On Leadership Journaling

Black woman writing in a diary on a wooden desk.
Journaling can be a great practice for mindful entrepreneurs.

In today’s digital world, there’s one analog practice I cherish. Journaling.

Now to be fair, you can journal on your phone, tablet or computer, but I’ve long found that my best thinking comes when I make time to put pen to paper. This age-old practice isn’t just for personal insights and daily documentation. It’s also a great tool for leadership growth as well.

On first thought, it may seem counter-intuitive to suggest leaders find time to journal, of all things. The business climate changes day by day and there’s pressure from all directions – superiors, stockholders, customers. You have to be ready, agile, quick. But you also have to be visionary, innovate, creative and smart. And that’s where journaling comes in.

Nancy Adler, an expert in arts-inspired leadership, writes:

Extraordinary leadership requires seeing before others see, understanding before others understand, and acting before others act.”

Wise leadership requires careful reflection of evolving ideas and feelings that may be forgotten from one day to the next. Mental processing is difficult enough without the added distractions from push notifications, information overload and more. Let’s face it – deep thinking seems impossible when you can barely keep up with email!

But we encourage leaders to try journaling as a way to retell, review and understand the events of the day. Just the act of recording what happened and what you thought, felt, or noticed will give you perspective over time.

Journaling allows you a moment of quiet honesty in a busy life. You’re not sharing your notes with direct reports, peers, or anyone else. You’re writing for you, so you can tell the truth as you know it. Document ideas you want to revisit, research or refine. Acknowledge, observe and work through feelings, gut reactions, and hunches.

Not only does journaling prevent your important mental notes from being lost, but it also improves your thinking. Research funded by the National Institute of Mental Health found that settled brains are better at processing and problem solving. Journaling quiets the mind so you can think more clearly in the moment. I sometimes refer to it as meditation by writing.

Take a few minutes to document and digest your day.

Additionally, research sponsored by the National Institute of Health found that replaying experiences in our minds is a great tool for learning. As you relive thoughts and feelings while journaling, you reflect on them. Such reflection is a key step in increasing self-awareness, as well as better understanding the world around you.

Dan Ciampa, author of Right From the Start: Taking Charge In a New Leadership Role (Harvard Business Review Press, 1999), believes journaling what’s working and what’s not throughout the day is great for learing. There are lessons in your successes and mistakes, and with a little practice and diligence, you can discern when and how to implement positive changes. 

Balance Begins in the Brain

I’m busy. And even though you’re reading this, you’re probably busy. Who isn’t? But in all that busyness, are you able to be about your business? In other words:

  • Are you productive?
  • Are your important tasks prioritized?
  • Is your thinking clear and sustained?

There’s a lot of emphasis on work/life balance, how we spend so much time at work or doing work-related tasks, it bleeds into our personal lives. We’re overwhelmed, and out of balance. But work/life balance isn’t the only scale that matters. 

Picture of a plate with icons representing each element of the healthy mind platter.

Have you stopped to consider the role of cognitive balance? When I say cognitive balance, I mean the things that help your brain function more optimally. If your thinking is clear, crisp and sustained, perhaps you can more effectively prioritize your tasks – something that requires a lot of mental energy. And if your tasks are better prioritized, perhaps you can be more productive. And if you’re more productive – making good use of your time – perhaps you have more time for that elusive thing called real life.

So how do you start to approach cognitive balance? How can we balance activities to benefit our brain and ultimately, lead more fulfilling lives? Drs. David Rock and Dan Siegel developed the concept of the Healthy Mind Platter™. According to them, a healthy mental diet includes:

  • Sleep time – Time spent sleeping. No really. Sleeping.
  • Physical time – Getting the blood flowing is great for your brain.
  • Focus time – Sustained attention on one task. No multi-tasking or constant email checking.
  • Connecting time – Connecting with other humans or with nature.
  • Play time – It’s not just for kiddos. You need it, too. Be social, and have fun.
  • Down time – Netflix and chill. Or something like that.
  • Time in – Mindfulness. Be here now.

How balanced is your mental diet? What will you tweak or try?

Close the Gap

I love a good beginning.

As far as I’m concerned, any reason is a great reason to start. Any time is a wonderful time.

Today is the first day of the year, the first day of the week and the first day of the month, but none of that really matters.

The important part is, today is the day I’m ready to begin.

It seems I spent most of 2017 dormant. I basically stopped blogging and limited my tweets to greetings and #templebuilding updates. But the truth is, I helped my cousin/big sister land our first federal contract. We also delivered two excellent projects for a corporate client (we’ll finish one last one this month).

The thing I’m most proud of is a creative victory. I took a short story I wrote years ago and transformed it into a chapter book manuscript. I love my book, AMANDA AND MISSY, and I’m looking to get it traditionally published.

I’ve gotten some encouraging passes (nos) from agents, so we’ll see if it finds a home in 2018. It won’t be my best book or my last, and it isn’t the book I wanted to write last year, but I needed to start somewhere to begin closing the gap.

Ira Glass refers to the gap between your taste and your creative ability when you’re first starting out. Some of your early pieces might anywhere from horrible to even good, but they may not live up to your own standards of excellence. Not due to self-disparagement, but because of an honest assessment of where you are vs. where you’d like to be.

The only way to bridge this gap is by doing the work. Learning, trying, producing. There’s no magic formula, there is only doing. And that’s what I’m about in 2018.

I’m actually about many things this year. I’m returning to some old tried and true productivity strategies and trying out a couple of new ones. I’ll tell you more about those, as well as my three mottoes for the winter quarter in future posts.

What are you about this year? What will you accomplish this year? What’s the work you have in store?

Begin Again

Time certainly does march on. Who knew nearly a year had passed since I last updated this blog? Even then it was more of an announcement than one of my regular posts. I suppose we all do that though – go through quiet spells.

In recent weeks I’ve come to understand that I’ve been quiet in a lot of areas of my life, not just social media. I’ve also experienced bouts of anxiety, which is loud in my head and in my body, but quiet on the outside.

I’ve said no. A lot.

I’ve ignored people. Often.

I needed this time to myself. But like everything else, quiet was a season. And now I’m saying yes more often. And responding more often. And maybe even blogging more often, too.

Today is a new moon. I am affirming my commitment to be gentle with myself. To take baby steps and celebrate all wins. What about you? What are your intentions? What are you starting? Ending? Affirming?

On Clearing Space and Creating Victory

Over on PhYINomenal, Sojo’s self care focus for November is Elimination – time to release, remove, denounce, deny and let go. It’s a great time to release that which no longer serves you and invite in affirming energy, new processes, and transformative experiences.

If you’ve never checked out her site, today’s a great day to do it. Get the self care calendar for November and see what simple things you can do to release the deadweight and bring new life.

Over the years I’ve found myself in that place many times. One time in particular, I was stuck, stagnant and depleted. I needed something, anything, that could help me recharge my life and get inspired again.

I finally realized that I didn’t need to look outside myself for the answers. With patience and intention I could create them for myself. And I did. I spent several weeks enacting some simple practices, not unlike the suggestions Sojo recommends each month. And in short order, I found my joy once again.

I wrote about that experience shortly after it happened. I shared my story and my steps once or twice and then forgot about it. Earlier this year I sat down to dish with Sojo about templebuilding (listen here!), and it all came back to me. I even found the guide I drafted years ago and decided I’d put it out in the world. Eventually.

As it turns out, now is the time! I tried to convince myself to wait until next year, or next month, or next season. Later. But it’s always later. So if there’s one thing I’m working to release this month, it’s Resistance and his twin sister, Procrastination.

As a 42-year old woman who has lost both parents (momma 13 years ago and daddy 10 years next month), I know for sure that time waits for no one and tomorrow is not promised.

I’m not expecting my work to reach a million people, but I do hope it can create value in the life of at least one. If you’re looking to revive your inner beauty, and do it your own way, consider using my guide as companion in your walk. It’s available here.

Let me know how you tap into your creativity and create your next victory.

A baseline and a stretch

A PR! Or...
A PR! Or…

It was supposed to be an easy run. That’s runnerspeak for conversation pace, or kind of slow.  As in taking it easy.

We began that way, running a 12-minute mile to start. We sped up as we ran, and actually I started to tire out. We walked in a couple of places near the end.

With all of that, I still ended up running a PR!

Well, sort of.

I’ve only completed a handful of runs at 10k (6.2 miles) or longer. The first time was November 2013. I didn’t run that distance again until this year.

RunKeeper has my data since 2011. It  knows the truth – my 2013 run was faster. Garmin only has data since February 2016, so today’s run is the fastest it knows.

That said, today’s run was still a milestone. It serves as a great baseline for my training program. My goal is to run 10k in less than an hour. With 10-weeks left to train, I’m aiming to cut a solid 8 minutes off my current 10k pace. It feels doable, although a stretch. And that’s the reason I chose this goal in the first place.

My training runs have all gone according to plan, so I’ll trust the process and keep on keeping on.

New blues in the Big Peach

IMG_9034I journaled in Aspen, but chose not blog. In fact, I only touched my computer once during the trip. I do want to recap my adventures here, especially my new appreciation for theoretical physics and cosmology. But today, I’ll stick to running.

Typically, I run four days a week: Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday and Sunday. Because I traveled last Sunday, I ran my seven miles on Saturday instead.

Due to altitude and conference proceedings, I didn’t expect to run much in Aspen. I did attempt one run, and as luck would have it, the trail from my hotel was uphill.

It took a lot of work to eek out 1.5 miles, but I was proud by the end!

I returned home late Thursday, and Friday I visited a local running store, The Big Peach. I purchased a new pair of running shoes. They’re beautiful, I must say. My “old pinks” were Pegasus 29 and the “new blues” are Pegasus 33. They’ve radically changed the shoe, and it’s comfy, lightweight and responsive. I’ve seen these words in shoe reviews, but had no idea what they meant in practical terms. At the Big Peach, I ran outdoors in a couple of brands, and the words sprang to life.

Striding.
Striding.

Although these feel great (!) I’m concerned the responsive feeling may mean I don’t have enough support for the 8, 9 and 10 milers coming up in a few weeks. I won’t know until I put in the miles… I do know I’m retiring my “almost new” Brooks Launch. Hopefully they’ll find a loving home.

Today I picked up the miles I left behind last Saturday. Blue came with, and we ran three miles and three strides. Tomorrow we’ll do an easy six-miler, and restart my Sub 60 plan next week.

#Sub60 10k: Seven and long

Today’s 7-miler had a twist. Last week’s goal was simply to run 7 miles at a steady pace. Ha. Simply. That was just my third time at that distance…

Today’s work was quite a bit more challenging. The first three miles were steady (11:00-11:45 pace), the next three were fast (10:15-10:35), and one more mile at steady/cool down pace. It kicked my ass, but I made it. Better than made it. Blue and I ran negative splits for the six miles, even though I had to walk a few seconds just before mile six.

We stopped during the last mile to chit chat with some friends at a water station (shout out to North GA Running!) and then brought it in for the finish. Last week I said I wouldn’t try for another personal long; I’ve hit the same “long” twice now at 7.27, and a few weeks from now the plan requires 8! But after the water break, I had a little (just a little) energy left in the tank. So we squeezed out a few more steps and hit 7.35!

First 7-miler, Jan 2016. Personal long at 7.35, June 2016. Same finish line, but different route.
First 7-miler, Jan 2016. Personal long at 7.35, June 2016. Same finish line, but different route.

To avoid injury, we dial back the mileage the next couple of weeks, and my first 8-miler is scheduled for July 10, if everything goes as planned. So stayed tuned for my new PR then.

I haven’t had time to soak in a salt bath, and I think that’s the key to last week’s quick recovery. I plan to remedy that sometime later this evening. Sometime before I pack.

Tomorrow morning I’m Aspen-bound!

At the track

Speedwork at the track this morning! I ran:

  • 1 mile warmup
  • 5 min @ 9:34-9:45 pace then 2 min slow
    • ^^repeat 4 times
  • 1 mile cool down
Alysia Montaño

That’s 4.65 in the books. It took effort, yet I felt strong throughout. My legs, a little fatigued from strides on Tuesday and strength training yesterday, held up with no problem.

I haven’t gone shoe shopping yet, so I’ve made due rotating my old pairs. I have another long run coming up soon. In fact, it’s supposed to be Sunday, but I’m flying to Colorado for the week. I’ll skip the official Saturday workout and do Sunday’s 7-miler instead. Based on my travel schedule I may basically skip one whole week of my plan, or at least delay it. Having been to Aspen before, I know it takes a few days to get used to the elevation, making exercise of any type very difficult.

I’ll play it by ear (or breath) and look for blogs about my adventures there.