What Every Creative Should Know About Journaling

Journaling is a useful practice for writers, artists, musicians and anyone engaged in creative work.

Hi there,

In this edition, I’m focusing on one of my preferred approaches for finding ideas and avoiding creative burnout–journal writing. I’ve been keeping journals on and off for over 15 years. Even if you’re not a writer, it’s an approach I recommend for reflecting on your work. Plus, it’s cheaper than therapy!

You can read about my approach in 2,000+ word guide I wrote for Better Humans.

I also recently interviewed an entrepreneur who’s built a business around journaling. He details his approach below.

Stay focused,


The Restorative Power of Journaling

Journal writing encourages capturing ideas and self-reflection, both key skills for creatives. It's also a useful skill for entrepreneurs and busy executives, as it fosters clear thinking. 

For example, an entrepreneur running a new business probably has dozens of goals they'd like their business to achieve this quarter, never mind this year. They want to launch a product, recruit an executive assistant, write a book, create a new sales funnel, roll out a new approach to customer service and so on. 

Focusing on multiple goals will dilute the company's resources and consume more time than the entrepreneur can spend. It's a recipe for burnout. Instead, he or she could write a brief about possible goals and reflect on each one over the course of several days. 

This reflective process should help them articulate what goals they want to focus on for the coming quarter and why. A busy entrepreneur or executive could use a similar process to decide on their key priorities for the week or month ahead. They simply need to ask themselves, "What are my top three priorities this week?" and write a short entry asking that question.

How To Use Journaling for Work

Michal Korzonek is the cofounder of Journal Smarter. Living in the U.K. with his partner and cofounder Silvia Barros Bastos, he teaches clients and students how to use journaling for cultivating habits and focusing on their goals. 

First, each entry is for you and you alone. Second, you can always include visual elements as part of an entry. An entrepreneur could sketch out a sales funnel or mind map the key elements of their next sales page, for example.

"I can't really draw well, but I'm always very attracted to different kinds of flow charts, graphs and basically visual representation of data, and I think my mind works a bit in that way," he says.

Korzonek teaches students how to use a minimalist journaling system for tracking cornerstone habits. The student starts by answering one question: What is the one habit that I can start doing tomorrow that would be the most effective first step towards my goal?

If the goal is running a marathon, the aspiring athlete could decide to run two miles on Monday and work toward a habit of running four times a week. If the goal is selling more products, the procrastinating sales executive could cultivate a habit of placing five sales calls before coffee each morning.

With a habit in mind, the student fills a page of their journal with squares, each one representing a single day. He or she picks a symbol for each habit (like a cross or circle) and fills the square with these symbols when complete. This type of journal offers a visual means of tracking progress toward a goal each week, month or quarter.

"You can also track more intangible things that happen in your life. For example, key events, how you feel, your productivity levels, your relationships, your sex life, maybe your insights," he says.

Famous journal keepers include inventor Leonardo da Vinci, Mexican painter Frida Kahlo and entrepreneur Benjamin Franklin. Their experiences demonstrate just how versatile journaling is and how almost anyone can benefit from this practice.

"Benjamin Franklin is amazing," says Korzonek. "It's quite impressive that he managed to build his life around very powerful principles that he want[ed] to live his life by, then he tracked how he's doing."

What I’m Reading

Indistractable by Nir Eyal (I’m interviewing Nir soon…)

It’s Time to Take Down the Mona Lisa

Why do you write?

What I’m Writing

What does it mean to be creative?

The Two Things Entrepreneurs Should Do Every Day

A Thought-Provoking Quote

People are frugal in guarding their personal property; but as soon as it comes to squandering time, they are most wasteful of the one thing in which it is right to be stingy. – Seneca

How Cannabis Helped This Entrepreneur Conquer Pain And Start His Business

Martial arts, cannabis and entrepreneurship make for curious bedfellows unless you're Canadian entrepreneur Michael Yorke.

When Michael Yorke was twenty, he developed a limp, pain in his left knee and a skin condition. After he was diagnosed with the genetic disease psoriatic arthritis, Yorke was prescribed opioids alongside strong synthetic opioids like Oxycontin and was bedridden for six months. Unable to sleep, struggling from stomach pains and worried about the addictive nature of Oxycontin, Yorke stopped taking his prescribed medications.

"I actually went through withdrawal. I threw up for about three or four days. I felt sick," he says. 

Months after his diagnosis, Yorke began smoking cannabis and marijuana, which was more socially acceptable in Canada. Today, he credits both with relieving his psoriatic arthritis symptoms.

"[It helps with].. being able to get up and walk and not have pain all throughout my body, being able to sit for longer periods of time when I have issues with my back. I find [cannabis] light years better than anything else," he says.

Yorke, who worked as a day trader and in the mining industry, eventually turned his experiences with cannabis into Crop Infrastructure Corp in 2011. 

This Vancouver-based company focuses on investments and infrastructure in the cannabis crop production sector. It also operates six production facilities in Washington, California, Nevada and Oklahoma. 

Challenge Yourself

Although cannabis sparked his business idea, Yorke cites martial arts as teaching him how to run Crop Infrastructure Corp. Yorke, 37, is an instructor in  Capoeira, a Brazilian form of martial arts, and has practiced for over twenty years. 

"Martial arts, it's a challenge with yourself. You [are] always having to fight yourself to go to class, to push yourself in class, to go a little bit harder," he says. "My discipline, my persistence, my drive and sort of the formation of my character all comes from [Capoeira]."When Yorke began practicing this sport, he studied advanced athletes performing backflips. To learn this skill, he began breaking down this complex movement into a series of smaller milestones.

"I looked at [the backflip] and was like. ‘What do I have to learn to be able to do that?’," he says. "I need to get stronger. I need to get more flexible. I need to learn these types of movement patterns, and then I need to put those together."

Yorke recommends a similar approach in business. Aspiring leaders should break down complex business projects like raising capital or establishing a premises, into smaller milestones too.

"It's just about believing in yourself, creating a plan, following that plan. But also being able to pivot and move quickly if an input changes," he says.

Successful martial artists often perform from a place of balance rather than drawing on intense emotion. This calm mindset is useful for reaching important business decisions. 

"React from a neutral position and get all the facts straight," Yorke says. "It's not about functioning from a place of emotion."

A CEO serves as the link between the public and his or her business. This role puts Yorke in an interesting position because he's well-known in the Capoeira community as an instructor.

"I had some hesitation moving forward with Crop Infrastructure Corp. at the beginning, being the CEO. There's a lot of different cultures, a lot of stigma. And I was fearful of it," he says. 

"I do believe in [cannabis] because of what I've personally seen. I honestly feel sad that there are people that have that mentality where they're told that something is bad. So they just blindly believe it without doing any kind of research." 

Today, Yorke balances instructing Capoeira students with raising capital and running his business. "Martial arts is my passion. It's kind of the way the times are now. You need two careers," he says.

What I’m Reading

Inside the mind of New York City Marathon champ Mary Keitany

No-one understood our idea, but now it's worth over $1bn

David Milch’s Third Act

What I’m Writing

What are some good things to do every day?

No, You Shouldn't Make Decisions While Tired. Here's Why.

Jeff Bezos Says Successful People Make These Two Types of Decisions

Both involve mastering the art of decision making.

In a 2015 letter to shareholders, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos proposed two types of decisions entrepreneurs and executives regularly face.

A Type 1 decision represents a door you walk through and can’t go back, such as quitting a well-paying job to focus on your side-hustle full time. 

In Amazon's case, its web services business was a risky gamble that's worth more than $190 billion today.

“These decisions must be made methodically, carefully, slowly, with great deliberation and consultation,” Bezos wrote.

A Type 2 decision represents a reversible choice by an individual or smaller groups, for example, testing a new product with a group of beta customers or the layout of a section on the Amazon store. 

Jeff Bezos via Seattle City Council from Seattle [CC BY 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)]

How To Make Optimal Decisions

Ideally, spend up to 10% of your work week on Type 1 decisions. These are draining and time-consuming, but they demand your attention. 

Don’t make Type 1 decisions while feeling angry, hungry, lonely or because you’re tired of the process. For example, it’s probably not a good idea to quit your job because you feel despondent on a Monday morning.

Make Type 2 decisions relatively quickly by batching them, delegating to a team member or outsourcing to a contractor.

Again, rather than letting emotions overwhelm you, learn what you can about the problem. 

You can also triangulate a big decision by consulting other experts with contrasting views (what Ray Dalio does). 

Plan For Unexpected Consequences

Many of your decisions will have unexpected consequences. 

Perhaps you create a product customers love only to find you must spend hours fulfilling orders and providing technical support.

These unexpected consequences often represent Type 2 decisions that you manage through delegating, outsourcing or reviewing business processes.

“If you’ve made a suboptimal Type 2 decision, you don’t have to live with the consequences for that long. You can reopen the door and go back through. Type 2 decisions can and should be made quickly by high judgment individuals or small groups,” Bezos wrote.

For example, a new entrepreneur considering an email service provider will weigh carefully the costs of this software. 

This choice affects their cash flow noticeably, and theentrepreneur will also have to decide on a solution that's easy for them to use. So he or she might spend several hours reading reviews and testing what’s on the market.

A more established entrepreneur might be happy for a team member to recommend several solutions before selecting one. Then he or she will evaluate the total cost and consider how long training others to use this new software takes. 

Take Responsible Risks With Your Choices

The biggest returns sometimes come from decisions that go against accepted wisdom. 

Why would readers want to consume books on a digital device when they can buy a paperback? 

Why would an e-commerce store get into the cloud-hosting and services business?

Will people really trust drones to deliver their everyday purchases?

Bezos wrote, “Given a 10% chance of a 100-times payoff, you should take that bet every time.”

Plan For Failures

Amazon has taken many bets over the years. Some, like the Kindle and its cloud services business, paid off.

Others, like the Amazon Webstore (a Shopify competitor) and Amazon Fire Phone were expensive flops, with the latter costing the company more than $170 million. 

Bezos believes these types of failures are part of the job. 

He said,

You’re still going to be wrong nine times out of ten. In business, every once in a while, when you step up to the plate, you can score 1,000 runs. This long-tailed distribution of returns is why it’s important to be bold. Big winners pay for the many previous experiments.”

After all, entrepreneurs or executives who embrace their choices learn far more than the people who run away.

What I’m Reading

Psychology Explains How to Rewire Your Brain to Stop Procrastination

A 60,000-year-old cure for depression

How David Swensen Made Yale Fabulously Rich

Prepare for the Next Recession Using This Magician’s Secret

It's inevitable. So get ready.

I recently interviewed award-winning magician Joshua Jay for a podcast and for Forbes. I was struck by how creative magic really is… and how top magicians combine it with business. - Stay focused, Bryan

When will the next recession happen?

Many economic commentators are already predicting a crash point based on textbook leading indicators like the declining gross domestic product (GDP) growth rate of key economies such as the United States. 

Award-winning magician, author and Vanishing Inc. Magic cofounder Joshua Jay agrees a recession is inevitable, although he looks elsewhere for proof. In 2009, he founded retail business Vanishing Inc. Magic with friend, and fellow magician, Andi Gladwin. Today, it's one of the largest online magic stores in the United States. 

"The things I observe happening now are things that happened before the last recession," says Jay, who has performed in over 100 countries and holds a Guinness World Record for card tricks.

During prosperous periods, a large corporation might spend up to $100 thousand on a lavish holiday party with ice sculptures and entertainment such as magicians. That changes when the company faces uncertain economic conditions.

"Now the company event planners have to tell me as a magician, 'I'm sorry we can't have you this year,’ or, ‘Last year we had you do two shows and walk-around magic. This year, we only need you to do walk-around magic,'" he says.

"Secondly, we have  seen a slowdown in magic sales because, for most of the amateurs and hobbyists that make up a large portion of the magic community, magic is purchased with disposable income.

“So we aren't seeing a total overall slowdown in numbers, but we're seeing ramped-up marketing efforts result in the same sales numbers. And to me, that spells, not doom, but certainly a potential slowdown."

How To Prepare for the Recession

Jay worked through the 2008 recession by growing multiple areas of his business, including book sales and his retail business. He has presented lectures and keynote presentations in countries around the world, written several popular books, including Magic: The Complete Course, and even has his own residency show in New York City called Six Impossible Things.

"I had outlets that were under my control," he says about the recession of 2008. "The guys that really suffered in the last recession were the guys that relied on calls from clients. They relied on work to come into their phone and their inbox, and those people really suffered because those things dried up."

Prepare For The Crash Through Diversification

It's easier than ever for professionals to diversify their income streams. Jay advises entrepreneurs to find outlets of work under their control and grow them now, before the next recession arrives.

"I went out and contacted [magicians in] Dublin and Belfast and said, 'Hey, I'm going to be in your area. I'm going to do a magic lecture. Let's negotiate a price, and let's put a tour together.' I'm able to say, 'Let's put out magic and market it to magicians and have them come to us.'"

A nonfiction author, for example, could offer a high-end speaking package complementing one of their books. A musician could teach music online alongside performing and streaming their materials. A corporate executive could spend five or ten hours a week building a side hustle with the help of freelancers and outsourcers.

An executive might find this approach easier than a creative. The latter often rails against business, believing it detracts from the quality of their books, music or art. Jay finds time for both, although he admits it's challenging.

"They always say, 'It's a business. It's show business,'” he says. "As my career grows and expands, I am more and more needed on the business side of things, but I am not always comfortable in that role.”

He advocates hard work, finding a team and blocking out time for creative projects.

"What I want to be doing is writing, creating, testing, performing," he says. "There just comes a certain point when I know my inbox is exploding. I know that our team, which is about 12 people, are in need of me for different things, but I will just literally turn it off and go, ‘I've got to spend two hours rehearsing, or building or developing.’"

What I’m Reading

Tricky: ‘I’ve lost people before and bounced back. This is different’

Hillary Allen: How American skyrunner returned to the race that almost killed her

Elton John: ‘George Michael was too stubborn to get sober’

Jeff Pike, Texas’s Own Tony Soprano

Why 90 Days Is The Ultimate Productivity Hack

It's exactly how long you need for a big creative project.

Every quarter, publicly listed companies like Apple, Microsoft and Pinterest reveal their earnings and targets for the coming 90 days. They report to shareholders, analysts and the media about their targets, revenue projections and areas of focus. 

A quarter, or 90 days, serves as a constraint that forces companies to review their progress and adjust the direction of the company, much like a ship captain checking his or her route. 

For example, during its last revenue report, Pinterest CEO Ben Silbermann explained his company is developing tools for small businesses that want to advertise on this network. 

The constraint of 90 days affects executives at all levels. Employees must report on their progress to managers and other team members and adjust their goals if off course.

Apply The Constraint Of 90 Days In Your Work

Ninety days is a useful constraint for personal productivity and creative work too. First, consider learning a new work skill, like coding or design. Unless you're getting paid for it and have lots of time, set aside at least 30 minutes each morning or evening to study lesson materials and practice this skill. 

That's just enough time to work through several lessons on a site like LinkedIn Learning or read a chapter or two from a relevant book. But it's not so much time that learning impedes the rest of your day.

You might find it difficult to set aside 30 minutes each morning for the first few weeks. However, if you do this every day for a quarter, you'll have spent up to 45 hours learning a new skill. That's more than enough time to acquire the basics. 

What's more, according to researchers, 90 days is also arguably ideal for forming or breaking a new habit. In other words, you can learn the basics of a skill or form a productive habit in a season.

Next, consider a big creative project like writing a book. Louise Dean is a Man Booker-nominated novelist and the author of four published works. Her most recent novel, The Old Romantic, was selected as an Oprah Book of the Week.

She teaches many aspiring writers how to pen their first novel, a project that many creatives procrastinate about for years. According to Dean, 90 days is the perfect amount of time for writing a painful first draft.

"Ninety days is lovely because you're in a season," she says. "Atmospherically, you're writing in the same place with the same sort of lighting and feeling."

"The worst thing a writer can do...is binge writing. You get a week or a weekend, and you write thousands of words, and then you don't write for weeks. Novels don't happen that way. They can't,"Dean says.

At the end of the quarter, much like the CEO of a publicly listed company, review what worked, didn't work and what you're going to focus on next. You could reflect in a personal journal or blog post or simply document some relevant personal metrics on a spreadsheet.

If you've just learned the basics of a new skill, don't stop now. Set a new challenge that builds on what you acquired or pick a complementary area of study. An aspiring designer, for example, could challenge themselves with creating a logo. 

Alternatively, if you achieved a creative milestone, you could decide to edit and rewrite that first draft during the coming quarter and set a deadline for sending it to an editor or agent.

It doesn't matter if you're the CEO of a Fortune 500 company or Me Inc. The constraint of 90 days will help you break a big meaty goal down into something digestible. 

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