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ATD Blog

Jazzing Up Your Journaling

Monday, January 10, 2022

Over and over, we hear about the value of daily journaling. As we start a new year, daily journaling may be one of your goals. Or maybe you are already journaling and want to continue it. Numerous experts suggest journaling to track what you are doing, thinking, and feeling. For example, your journaling might focus on well-being and capture your food intake, exercise, and social activities. It might concentrate on gratitude and document your many blessings and how they impact your life or your spiritual development. Or it may serve as more of a diary of your experiences.

There are myriad ways to do it, including writing and doodling in the hardcopy journals, which come in a variety of shapes, sizes, prices, textures, and decors, and of course, there are many digital options. Additionally, there are many formats. In Leading the Learning Function, several members discuss using journaling for learning. One member keeps a journal of what she is learning, capturing ideas from articles, books, and podcasts. After trying something new, she jots down what worked, where she got stuck, and what she would do differently if given a chance. Then she does weekly and monthly reviews of her notes to decide what to keep doing and what upgrades to make. As appropriate, she also adds these ideas to an initiative or project.

One technique she finds useful in building her ability to be a resourceful leader and in enhancing the journal process is Ryder Carroll’s Bullet Journal Method, which many bloggers affectionately call the KonMari approach for journaling. The process involves what Carroll calls rapid logging, and it consists of four components: topics, page numbers, short sentences, and bullets. It also incorporates a variety of symbols and reviews to migrate tasks into the future. While keeping any journal is helpful, using Carroll’s bullet format and ideas expands one’s ability to capture information and provides practical ways for her to review it, thus adding a higher level of on-the-job implementation.

Talent thought leaders frequently suggest journaling. Jim Kouzes suggests capturing your learning during your leadership journey by journaling. In Learning Leadership, Kouzes and Posner define leadership as “… a pattern of actions and observable behaviors that can be defined by certain learned skills and abilities.” It must be practiced and mastered over time through experience, reflection, feedback, and learning. They recommend using a leadership journal daily. A primary trigger is: What did I learn in the last 24 hours that will help me be a better leader [and reach my SMART goal]?

Science of learning expert Britt Andreatta writes about the advantages of gratitude in one of her blogs. She states: “Turning our attention to what we are grateful for, especially in the midst of challenges that leave us feeling drained, brings many benefits, including stress reduction and a boost to our immune systems. We are highly adaptive creatures, and giving thanks is rooted in our biology.”

Executive coach extraordinaire Marshall Goldsmith uses and recommends the Six Daily Questions Model. The six questions help leaders take personal ownership and not JUST depend on their company to engage them. These questions start with the same opening stem and include:


Did I do my best to:

  • Set clear goals?
  • Make progress toward goal achievement?
  • Find meaning?
  • Be happy?
  • Build positive relationships?
  • Be fully engaged?

For those that find daily journaling challenging, another successful technique is making time once a month or quarterly to document major highlights. Some use special occasions such as birthdays, holidays, or major events such as trips to document important actions, events, and highlights. Still others use the end of year to summarize. David Fivecoat suggests five questions to use for this type of journaling:

  • Where did you succeed?
  • What did you enjoy the most?
  • What lessons did you learn?
  • What will you do differently in the new year?
  • What is the status of your goals?

Since journaling is a generative reflection technique, some find it useful to use traditional reflection triggers such as Ed Betof’s 6 Sentence Stems to capture an event or time period. These triggers are:

  • I learned ...
  • I relearned ...
  • I wonder ...
  • I was surprised ...
  • I hope ...
  • I plan to ...

If you are not journaling, hopefully this will encourage you. If you are an experienced journalist, maybe some of these ideas will encourage you to jazz it up and try new ideas, or as we say in the Forum, experiment a little to get better at getting better. There are numerous tips on the internet for what, when, and how to journal.

The best advice might be to jump right in and give it a go. If the format you use seems awkward after a week or so, switch it up. You might want to combine several of the ideas. For example, use two pages of a journaling notebook. Capture the traditional journal on the right page and use the left to capture visuals, track activities like your daily running milage, your leadership experience, or even reminders. At the end of the week or month, summarize with data such as the number of journal entries, hours with your hobby, or miles you ran and highlights such as special events, gatherings, or achievements.

The benefits of journaling are huge, but to reap those benefits, journaling must be a consistent habit over time. And this is not easy. It is your life. Let your journaling reflect it! Jazz it up for 2022.

About the Author

MJ leads the ATD Forum content arena and serves as the learning subject matter expert for the ATD communities of practice. As the leader of a consortium known as a “skunk works” for connecting, collaborating, and sharing learning, she worked with members to evolve the consortium into a lab environment for advancing the learning practice within the context of work, thus evolving the Forum’s work-learn lab concept. MJ is a skilled and experienced design and performance coach for work teams, as well as a seasoned designer of work-learn experiences with a focus on strategy and program management. She previously held leadership positions at the Defense Acquisition University, including senior instructor, special assistant to the commandant, and director of professional development.

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i love the very helpful tips included - very actionable!
Many thanks Rachel - I used the summary ideas from David and it helped me remember so many experiences. Cheers, mj
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This blog is what I needed. I’m looking at my Bullet Journal now. Now I have ideas to jump in and get started!
I admire those using the Bullet Journal format; it definitely helps with organizing thoughts and actions. Thanks for the comments. Cheers, mj
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