Journaling for Success: The Ultimate Guide for Small Business Owners
By Becky Mollenkamp, PCC
Productivity experts, business gurus, mindset teachers…it seems like everyone says journaling can change your life. You want to learn how to journal for success, but aren’t sure where to start.
You’ve tried to journal, but usually the blank page stares you into submission. After one or two entries, you quit. Or, it’s like you’ve been transported back to your teenage years and you can’t shake the silly “Dear Diary” feeling.
Don’t worry! This guide will teach you how to journal in a way that works for you.
This guide is packed with journaling methods and resources to help you get started—and stick with it. It’s specifically for small business owners who want to harness the power of journaling to grow personally and professionally.
General Benefits of Journaling
Life can get hectic, and it can be easy to get consumed by all we have going on. Journaling is a way to slow down and take time for reflection.
Journaling is more than a feel-good, sound-good activity. There is plenty of scientific evidence to support that it actually delivers real and important results.
• Writing about feelings (especially when dealing with negative emotions) can improve emotional well-being and happiness.
• Ruminating on romantic breakups can hasten emotional recovery by building a stronger sense of self.
• For emotionally expressive people, regularly journaling about stressful events can lower anxiety.
• Expressive writing can boost the immune system, speed up healing after injury, and generally improve physical outcomes.
• Writing about an event or emotions organizes them for the brain, which frees it from the hard work of processing information and improves memory.
• Journaling five minutes before going to bed can help you sleep more soundly.
• Writing has also been shown to potentially increase IQ.
• Gratitude journaling can increase self-esteem over time.
• What’s more, writing accesses the left hemisphere of the brain, which is analytical and rational. This frees the right hemisphere to create, intuit and feel. That means writing harnesses all of your brainpower to find better solutions to problems.
Benefits of Journaling for Business Owners
Journaling is clearly useful for self-growth, which is useful for business owners. Additionally, there are other business-specific reasons that journaling can help create success.
Whether you are hoping to launch a new business or wanting to grow an existing one, journaling can help.
1. Journaling sets ideas free.
The brain only has room for so many thoughts and feelings at once. Keep too many ideas locked up in your mind, and you’ll lose some as your brain makes room for others. Getting your brilliant business ideas out of your mind and onto paper captures them forever.
2. It increases productivity.
By releasing your brain from the responsibility of holding onto #AllTheIdeas, you free up space for others to take root and expand. That’s effectively doubling the number of ideas you can generate at any given time.
3. Journaling fills in the blanks.
Seeing all your seemingly disparate ideas on paper can help you (quite literally) draw connections among them. Finding those creative relationships can be difficult or darn near impossible when they’re trapped in your mind.
4. It weeds out bad ideas.
Journaling allows you to look at your business musings in black and white. This judgement-free space can help you more accurately evaluate which truly have legs—and those that sounded better in theory. Letting go of bad ideas quickly will keep you from wasting time and money on them. Even better, it can help you learn from them and perhaps reshape them into good ideas.
5. Journaling creates a record.
Tracking your ideas from fruition beyond implementation creates a record that can later be quite useful. When an idea comes to life and is successful, you can accurately reflect on how it all happened. This can help you re-create what led to your best ideas, and help lightning strike again.
Small business owners can use journaling to capture and track ideas for new businesses or offers. It can also help with brainstorming content ideas, planning social media, or mapping out sales funnels.
How to Journal for Success
There are as many ways to journal as there are people. Your journal is your own, and you can create it and use it however best suits you.
Not sure where to start? Here are a few ideas to help.
Journaling for success
As a business owner, a journal can be incredibly helpful in going from probable hunch to profitable reality (see above). You can use a journal to do biz-y things like hone your elevator pitch, brainstorm solutions to your customer’s problems, keep track of competitors and how you can separate from the herd, reflect on your values or your “why,” brainstorm ideas for scaling, dream about the future, and more.
No subject is off limits
Using a journal for business is great, but you don’t have to stop there. You can capture ideas of all sorts. Record your nightly dreams, write out a bucket list, jot down favorite mantras, or just jot down any random thing that pops into your head. If you do this all in one journal, you can later look for connections between seemingly random ideas. Or, you can use separate journals for different concepts.
Put pen to paper
Many studies have shown the benefits of handwriting vs. typing. Not only does it help you better retain information, it activates more areas of the brain to better unlock memories and trigger creativity. If you’re physically able, put pen to paper when you journal instead of typing or dictating.
Let it flow
Freewriting is a powerful journaling method. You write without stopping for a set length of time or until you fill a certain number of pages. Even if you only write, “I don’t know what to write,” you just keep going until time is up or the pages are full. The purpose is to free your brain from editing (or censoring) in real time. This allows our deepest feelings and ideas to flow.
Too much can be too much
For journaling to have the greatest affect on your life and business, it helps to do it consistently over months and years. That said, too much of a good thing can actually be too much. Research suggests that doing it every day can be overwhelming, and that three to four days a week for 15 to 30 minutes at a time is ideal.
Shake things up
It can be easy to get stuck in a rut with anything, including journaling. If you’ve been doing it for a while and are feeling creatively stunted, do something unexpected. Write with your nondominant hand, try audio entries rather than handwritten, head outdoors or somewhere new to journal, use crayons, etc. Experiment from time to time to keep the creative juices flowing.
Let go of perfection
Nothing is a bigger killer of journaling (or any creative outlet) than perfectionism. Remind yourself that your journal is a private space only for you. Write quickly to help free your brain from worries about spelling, punctuation, and grammar. The more you can learn to accept and embrace bad writing, the freer you’ll be and the more rewarding journaling will become.
Try using prompts
There’s nothing worse than staring at a blank page. When you encounter writer’s block (and even the best writers do from time to time), journaling prompts can be a useful tool to help the words flow. More on that next.
Gutsy Guide to Journaling
Up your journaling game with this comprehensive workbook. Everything you need to know about journaling + more than 500 journaling prompts in dozens of themes.
The only rule with journaling is there are no rules! Treat your journal like an accepting, loving confidant, or like a free therapist. The more you open up to it, the more it will reveal to you.
Journaling can be messy, and that’s okay. In fact, in journaling and in life, in the mess is often where we find the magic.
Best Journals to Buy
If possible, use old-fashioned pen and paper to journal. Research has shown that people learn better and retain more information when they write things down instead of type. Even so, journaling in any form can be incredibly beneficial, so don’t let this be the thing that keeps you from starting!
Most stationery designers offer blank journals that are beautiful and may help inspire you to start writing! If you’re like some people and don’t want to “ruin” a pretty journal by actually writing in it, then consider using a basic notebook.
You can also maximize productivity (and ensure you don’t forget to do your journaling) by having your planner double as a journal. Most daily, weekly, and even monthly planners have space for taking notes.
Prefer digital journaling? You can use the notes section in your phone or computer, or choose among the many online options for capturing your thoughts. Penzu is a private, totally customizable online journal (also available as an app) and Evernote has a very robust notekeeping desktop and mobile app that can be used for journaling (along with any business/personal notekeeping). Both programs have free versions.
Still unsure how to get started? The easiest journaling practice is to simply take a few minutes and reflect on your day or dream about the future.
Each day, take out a sheet of paper (or your journal or planner) and answer one or several of these questions:
- What made yesterday great?
- What could make today even better?
- For what are you grateful?
- What do you want to accomplish in the coming years?
- How could you push closer to those dreams today?
Some other journaling exercises include things like writing out a simple pro/con list for a challenge you’re facing, doing a brain dump to get all of the thoughts in your head onto paper, a to-do list or a list of big-picture goals, or just writing uninterrupted for 10-15 minutes about a thematic word of the day (family, community, mindset, change, hope, etc.).
If facing a blank page feels overwhelming, but you want more variety than what I’ve already suggested above, then you may love using journaling prompts. These are questions or other starters to unlock your brain.
A few examples of prompts include:
- Words to live by…
- What I wish others knew about me…
- I’m most content when…
- What I’ve learned from mistakes/failure