Do you ever find your plans for World domination crushed by your own thoughts? You’re trying to write something and a nagging thought jumps up and slaps you in the face? You’ve got a task list that needs ticking, but another, better idea screams for your attention. Or, does your brain inform you that another cup of tea is the solution to the impending crisis that is staring you in the face?
This happened to me all the time. My business and life were chaotic. I wasn’t productive, and I was failing. But the failure wasn’t anything to do with my ability or my desire. It was all to do with a lack of clarity and a lack of focus. My brain was getting in the way. Again.
I’ve talked before about the difference personal writing has made to my business writing. But the four types of personal writing I’m going to share with you, and the discipline I’ve developed has done so much more than that. It’s helped me be mentally tougher and it’s unquestionably helping my business.
This is my reflective journal. It’s the first thing I do each morning before the kids get up. I use it to review the key elements of the day. The memorable moments and my thoughts about them. It’s my opportunity to look for meaning in the ‘stuff’ that’s happened. It’s not a step-by-step replay of the day. That would be dull and serve no purpose at all. It includes a mix of business and personal thoughts.
I’ve always been a little bit sceptical about the power of journaling, but I was wrong. I’ve been writing a daily journal now since the 1st January this year. And, I do mean ‘write’. I’ve yet again abandoned my utopian vision of the paperless office in favour of a Moleskine notebook and a fountain pen. Yes, that’s right, a fountain pen. Why? Because I got one from my brother-in-law for Christmas, and I love writing with it.
Each journal entry is a single page of about 200 words. Not many words, but of all my personal writing habits, it’s the one that’s helped me the most.
It’s given me clarity and a way to find the meaning behind what’s happening in my life.
An A5 Notebook and a pen.
The majority of the writing I do, whether it’s personal or business focussed, is done digitally. I use Google Drive and Google Docs so that I can work wherever I want on any device. It’s really helped me keep on top of things, both professionally and personally. But, when I become overwhelmed, have a problem to solve or something I need to plan for – I now ditch the digital and turn to my Scribble Book.
It’s an A4, Black n’ Red spiral bound notebook. If I find my thoughts interfering with the task at hand, I step away from the laptop and reach for the notebook. Scribbling out ‘stuff’ in an unstructured way helps me cut to the chase. It’s a form of free-writing. I might write a lot of gibberish, but, sometimes, just a word or a phrase is all I need to get me back on track.
My Scribble Book has helped me thrash out ideas and tackle problems head on. When you work on your own, it’s easy to have an argument with yourself. It’s easy to NOT make a decision that needs to be made. It’s easy to ignore the challenges you face. This book is my personal antidote to procrastination and unclear thinking. It’s really working for me.
An A4 Notebook and a pen.
This is the latest edition to my personal writing habit. It’s only two days old. But already I’m committed to making it part of my day. How many great ideas have you dismissed over the years? How many far-fetched dreams have you talked yourself out of? If you’re like me, there will be loads. The rational part of your brain kicks in, calls you an arsehole and reminds you to not have ideas above your station.
Each night, before I go to bed, I write down one big idea. So far it’s been an idea based on what’s happened during the day. Maybe that’s a conversation with someone, something I’ve read or a video I’ve watched.
I use an A6 Moleskine journal notebook that I got for Christmas 2015. I’ll level with you. I thought the books were bigger. It’s a nice idea; 12 small notebooks for you to journal in. But, they were far too small, I lasted 15 days. I found them again three days ago and knew that I wanted to use them.
To give you an idea, here’s my entry from last night.
Contact CompTIA (IT Trade Organisation) about delivering a free talk at one of their events.
That’s it. No detail. No plans. No strategy. Just the idea. It’s simple, but I think it’s going to be really powerful.
Well, it’s early days for this one, but I love the idea of keeping ideas alive. It gives me permission to think big. It’s a place to capture those fleeting thoughts that we’re all too prone to dismissing far too quickly.
An A6 notebook and a pen
I embarked on a daily writing challenge last year. I committed to writing a new 100-word story every day. I lasted 177 days. It was meant to ease stress, but actually, the last 30-days were really stressful. It was too much. So I stopped. I turned off the story tap. I went cold-turkey. Hindsight is a wonderful thing. What I should have done was simply change the frequency. And write one story a week.
The truth is I’ve really missed that creative outlet. I also miss the conversations with the folks who enjoyed reading my very short stories. Writing those little tales definitely helped me with my business writing. The act of writing something creative every day helped me to be a more efficient and productive writer. So, here’s the commitment. Here’s the plan. Once a week now I’ll share a 100-word story. Sometimes it’ll be fiction, sometimes it will be more like a mini-essay. The one rule – it can’t be about business. These mini-tales will be shared online every Friday. I can’t wait to get started again.
Steady on old bean, I’ve not yet started! 😉
Google Docs, a vivid imagination and a sense of humour.
I’m not saying for one minute that this is a ‘formula for success’. What I am saying is that this has worked for me. And, it’s helped me have the best ever start to a year. Yes, I know it’s early days. But the focus and clarity I have about the business is down to this approach. I’m getting thoughts out of my head quicker. I’m making sense of what’s going on and, more importantly, I’m having a lot of fun in the process.
Maybe, though, trying just one of these approaches will work for you. All I ask is that you keep an open mind. Try something different and see if it works for you. I’d love to hear from you if you’re doing something similar. And, if you’re going to try one of the four I use, I think we’d all benefit from hearing about your experiences.
I know it won’t be everyone, but I believe, more than ever, that the key to success in business and life is clear thinking and creative communication. Personal writing, helps me achieve both.
I'm a case study consultant, coach and writer. I'm the Macgyver of case studies. If you want to use customer success stories to grow your organisation – I can help. And, if you have a case study question, just holler. I promise I'll answer.