Warp Your Journal

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Posted by Joel Basgall - 10 August, 2012

Spend 30 Seconds and Learn Something Important About Yourself Everyday

By Joel Basgall, CEO

Read more on Journalling at the Daily Herald.

I’m a big believer in journaling. Just look around my office and you’ll see dozens of journals. Unfortunately, they have one thing in common: They don’t tell me anything. While my journals may have been a good way to get things off my chest, as far as helping me understand and adjust my behavior, I have to admit they hold little value.

Why Bother

Anyone who has ever had any kind of personal or professional training or coaching has probably been encouraged to journal. We’re told that journaling is a powerful way to accelerate our personal development. By getting thoughts out of our head and into words, we can reflect on our strengths and weaknesses, analyze a response to a significant incident, and gain insights we’d otherwise have missed.

I used to feel this way. When I was a “traditional” journaller, I would try to write a few days a week. My journals were filled with introspective thoughts that usually turned out to be totally unrelated to the things that were important to me. It was time consuming and made my hand hurt.

I’m still a big believer in journaling … but now my approach is radically different.

The Problem With Old-School Journaling:
Overly Emotional. Too Much Data. Not Enough Information.

I want my journal to be more than an emotional catharsis. My journal needs to teach me something about myself and give me the opportunity to adjust my behavior.

For those of us in leadership positions, journaling should also help us manage the people we work with. For example, my journal lets me quickly see patterns and potential problems with different groups. I have the ability to tell myself early on, “Hey, it’s time to give this person some feedback” or make the decision not to take any action right now.

In order to learn this much from my novellas, I have spent weeks wading through them, searching for any kind of pattern or valuable learning. Although after I made a decision the evidence was often obvious, I had to work too hard to get it because the information never jumped out at me.

Objective Journaling in 30 Seconds a Day

So I created a way to journal without writing. Funny, right?

Objective Journaling is about tracking the things that are most meaningful to you. It’s precise, fast, and can be done with a spreadsheet, online or even a mobile app. I’ve been doing it for about two years now and have my journaling time down to 30 seconds every morning (instead of the minimum 30 to 45 minutes it used to take me every day). What I love most about my journal are the clues I get early on that things are either humming along nicely or I need to change something. Being able to adjust in two or three days (as opposed to two or three weeks or even months), is big deal for me personally and for all the teams I’m working with.

Find the Right Things to Journal About

Unlike the traditional write-about-anything journal, the most important thing about this approach is identifying the objectives you want to achieve (and track). While it sounds simple, finding the right things isn’t always obvious.

Here’s an example: I used to have “eating well” as one of my objectives because I thought I wanted to eat healthy food. Day after day, I gave that line item a frowny face (my metrics are happy, so-so and frowny faces -- but more on that later). I was beating myself up daily about my eating habits. I stepped back to investigate why I wasn’t being successful and realized that eating healthy isn’t all that important to me. (Actually, many people who know me think I go out of my way to not eat healthy).

What I actually care about is maintaining my weight. So I replaced the “eat well” with a “be under a certain weight.” That’s the objective I now monitor. When my weight starts to go up my journal tells me its time to make adjustments to bring it back down.

You’ll find yourself re-evaluating objectives (the things you want to track) regularly. By going through the process of identifying what’s truly important to you, you are choosing where to focus and invest time. Amazingly (sarcasm), we stand a much higher chance of achieving the things we chose to focus on. This is an important concept that’s going to lead to something else – the concept of conscious choices.

When you first start journaling, you may find it valuable to start by identifying what’s important in the various roles you play: Your role at work, as a significant other, a parent, friend and community member. Sometimes they blend together like when a lack of patience at home spills over to impatience at work.

I also have a role that is just about ME … the me that transcends all the roles. Items that I might track under ME are things like: How do I feel about myself today? How is my stress level? Am I doing the right things for my head and my body? It’s important to measure these things as well so that you’re always feeling good and balanced.

Decide on Your Metrics

happy, sad, and indifferent facesOnce you decide on what to track, you now need to come up with simple metrics. I use smiley, so-so and frowny faces with color for added impact.

Another thing about metrics is that you have to be very clear on what makes something go from green to yellow or red. Going back to my weight, for example, if I gain up to 5 lbs. my metric goes to yellow. If I gain more than 5 lbs., it goes to red.

While I track 5 lb. differentials to manage my weight, someone else might use 3 lbs. or even how tight their pants fit. The point here is that the metric has to bring clarity or incite action for you. Don’t worry if your way of tracking is widely used (or even understood) by others.

This simple rating also allows for qualitative metrics in addition to just quantitative. For example, when my dog is being too rambunctious or does something in the house that should be done outside, both show up as red (sorry Puppy).

I literally spend 30 seconds every day and rate my objectives green, yellow or red. That’s all it takes for my journal to give me a quick readout on how things are going in all the areas that are important to me and where to focus my energies.

Recognize Early. Adjust Quickly.

The beauty of my journal is that it lets me see a problem early on and adapt immediately. Luckily, we get conditioned quickly in the journaling experience to react positively to the smiley face and green color and negatively to the frowny face and red color. Nothing sneaks up on me. Although I can, of course, choose to ignore the warnings, I always know if trouble is brewing.

The visual metrics (remember, there’s no writing unless you want to) help you easily see patterns developing. For example, I journal about my wife and each kid. I’m tracking how they feel and how I feel about what they’re doing. If a line item goes yellow and doesn’t flip back to green immediately, I know a pattern might be developing and I need to react by at least having a conversation.

My journal is also revealing when something flips to yellow and then back to green right away. Although there may be no need to spring into action, it’s usually worth thinking about why I had an off day.

Success and Failure as a Choice

Objective Journaling has taught me many things over the past couple of years. But probably one of the most fascinating is the control each of us has over where we succeed or fail. In journal terms, we can chose to succeed or fail by simply deciding not to spend the energy to get out of yellow or red. If we choose to let something stay red day after day, week after week, we’re probably going to fail at it, right? Let me explain further.

In recent months about three dozen people in my company started Objective Journaling. The same thing happened with each of them: They came up with their initial list, they started journaling for roughly a week or two, and then they realized three things:

First, some of the things they thought were important weren’t important. They were urgent. The difference being that we do a lot of things because of time necessity, not because they’re actually important.

Second, they actually didn’t care whether they were successful in many of the things that were on their list -- even though they thought they would at first.

Third, sometimes they took on a commitment because someone expected them to but they did not assess whether they could commit the time and energy to do it well and keep the other commitments going.

So, all those frowny faces they were seeing for a particular item probably wasn’t because they were incapable of doing something. Rather, the frowny faces were there because they chose not to do something. Maybe there was an emergency or they didn’t care enough at the time. Or maybe they simply weren’t committed to making this thing happen over something else. Whatever the reason, they suddenly realized that, "Every time I failed I chose to fail, either consciously or subconsciously. So if I can choose to fail that means I can also choose to succeed."

The lesson here is that Objective Journaling can help us choose the things we want to succeed at. Wouldn’t you rather be able to say, “I’m not doing stuff just because I’ve always done it. I’m actually choosing where I want to spend my time.”

Time to Start Journaling

an outlook calendarI have a calendar item, 7:55 A.M., to open my journal and start rating. Since it takes me 30 seconds, I never miss a day.

I used to use a spreadsheet for my journal (Now I have a new journaling web and mobile app)… but you can use anything. Some people make notations on a white board or devise systems using different color post its. Personally, I like something electronic because I can keep it forever, have it available everywhere, and it automatically does work for me.

Setting up your spreadsheet:

  • In Column A, list your roles.
  • In Column B, determine the objectives you want to track within each role. Remember, track the things that are important to you and make you happy
  • Track daily. Using your personal metrics, enter how things went for a specific objective. If you have no opinion, leave it blank.
  • Although up to you, I prefer reviewing monthly to look for patterns and make a different sheet for each month.

a spreadsheet journalLiving a Conscious Choice Lifestyle

Some people hang motivational posters on the walls. Others put post it notes on mirrors or in their wallets. Journaling for 30 seconds a day is my way to reinforce the things that mean the most to me.

Once you get into it (and the process feels automatic within days), this simple idea teaches you what you really care about and helps you make deliberate choices to succeed in those areas.

Every day at 7:56 I know where I stand with all the things that are important in my life, in my many roles. All the complexities of my life are simplified with very little effort. I get all this from my journal and I don’t even have to write … not a single word. ☺

Topics: culture, leadership, software development, Technology, work smarter


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