week!

Kind regards



Alli Polin September 16, 2014 at 10:54 pm

I may have missed out on your blog posts but now I can’t wait to read the book! You experienced places in America that I know I have never been… will be fascinating to take the trip through your eyes!

I LOVE that you’re dedicated to journaling. I think it’s really special. The closest I came was the first year of my daughter’s life I wrote every day on a calendar about what we did or something special I did not want to forget. It was a tiny space which probably helped!

Forty Leadership Fables from the Freedom Trail sounds FAB! Can’t wait, John!


Bill Benoist September 16, 2014 at 9:31 am

Hi Alli,
I carry the same sentiment as you when it comes to journaling. It was never my cup of tea.

Interestingly, journaling was a requirement for both of my daughters during elementary school, leading me to believe even our education system recognizes it’s importance.

I definitely like your idea of a bullet point systems and considering I am already a Franklin Covey Plan dedicated user, I have something in front of me everyday already where I can make this happen 🙂


Alli Polin September 16, 2014 at 10:51 pm

You know, I just bought my daughter a planner and have encouraged her to write more in there than just appointments and homework assignments. I’ve suggested that she writes what she most wants to remember about the day. I never made the connection between that idea and 5-5-5! You know what I’m going to talk to her about after school today 🙂

Also interesting that your kids would journal in elementary school. I find that getting kids to write and let their ideas flow can be a challenge and journaling is a primo way to tap into that. Too bad I’m not a role model for journaling excellence!

Thanks so much, Bill!


Terri Klass September 16, 2014 at 9:34 am

First of all, thank you so much for sharing your personal story and truth about journaling! I could relate to your diary as I too shared my inner emotions during my teenage years in my secret booklet.

I love, love your idea of 5-5-5!! What a simple, yet powerful way to reconnect with our goals and meaningful, even small accomplishments! I find that getting fixated on what went wrong in our day instead of the things that went well and we are grateful happens too often and can bring me down.

Thanks for sharing an easy way to take stock in the good, Alli!!


Alli Polin September 16, 2014 at 10:49 pm

Like you, I find it’s easy to get dragged down by the junk of the day and the stressful moments. This is a quick way to tap into the good stuff instead of convincing myself that the whole day was down the tubes.

Hope you’ll give it a try! Thanks, Terri!


Chery Gegelman September 16, 2014 at 12:46 pm

I love your 5-5-5- idea Alli! …And although I have lots of old journals that are full, I relate to the struggle that one size does not always fit all! 🙂


Alli Polin September 16, 2014 at 10:47 pm

I love that you journal! 🙂 I think it’s a great habit. Although, in my house, private journals seem to come out a little too often with two kids! 5-5-5 works for me and gives me a dose of reframing at the end of the day no matter how bad I thought it was, there is always a silver lining.

Thanks, Chery!


Joy Guthrie September 16, 2014 at 1:06 pm

Totally love the 5-5-5 idea. Would also blend in doodling some of the 5 too – open up creativity while you’re at it. Was a great journaling person as a teenager. Have not been able to pick it back up….


Alli Polin September 16, 2014 at 10:45 pm

YAY for doodling! Love that, Joy! Engaging our minds through doodling is a powerful tool that I know I too often overlook.

I also don’t always write it down, I admit. Sometimes it’s a conversation between my husband and I before we go to sleep, other times we’ll bring it up at the dinner table and ask our kids to get them in the habit too.


Hazel September 16, 2014 at 10:12 pm

I like to journal the following

What 3 things did I learn today
What are 3 things I did that had a positive impact on someone else
What are 3 things I am most grateful for and why
How did I enrich my life and my soul today


Alli Polin September 16, 2014 at 10:42 pm

Hazel –

First of all, thanks so much for adding to the conversation! Welcome! I love what you do… especially the addition of “What did I learn today.” So often I assume that the day was a wash in terms of learning and clearly that’s not the case – just need to look for the learning! Many thanks for sharing these prompts here – great adds!



ScrewtheSystemJoe September 17, 2014 at 5:03 am

As an avid journal writer whose been keeping one for over 10 years I was interested to read this post.
I like the 5-5-5 idea. The way it makes you focus on the positive and pulls you away from the negative is incredibly powerful.
I only tend to record REALLY significant achievements though. Sometime it’s too easy to congratulate yourself for things which are pleasant, but don’t REALLY move your life forwards. Plus, this approach is much quicker and easier to maintain.
Each to their own though, I thought the article provided some very valuable insights.


Alli Polin September 18, 2014 at 12:15 am


Welcome to you! Thanks so much for sharing your experience here! I actually really like that you only record REALLY significant experiences. What if you don’t feel like every day has something significant enough to record? To you skip or is the truth that there are always moments of significance if you look for them? You have me thinking and for that I’m very appreciative!

Thanks so much!



Karin Hurt September 17, 2014 at 4:13 pm

This is GREAT. I would probably sleep better if I did this. I used to have my team send me Friday recaps about their wins via emails. I’m proud about…. I’m worried about… and I need your help with … With a remote team it was a great way to get some closure and positive interaction headed into the weekend. And yes it can be done with bullets.


Alli Polin September 18, 2014 at 12:13 am

I hear ya on sleeping better! Every day is filled with so many challenges and hard work it’s hard to see past it sometimes to notice the gifts that are right there with ’em. Love your approach to the Friday email recap with your team. Virtual teams make communication all the more important and sharing wins and worries are critical. Thanks, Karin!


LaRae Quy September 17, 2014 at 8:59 pm

Such a powerful post, Alli!

I am a journal person but I love that 555 approach because it gives structure without too much discipline. I think it’s important to let the mind wander a bit and take itself where it needs/wants to go…but keeping these thoughts in mind is a perfect way to gently guide it toward productive thoughts 🙂


Alli Polin September 18, 2014 at 12:11 am

I always wanted to be a journal person but this is a practice that works for me. Hard to argue that I can’t find five minutes at the end of the day. I think my mind wandering happens in other ways (if only you could see my Evernote!) The more I read responses to this post, I also realize that journaling takes many shapes and forms from blogging, to moleskine to bullet point lists. The more people get into the habit of reflection with intention, I think they’ll benefit.

Thanks so much, LaRae!


Nathan Ohren September 17, 2014 at 11:31 pm

Hi Alli, this was a great post about some rapid-results through journaling. (Yes, I still call it journaling!) Everyone must find their own way, and you have found yours, which I’m sure will help many people. If you’d like to appear as a guest on my podcast (JournalTalk) to share more about this method, I’d be happy to have you. http://www.Write4Life.us/JournalTalk. You’ve got a powerful technique, and I’m grateful you’ve shared it.


Alli Polin September 18, 2014 at 12:08 am


Welcome! I think somewhere in the back of my mind I know it’s journaling too but just won’t admit it to myself 😉 I admit, it’s a quick and dirty technique to tap into positive energy and that can be accomplished a number of ways.

I’ve spent the past few minutes exploring your site and it’s fantastic! I love that you have found peace with your journaling process and you’re inspiring others to get there as well! I’d be honored to be on your podcast and truthfully, plan to spend more time on your site! Your 30 day challenge starting on Oct 1 may be just the inspiration that people need to go beyond the bullets and into a practice that becomes a powerful habit.




Brigitte Kobi September 19, 2014 at 4:46 am


This is a really nice article. Thank you for sharing your thoughts.

I have been journaling since my childhood and by use a journal app on my laptop.(offline). I mainly use it to get a clear mind and sort things out. You could call it a problem solving instrument. When I take decisions or make plans I bullet as well. Nevertheless, you “5-point-plan” could be an add-on to what I do.

Have a great day.


Alli Polin September 19, 2014 at 6:19 am


Love to hear about all the different ways people have found that work for them. It’s a great way to process thoughts and find clarity. Hope you add the 5-5-5 plan to your routine!




Cynthia Bazin September 24, 2014 at 8:15 pm

Love this post Alli! I started laughing when I was reading your post about giving the good attempt to journal. I am the same way, but I do love my bullet points! GREAT idea. Doing it starting today. Thanks for all your fantastic writing. Love it!


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