Every day at 4pm, my phone dings with a reminder to write a journal entry. And (almost) every day I stop what I am doing and take a few moments to write about my day. It’s a simple act, but it is a crucial part of my productivity practice.

Unless you read all of the productivity nerd blogs like I do, you probably have no clue what a “productivity journal” is. I didn’t either until a few years ago, but in that time this practice has become deeply important to my growth and productivity.

While more explanation is warranted, a productivity journal is simply a collection of daily entries summarizing your priorities, accomplishments, failures, and struggles.

Why is keeping a productivity journal so important for me? Why do I think everyone who is interested in growth and productivity should keep one? It comes down to three benefits.

A journal maintains our focus on what matters most

I don’t know about you, but I often lose sight of what matters over the course of the day. Every morning I start with a review that keeps me current with all my various inboxes and sets my priorities for the day. And very often by 4pm I have either finished everything I needed to, or got pulled off course by distractions. Either way, I tend to end my days with a cloudier view of my priorities than when I started.

The actor of journaling resets my focus. Sitting down to record what happened, detailing successes and failures, and thinking through what’s next clarifies the day. It puts the activities of the day into perspective. Did I meet my goals? Did I fail my team? Do I need to change something in response? What is one key thing I must do tomorrow? The act of thinking through these questions helps to settle my mind and organize my thoughts.

A journal is raw material for reflection

Reflection is a major part of my approach to productivity. In fact, it is the thing that keeps me on track. Leaving the much larger subject of reflection for other posts, the salient point is that regular, honest reflection on our decisions and outcomes is crucial to successfully implementing productive practices.

The journal serves two specific functions in my approach. First, by keeping a journal, each day I take time to reflect on the day. This has a self-ordering effect of sorting the days actions and decisions into a few camps. I can reflect on what was successful and what wasn’t. I also contemplate how I sinned or struggled to love others well. And finally I start to grapple with what the next day will bring. These areas all inform my understanding of the day. They are an immediate touch point for me on what matters most.

Second, the permanent recording of these events and thoughts serve as grist for further reflection down the road. Reviewing a week, month, or even a year’s worth of journal entries reveals patterns of success and failure both. The raw data of each day’s thoughts can be used to construct a far more accurate view of my life and choices. It is the starting point for considering what changes need to be made so I can live a life that glorifies God.

A journal is a great transition out of your work day

The final reason I find journalling to be so important is that it helps me begin to unwind my mind from the daily tasks, issues, and frustrations of work. It sums up the day—for good or for bad—in a way that allows me to put work away and switch modes.

This frees me up to focus my thoughts on my wife and what she needs, or on personal projects that lie in wait at home. It helps me transition from one area of life to another cleanly. It sorts the mental debris of the day in an ordered way for the next day’s work. It’s cleans up the mental workbench, and shuts off the workshop lights.

The importance of journalling does not lie in the journal itself, but in the act of recording and reflecting each day. A small break at the end of the day to reflect has made an huge difference for me, and it may do the same for you.