Journaling Basics

The Power of “Pre-Day” Journaling

Establishing a consistent journaling practice—one that fully supports the life you’re building—happens when it’s not forced, but seamlessly integrated into your daily routine. Morning journaling—or “pre-day” journaling—can unlock a sense of focus and clarity for the day ahead.

The Segments of a Day

Your day can be segmented into three time periods:

  • Pre-day
  • Day (~9 a.m. – 5 p.m.)
  • Evening

What is “Pre-Day”?

You may not be familiar with the idea of a “pre-day,” but it can be one of the most important periods of your day. Pre-day is the early morning before the rest of the world wakes up. It’s one of the quietest times of day, allowing your mind to breathe, think, process emotion, and prime your mental state to thrive in the coming hours. 

After studying hundreds of brilliant minds for over a decade, I can confidently conclude that “pre-day” is when many high-performing, successful people choose to do their journaling. Run your own experiment by prioritizing this time for yourself to see what’s possible.   

Pre-day is the early morning before the rest of the world wakes up. It’s one of the quietest times of day, allowing your mind to breathe, think, process emotion, and prime your mental state to thrive in the coming hours.

Evaluate Your “Pre-Day” Routine & Priorities

What does your pre-day look like? Does it exist? Can it exist? The answer is yes! And you can do so without completely disrupting your current routine.  

1. List everything you typically do from the moment your eyes open to when you start interacting with the outside world. And if grabbing your phone to check in with the world is the first thing you do when your eyes open, I invite you to give yourself and your mind a 10-minute gift of zero input from the outside world. You’ll thank me later! 

2. Now, reflect on your pre-day list of everything you typically do first thing in the morning, and identify the moments when your mind is most quiet. Start by looking at natural instances of stillness in your day-to-day, the regular occurrences of your routine. For example, as your coffee brews, or your tea steeps, try checking in with yourself.

3. Once your pre-day priorities are identified, stay true to them. For example, have you ever intended to work out first thing in the morning but woke up tired and negotiated with yourself to work out later in the day? Yes, I’ve been there too, and we all know the conclusion to this negotiation—the day unfolds and the workout is squeezed out for moments requiring our immediate attention. Those “urgent” situations typically don’t exist during the pre-day, allowing the opportunity to direct our attention on ourselves.  

example of pre-day journaling prompts in Day One app

Pre-Day Journal Prompts

Here are three journaling prompts to get you started with pre-day journaling:

  1. How do I feel today (one word)?
  2. Where do I feel this in my body?
  3. How do I want to feel today?

Pro Tip: Leverage hashtags in Day One to easily tag and track your mood (i.e., #anxious, #grateful, #energized) to spot trends. 

This simple sequence of pre-day journal prompts can be answered in under 5 minutes and has the power to influence your entire day. Because here’s the reality: the emotions you identify while your coffee is brewing are present whether you ask the questions or not. But by reflecting on these prompts, you start the day with a clear and primed mind. 

Pro Tip: Prompts are helpful to start or spice up your practice but are not essential. I often open Day One to a blank screen and start writing whatever comes to mind. It’s like taking my mind to the spa first thing in the morning.

More Daily Journal Prompts

Now, I realize that the early morning is not for everyone, and I can feel this question coming at me: What if I’m just not a morning person? 

I’ve got you covered because there are many journal prompts below to guide your practice at different times of the day. I’ve emphasized “pre-day” because from my research, this time of day provides the highest probability of delivering consistent results, but not at the expense of holding you back from establishing a journaling practice in the first place.

The trick is to design a practice that you’ll look forward to and that integrates into your existing routine. For example, you could try noting a few reflections from your day while on your commute back home or calming your mind before going to sleep with a couple of gratitude prompts. Start with what feels most aligned for you, be open, and experiment with different times of day to find the flow that works best. 

Now, let’s get to the daily journal prompts! Follow your intuition and start with the prompts you feel most called to answer.

Morning and Afternoon Journal Prompts

  • What would make today great?
  • What would leave me feeling accomplished today?
  • What deserves my energy and focus right now?
  • How do I want to show up for myself and others?
  • What’s one step forward that I can take?

Evening Wind Down Journal Prompts

  • What did I learn today?
  • What would I have changed today?
  • What can I celebrate today?
  • How am I different from yesterday?
  • Imagine my greatest desires materializing; what do they look and feel like?

Journal Prompts for High-Pressure Situations

  • What is within my control right now?
  • Is the energy I’m giving this situation warranted?
  • Who am I without this thought?
  • What can I learn and celebrate about this situation?
  • What if everything went right?

Wrapping Up: Find a Journaling Practice that Works for You, No Matter the Time of Day

Your journaling practice is just that, a practice. Pre-day journaling can be one of the many ways you unlock the benefits of journaling to start each day with a clear and primed mind. Be patient and kind to yourself. Experiment with different times of day and flows that integrate with your current rituals and routines. Over time, you’ll slowly adjust and shape your practice in support of the life you are designing. 

Marc Champagne is the author of Personal Socrate: Better Question, Better Life, a best-selling book exploring the pointed questions that stimulate our mental fitness and teach us how to direct our internal narrative to work for us instead of against us. He is the host of the top 50 ranked podcast Behind The Human, unpacking mental fitness practices and reflective questions shaping the lives of some of the most successful and brilliant thinkers in the world.

Marc Champagne

Start Journaling in Your Day One Journal

The Day One journaling app makes it easy to keep a journal. Daily reminders, daily writing prompts, and journaling streaks are designed to help keep you motivated and consistently journaling.

Journal from here, there, everywhere.

Download the Day One journal app for free on iPhone, Android, iPad, Mac, and Apple Watch.

Journal from here there and everywhere mobile devices image.