Why You Need to Start Leadership Journaling (It’s Easier Than You Think)

What makes a good leader? Ask the internet and one of the first responses you’ll get is “self-awareness”, whilst the Harvard Business Review highlights the ability to transform yourself.

But how do you bring those qualities into your day to day? When you’re a leader, you’ve already got a million to-dos calling your name. Your time is limited. So if you’re going to add something new in, you want to know it’s going to be worth it.

Not so long ago, I was speaking at a fireside chat with some of Brunei’s senior business leaders and they said something that shocked me. When I asked them about the leadership habits that helped them, one of the most popular responses was journaling.

One business leader shared how journaling had really helped her. Whilst another CEO explained that they try to stick to the practice daily. And I was left reflecting back on my own journaling habit. We know journaling helps, so why isn’t it a mainstream practice for us as leaders?

Here’s how you can get started.

Why is leadership journaling so valuable?

You and I both know that leadership life is busy. You’re constantly doing things. So how often do you have the time for self-reflection? Leadership journaling enables you to make the time.

It becomes a habit, so you’re naturally able to gain clarity, self-awareness and develop a more positive outlook. You’re able to view your problems and challenges in a new way, developing more creative solutions. And even sketching out new ideas for future projects.

Throw out everything you think you know about journaling

You don’t have to spend hours journaling. You don’t have to write out pages and pages. You don’t even have to journal every day.

Leadership journaling can take any form you like. It might be the traditional type, with a daily journal or self-reflection notebook. Perhaps it’s short statements or maybe it’s longer compositions.

But it could also be diagrams, mind maps or pros and cons lists.

Your journaling can take any form you like, as long as it links with the end goal you’re hoping to accomplish.

10 leadership journaling ideas to get you started

  1. Daily time journaling – log where your time goes and rate how valuable you think you spent it. Your calendar will likely show you what meetings you have booked but we both know this isn’t always a reflection of how you spent your day, that’s the problem with fire-fighting!
  2. Gratitude journaling – look for the things you want to celebrate from your day. Looking for the things you’re grateful for can help you develop a more positive mindset, training your mind to look for the joy and opportunities in your work
  3. Goals journaling – how are you progressing in your leadership role? You’ve likely got a set of goals that you’re working towards but how often do you check in with your progress? Journaling your milestones can help you spot potential hurdles before they become a hindrance
  4. Decision-making journaling – you’ve probably lost count of the number of decisions you have to make each day (there’s a reason CEOs like Mark Zuckerberg famously wear the same outfits each day). This type of leadership journaling enables you to check in with those decisions, evaluate their outcomes and refine your choices for future improvement
  5. Problem-solving journaling – just like decision-making journaling, this type of leadership journaling allows you to spot potential problems, brainstorm different ways to solve them and document the process. Once again, this helps you continuously improve, so the next time a similar problem arises, you already know how to solve it because you’ve learnt from your past mistakes
  6. Feedback journaling – love it or hate it, feedback will always come your way as a leader. Feedback journaling gives you a space to log both the good and the bad, allowing you to reflect on areas for improvement whilst reviewing how to lean into more of the good!
  7. Emotional journaling – you’re going to be in a lot of high-pressure, often emotional, situations. Emotional journaling encourages you to explore the emotions you experience, write out your frustrations and examine new ways to navigate the complexities of life as a senior leader
  8. Networking journaling – track your networking activities and the connections you’ve made and you’ll be far more likely to a) remember them and b) spot the places and events where you’re seeing the best return on your investment when it comes to growing that all-important contact list
  9. Self-care journaling – once again, being a leader is hard. You need to look after yourself if you’re going to find a sustainable approach to your work that avoids burnout whilst enabling you to put your best foot forward each day. Self-care journaling encourages you to prioritise your wellbeing by documenting your favourite self-care activities and their impact on your role
  10. Creative journaling – when you have a dedicated space for creative exploration, your mind’s able to look for more creative solutions to everyday problems. So give yourself the time to draw, mind map or doodle!

How to get started with leadership journaling

Make it appealing

I have a pretty notebook to use for journaling that entices me to journal more. It sits on my desk and, quite simply, makes me smile. So I enjoy picking it up and having those precious few minutes to write.

I like to practice gratitude journaling. It’s a simple process, but it allows me to jot down three things I’m grateful for every day.

The notebook I have has five years on a page, which allows me to see what I wrote on the same day last year, two years ago etc. This has shown me how I’ve changed and what I’ve been grateful for before, helping me to spot patterns and make an effort to add more of those things into my life.

You might choose a handwritten notebook (this is mine) or it could be a Word doc or an app on your phone that sends you a daily reminder. The important thing is to find a method that you enjoy.

Start small

Whichever type of leadership journaling you choose to try, start small. Don’t expect to become an avid daily journaler overnight.

Instead, set yourself a series of manageable goals that you know you can achieve (if they’re too big, you’re only going to berate yourself when you miss them).

Maybe it’s a few sentences in a reflection journal at the end of each day. Or ten minutes at the end of the working week to review what’s happened. The key is not to make it too complicated.

Stack your habits

Take a second to think about the habits that already make up your day. How can you attach your new habit of journaling to the habits that already exist?

For example, I started each day with a cup of coffee on my balcony. This is my time to reflect on my plans for the day and review what I want to achieve. So when I wanted to start gratitude journaling, I connected it to my morning coffee. Now, I start my day with coffee and journaling. My coffee was the nudge for my new habit.

Set yourself a goal

Now all you need to do is start! I always recommend telling yourself that you’ll try journaling for a week, a month or even three months. Just choose your timeframe to try it out and stick to that.

Once you’ve reached the end of your timeframe, you can review your practice and see if there’s anything you want to tweak and improve before setting yourself the next timeframe.

3 leadership journaling prompts for when you’ve got writer’s block

There will be times when you sit down with your pen and just don’t know what to say. When that happens, choose one of these prompts to give your thoughts the encouragement they need:

  1. What are three things that you’re grateful for today?
  2. Reflect on your day. Write down what went well, what could be improved and what you learnt today.
  3. Free write everything that’s in your mind right now. It doesn’t have to sound good, make sense or have a set plan. Just get your thoughts down onto the paper.

There you go! Everything you need to give leadership journaling a go. Be sure to let me know how you get on.

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About the author

Lisa is a mother, a business owner, a founder, and an executive leader. She's been through it all and has come out the other side to thrive. Now she's helping you to do the same! Learn how you can find clarity and support through her services for individuals and organisations.