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It feels good to finish the last task of your workday, so why would you want to stick around for a few more minutes and reflect on the events of the day? One excellent reason is that it can make you a better leader. In fact, you’ll find that world-class leaders across many fields of study keep or kept journals. Sir Richard Branson, Nelson Mandela, and Frida Kahlo are just three examples.

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Chances are, the world leaders you most admire keep or used to keep a daily journal.

One Harvard Business School study found that setting aside just 15 minutes at the end of the workday to reflect and write in your journal can help you improve your performance measurably. Compared to employees who did not spend the last 15 minutes of their workday writing and reflecting in a personal journal, employees who did performed better by 22.5% on a test about a particular customer account.

Action and Reflection Complement Each Other

Action and reflection can have a positive symbiotic relationship. Reflecting each day on what has worked and what hasn’t can help you correct course before you go too far off track. Being an effective leader is in many ways like being accomplished in a sport. And the best athletes in the world regularly review their games, their stats, their backhand, or their form so they’ll be armed with a little more knowledge next time they practice or play. When you regularly reflect on your performance and take the time to record your thoughts, you prime yourself for better action the next day. It’s a positive cycle.

Keeping a Journal Can Help You Manage Stress

Many psychologists and executive coaches recommend keeping a journal because it can be a highly effective method for managing stress. Writing down what happened with honesty and candor helps you gain the proper perspective – if not now, then a few days or weeks hence. It also helps you build your self-awareness: where you excel, where you have difficulty, what energizes you, what drains you, and what derails your performance. Self-awareness and acceptance of both strengths and weaknesses help you develop emotional intelligence, which is widely considered to be a key factor in successful leadership.

Ask Yourself Explorative Questions

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If you don’t want to face a blank journal page, have a list of questions on hand to prompt reflection.

So, should you simply open up your journal to a blank page and start writing? If that works for you, that’s fine. But many people need a prompt of some kind to get their thoughts flowing. Consider asking yourself open-ended questions like the following:

  • What is weighing on me at this time?
  • What has gone well today and why?
  • What challenges did I face, and what created them?
  • What requires my attention tomorrow?
  • How do I feel about my performance as a leader today?
  • What exciting thing have I learned about that’s going on in the world this week?
  • What has contributed to my happiness (or the happiness of my team) this week?

Consider Incorporating Artwork to Your Daily Reflection Time

Some leaders find that incorporating reflection on works of art during their daily journal-writing time helps get them into the right headspace to consider the day and the week in perspective. In fact, some journals for writing come with pictures of artwork that you can reflect upon. But you can go elsewhere for your artistic inspiration too. A favorite website filled with works of art in top museums can help you find material for reflection, as can books or sites that feature spectacular architecture, or even natural beauty.

Interestingly, this is true even if you work in a technical field. A study from 2001 found that doctors in training developed better diagnostic skills after taking an art appreciation course. Art helps us appreciate complexity and the validity of alternating viewpoints, and it can help us choose a train of thought to pursue when writing in our journals.

As a leadership coach, I want my clients to engage in activities that will make them better leaders, better businesspeople, and better human beings. Keeping a journal is just one way that leaders can regain perspective, correct course, and prepare themselves to excel again tomorrow. I would be delighted for you to check out my blog, as well as my speaking and training services. Leadership is fed by numerous sources just as a mighty river is fed by many smaller streams. My goal is to help leaders like you understand and shape their leadership abilities for the benefit of themselves and their organizations.

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