How to Find Clarity Through Journaling
Anyone who knows me knows that I am an avid note taker. I love to document what I’m thinking, dreaming, knowing, feeling, believing and doing. I love taking notes and I have been a journaler since I was a teenager – off and on in some way, shape or form. There were some times when I was afraid to write down my thoughts or what was happening in my life. However, all in all, I have kept journals throughout my life. Once I began working in corporate America, I work life became a part of my writing. This is just how important journaling is to me. I see life as just one giant experiment with a lot of little (or big) experiments along the way. Journaling helps me to document my results. I want to use today’s discussion just to highlight journaling and to show how this practice could bring clarity to your life and your business.
So, why have I dedicated so time much to journaling? To me, journaling has huge benefits and it’s all about growth and empowerment through clarity. First, documenting my thoughts or what’s happening in my life gives me an outlet to release any stress or frustrations that I may be feeling. It also helps me to start to see patterns or connections between my past and my present. As a side note, I’ve noticed that sometimes I’ll get the same challenges over and over meaning I will run into the same roadblocks but the players may be different. When this happens I realize life is testing me and I need to figure out a better solution or I’ll have the challenge again. So, journaling helps me to see and remember these patterns. The other benefit is that journaling allows me to release my thoughts so that I can worry less about remembering things. There’s so much going on in my life with taking care of my needs and the needs of others that it gets to be very difficult at times to remember everything.
This brings us to our next point of discussion: what am I journaling about? I use my journal as a “holding pen” for my thoughts. So, this means that, yes my journal will sometimes contain my “to do” list (or my “ta da” list as I sometimes like to call it) but we’ll talk more about that later. I also use my journal to document agreements that I have made with other people. Usually, I type my notes for business. So, I take a lot of notes during my meetings and, if I feel the need, I will send meeting summaries to those who were present. I feel the need to do this when clarity is needed or when there is urgency around a particular topic. In addition, I create sketches of the connections that I make. The sketches are usually related to organizational development or product development. I love mind mapping. So, my sketches are also used to map out relationships between various products or processes and this gives me clarity on how things are connected. Mind mapping is also a really great tool for learning but we’ll save that for another time. I’m very much interested in understanding what makes people tick, what motivates others and how can one person’s actions affect the culture of an organization or group. So, my journal is also used to store my observations and this helps me to learn from the actions of others.
Next, let’s talk about how to journal. I love variety. So, I’m not into having rigid systems. They become boring and I don’t stick to them. Journaling for me is a very flexible way of documenting my thoughts and observations. I use it for both personal and business life. I try to keep the two separate but this can become a little tricky because my brain is not compartmentalized in that way. For example, sometimes personal thoughts occur when I’m in the middle of taking notes from a business standpoint. Also, it seems that the line between personal and business life has become more blurred over the years. This is especially true for entrepreneurs. My suggestion is to try different approaches to journaling and see what works for you. If having separate journals doesn’t work, try having just one journal and vice versa.
As far as tools are concerned, the main tool is the journal itself. I use both digital journals and physical journals. From a digital standpoint, I’ve tried spreadsheets and software such as MS Word. Those programs are good for one off notes but not good for keeping all disparate projects or themes in one location. I ended up having many different files for each project rather than having all of my notes in one location. Plus, it’s difficult to search this type of system. My favorite digital product right now is Microsoft OneNote. What I love about OneNote is that I can keep all of my notes in one location regardless of topic or theme. OneNote is wonderful because you can create notebooks and each notebook can be broken out into sections and each section can have multiple pages. OneNote can also be integrated with Outlook so that you can reference a particular meeting as you’re taking your notes. I also love the fact that it’s very searchable and you can tag individual bullet points based on level of importance, whether or not there is action that needs to be taken, etc. This software is very practical and is like a blank slate.
From a physical standpoint, I’m still searching for that one journal that fits all of my needs. As you can probably guess, I collect physical journals and my collection spans items that I have purchased across the globe during my travels. I love perusing in art stores and stationery shops when I travel and my collection includes journals that are inspiring or unique in some way. I haven’t found that one journal that has both inspirational qualities and meets my practical needs. I love journals that lay flat when opened. Removable pages are great but typically aren’t aesthetically pleasing. I like journals that have at least a few ribbons as bookmarks. Gridded lines are wonderful because they help with sketching. So, overall, I’m still searching for that one notebook but maybe it doesn’t exist or maybe, since I like variety, it will be difficult to find. Other considerations when looking for a physical journal include: paper quality, ink, and journal size. For example, is this something that you want to carry in your purse of in your briefcase? Paper quality is typically based on GSM* which is a measure of the weight of the paper. Higher GSM means the paper is thicker and should be of higher quality. As GSM decreases, the paper becomes thinner. From the standpoint of inks, it’s important to make sure that the paper surface and the ink are compatible. One way to test this is to see whether the ink absorbs into the paper, is visible on the paper and whether or not the ink runs or smudges after writing. Having the right combination of paper and ink can make journaling more enjoyable and thus increases the chances of this becoming habitual.
Next, let’s talk about how to get started with journaling. I’m a morning person. So, I usually wake up between 5am and 6am, unless I’m really tired. I like to journal in the quiet of the morning with a cup of tea. I find it relaxing and it helps me to get clear on my thoughts for the day. Sometimes, I’ll start by journaling about the dreams I had the night before . I do this while the dreams are still fresh in my mind. It’s been really interesting to look back at some of the dreams I’ve had over the years and to think about how they related to what was going on in my life then.
I guess a big question is, if you’re not already journaling, how can you get started? In coaching others I have noticed that many times a person might have many ideas and many possibilities for where they could take their business. Having so many choices leads to the feeling of being overwhelmed. In such cases, I suggest that one start by writing down all of the ideas then creating a map to show connectedness and themes. This should help you to decide on an overall theme or to figure out how you might prioritize so that you can narrow down the ideas and find focus. Priorities could be based on your business mission, vision and principles as a first step.
Another way to use journaling is to map out your entire business from an organizational standpoint showing the current state of the business and where the business should be in 5 to 10 years. This information could then be used to get clarity on the future steps that are needed for business growth. Here’s a more personal example… About 18 years ago I created a map that mapped out my career over 20 years. Over the years, it’s been amazing to look at this map and to compare the plans I had back then to my actual journey. My career didn’t necessarily take the path that I laid out but the map has helped me to see how I needed to grow and nurture myself in order to make sure that I was headed in the right direction.
If you have a product idea that you want to launch, journaling can be of great use. It’s the way that I go about developing products myself. I use this to document and flesh out ideas, to keep track of what’s needed and to make note of conversations and next steps. So, from a qualitative standpoint, this is a great way to get your idea down on paper so that you can begin to bring it to life.
So, those are my thoughts on journaling. Like I said, it’s been a very rewarding process to document my life journey. For those of you who spend time journaling, I would love to hear your thoughts and your tips as well. The show notes for this episode have some journal examples for your reference.
*GSM = grams per square meter