- record of what happened
- how we reacted emotionally
- mental rehearsal
- think through (big-bet) decisions
- as soon as possible after [event/ whatever] to learn from
- begin with primary outcome
- essential reason + (5) why(s)
- recall emotions that affected
- what can you learn
- what can you do differently
- best with pen and paper
For leaders assuming the CEO title for the first time, taking time to learn and think translates into early successes. But the problem is there’s little time to do either. Information comes at them more quickly, more people than ever before demand their time, and they’re told that the myriad decisions piled in front of them are all important.
any new leader must manage intense exposure (as it sinks in that top leaders have few places to escape to) and unrealistic expectations (of both self and others).
There is nothing new leaders can do to avoid these problems completely. All they can control is how they react to them. Because we tend to make mistakes when things speed up, especially when in unfamiliar territory, it can make all the difference to find ways to slow things down.
The best thinking comes from structured reflection — and the best way to do that is keeping a personal journal.
There’s strong evidence that replaying events in our brain is essential to learning. While the brain records and holds what takes place in the moment, the learning from what one has gone through — that is, determining what is important and what lessons should be learned — happens after the fact during periods of quiet reflection.
Journal entries should provide not only a record of what happened but how we reacted emotionally; writing it down brings a certain clarity that puts things in perspective. In other cases, it’s a form of mental rehearsal to prepare for particularly sensitive issues where there’s no one to talk with but yourself. Journals can also be the best way to think through big-bet decisions and test one’s logic.
While personality, style, and situation cause different approaches, some guidelines have proven useful for the best results. Notes should be made as soon as possible after an event from which one wants to learn—ideally the same day. Waiting more than 24 hours seems to sacrifice specificity about details that made the most difference and why they happened.
An entry should begin with the primary outcome — the headline that best captures the major result. Then, list the essential reason for that outcome; an always-subtle root cause made apparent by asking “why?” five times to peel back each layer, revealing what came before. …. Third, recall the emotions that affected decision making and why they flared. Last, identify what you can learn from the whole experience and what you can do differently next time.
…. the point of keeping a journal is not efficiency but to reflect and slow things down so that learning is maximized. For that purpose, handwriting may work better. The novelist Paul Theroux has said that he writes long-hand because, “The speed with which I write with a pen seems to be the speed with which my imagination finds the best… words.” He noted a 2011 Newsweek article that said, “Brain scans show that handwriting engages more sections of the brain than typing [and] it’s easier to remember something once you’ve written it down on paper.”