3 ways journaling is key to success (and how to do it)

Tim Ferriss
Getty Images | Amy E. Price
Tim Ferriss

The benefits of journaling are touted often and loudly. As an entrepreneur and business owner, I have used journaling extensively and the habit has been integral to my achievements. This assertion is not a new one: Plenty of recognizable people in the business world cite journaling as a key to their success and wealth, including TOMS founder Blake Mycowski and productivity expert Tim Ferriss.

While journaling is often celebrated as an effective strategy for personal growth, it has very specific applications for entrepreneurs and seeking to get ahead in business. I was journaling long before I started my business and I noticed the important role it played in developing the philosophy and strategy that ultimately made my companies thrive.

Here are three ways journaling can be a key to success — and how to get started.

1. Journaling gives ideas room to grow

Ideas can quickly become stagnant when they exist only in your mind or in a quick water-cooler conversation with a friend. The act of taking a business idea and fleshing it out on paper not only makes it tangible and real, but it also allows for growth and expansion of that idea. (Or perhaps, the realization that the idea isn't worth your time at all — more on that next.)

Your mind has limits. It can only hold so many feelings and thoughts at one time — not all of them productive. When you journal, it's an exercise in increasing your productivity: Your mind is released from the burden of the unnecessary and you are left with the space that will allow your worthwhile ideas and feelings to expand. This space could also be called clarity.

2. It exposes bad ideas

Just as important as fleshing out the good ideas is exposing the bad ones. That's because, firstly, when you catch bad ideas early on, you don't waste time, energy and/or money on them. But also, your bad ideas are important stepping stones to your good ones. Journaling about your bad ideas gives you the opportunity to learn from them.

The process of thoroughly examining a business dream, and then identifying how and why that dream will fail, is an invaluable exercise — one that is often only achieved through journaling. Your plan might sound flawless when you talk to other excited friends or colleagues about it. Sometimes, the judgement-free space of a journal is the only place where we can be honest with ourselves and admit the flaws in a beloved business plan.

3. Journaling hallmarks major shifts

The day will come when something big happens; an idea occurs to you or you reach a major goal. When events like this happen, it's important to know what led up to that moment. How can you recreate the environment that gave you your best ideas? With a journal, you have the luxury of looking back and knowing the context of your best thinking. You can see who you were spending time with, what you were reading, how you were feeling, what problem(s) you were struggling with. This information can be invaluable to you later on.

But, What Do I Journal About?

Writer's block is one of the most common reasons people avoid the habit of journaling. I understand — there are few things more grating to one's nerves than sitting in front of a blank page and having nothing to put down.

The single greatest defense against writer's block is to accept and embrace bad writing. The purpose of journaling is not the end result: it is the process. Your journal can be a bland recording of events documenting what you ate for breakfast and how long you slept the night before. This might be how it starts as you get comfortable with the process of putting pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard).

As an entrepreneur, there are plenty of complex topics that you can write about in your journal. Here are some prompts to get you started:

  1. Hone your elevator pitch for one or more of your business ideas.
  2. Explore problems and potential solutions.
  3. Examine your favorite businesses and how you would improve upon them.
  4. Describe, in great detail, your ideal day as a business owner.
  5. Answer, honestly, the "why" of your business: Are you creating a business because you want to make more money? Solve a problem? Both? (This might become your mission statement some day.)
  6. Imagine your business has become successful and consider three ways you could expand once it is self sustaining.

Consistent journaling can drive the entrepreneurial process, create new and productive business ideas and help entrepreneurs direct their energy. It's a habit that anyone aspiring to own a business should take up.

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