The Surprising Tool This Former CEO Says Is Key To Success

Anyone can take advantage of this.

Photo by Olu Eletu on Unsplash

In a recent Harvard Business Review article, corporate advisor and former CEO Dan Ciampa argues that people in senior positions at work need to adopt a surprising business practice: journaling.

According to Ciampa, very few leaders use journaling as a tool for reflection and learning, something he chalks up to the time commitment and the whole revisiting-unpleasant-events aspect of it.

But to handle the challenges that come with a leadership position, including the break-neck speed at which many companies move, Ciampa writes that making time for structured reflection is essential, as it can help you better tackle problems both big and small.

We’ve written about the importance of taking a pause for your workplace well-being before, but journaling has it’s own specific benefits: it gives you a record of what happened but also a way to reflect on how you responded to events on an emotional level, he writes. This sort of reflection can help inform future decisions: “Replaying events in our brain is essential to learning,” Ciampa writes in HBR, noting that when we take the time to rehash big events, we get a better sense of the lessons we can learn from them.

How you journal is up to you, but Ciampa suggests a few tips to help reap the most benefits. First, write down the outcome of an event—the “headline that best captures the major result.” Then list the steps leading up to that outcome and think about “the emotions that affected decision making and why they flared,” Ciampa explains. Finally, identify what the takeaway is and outline what changes you could make to improve the process the next time around.

Here’s the most important tip though: your journaling has to be analog. Ciampa writes that people often turn to digital journals as a way to save time (thinking that typing is faster than writing), but that defeats the purpose: “The point of keeping a journal is not efficiency but to reflect and slow things down so that learning is maximized,” he writes. Science is on his side. This NPR article from last year points to a study published in Psychological Science that found students using computers to take notes often just wrote down exactly what they heard, while students who hand-wrote notes gave more thought to what they were writing down. That “extra processing of the material that they were doing benefitted them,” co-author Pam A. Mueller, a graduate associate at Princeton University, told NPR.

Ciampa was writing specifically for people in leadership positions, but his call for self reflection is something we can all benefit from, no matter where we fall in the org chart.

Read more on HBR.

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