When I started my career just 20 years ago, we still used beepers and only the highest executives had email accounts. Today’s leaders can’t even fathom the agonizingly slow methods of communication that were the best available just a few decades ago. Smartphones give instant access to email, internal social media networks keep employees across geographies in close contact, and texting both colleagues and customers is now normal. Although it has never been measured (nor could it be), advancements in communication technology have saved uncountable hours in getting messages from one person to another. Even the famous efficiency movements owe some of their success to faster, simpler communication.
Of course, this transformational change comes with drawbacks. Constant access to email has blurred the boundaries between work and home, leading to burnout. The bravery known as “keyboard courage” has led to a proliferation of gossip and backbiting and has deteriorated more than one business relationship. And we’ve all known someone who shouldn’t have hit “Reply All”.
A drawback that is rarely discussed, however, is how rapid communication has deprived leaders of the opportunity for reflection. When letters and fax machines were the norm, more thought could go into the message because no one expected it quickly. Today, text messages demand an instant reply (especially if you have your read receipts on!) and it’s considered poor form to leave emails unanswered for more than a day or so. By communicating with others so quickly and constantly, leaders have largely lost their ability to effectively communicate with themselves.
With all the noise of constant information and opinion, it’s more important than ever for those in leadership positions to regularly take time to reflect and ponder. With so many stakeholders to keep happy it can be difficult for a leader even to know how they feel about an issue or gain clarity on a decision or situation that’s troubling them. It can be overwhelming to try to unravel everything in your own mind.
The Solution: Journaling
The solution is deceptively simple: journaling. Too often envisioned as a grade-school girl’s hobby involving a bright pink diary with an easily broken lock (mine was Lisa Frank, but that’s beside the point), journaling is in fact a very powerful tool for any person at any stage of life. Not convinced? Here are just a few of the benefits of journaling:
- It’s safe. Unlike a colleague, spouse, or friend, your journal has no opinion and no judgment. It’s not a stakeholder. It won’t think you’re stupid, selfish, or irresponsible. Even the most supportive and well-meaning people have biases and opinions that make it difficult to be completely vulnerable. Your journal is there for you.
- It’s simple. No degrees, certifications, or coding skills are required. If you have a notebook and you’re functionally literate, you’re all set.
- It’s sustainable. It won’t go out of business, start charging for subscriptions or sell out to Meta.
- It continues to serve. Unlike a meeting with a therapist or good advice from a boss, you can refer to your journal at any point in the future.
While an electronic journal is better than no journal at all, I strongly recommend the good old-fashioned pen-and-paper version for a couple of reasons. First, electronic journals can be hacked. I’m grateful to this day that the secrets I divulged in my Top Secret Diary in high school can never be leaked on social media. Second, and most importantly, most people type so quickly that they’d lose some of the benefits of journaling. When your mind moves faster than your pen does, it forces you to slow down and really think about what you’re writing. This is when you’ll be rewarded with ideas and moments of clarity that the frenzied pace of life simply won’t afford you.
Give it a try. Challenge yourself to something really attainable like writing one sentence per day. I promise you’ll improve your self-awareness, gain clarity and confidence in your decisions, and feel the peace that comes from unburdening yourself in a judgment-free environment.