Give your business an edge

How to Journal for Business Success: The Ultimate Guide

Techniques that power-up your business strategy

Jessica Barnaby
Aug 22, 2019 · 15 min read
Photo by Cathryn Lavery on Unsplash

I killed another ghost last week.

I did it with a notebook and pen, and the deed was done in half an hour.

A business journal is one of the most powerful resources in your business toolkit:

  • It tackles self-sabotage, procrastination, and ghosts taking over your mind

You’re about to find out:

  • Why your business needs a journal

1) The Dance of Strategy Inside Your Business Journal

Photo by Hanson Lu on Unsplash

Don’t be intimidated by the J word

A Business Journal is a place to gather your thoughts and prepare a plan of action

  • Yes — Journal is another word for diary

In my article “How to Think Like a Business Owner,” you learned that business is a dance of strategy.

Today, you’ll see that by turning your journal into a dance partner, you don’t have to dance alone.

Your journal becomes your advisor, your therapist, your accountant, your designer, your shopping list, your receptionist, your memoir, and even a guardian of sorts.

Keeping a business journal gives you a roadmap:

  • Visualize your dance: Identify your business vision and the journey ahead

At some point, people will see you scribbling and ask, “How important is journaling?”

You’ll reply:

My journal is housekeeper to my brain, a comforting arm in the night and the general of my army.

2) Q&A: Setting Up Your Business Journal for Success

Image by geralt

There’s a lot of information inside your head that impacts your business in good ways and bad.

Your journal helps you make sense of it and stay focused and on track to progress your business.

Do I have to be a writer in order to keep a journal?

Writing is just a way to get your thoughts down. You don’t need to be a writer or have any special skills. You can write in shorthand, code or bullet-points.

Journaling is more about exploring your mind — so if you’re happy doing that, you’ll enjoy journaling.

What’s the main advantage of writing in my business journal?

Writing makes you slow down. It gives you access to your subconscious and you make connections that you’d normally miss. When you’re using it to analyse, reflect and think things through, the process of journaling becomes a meditation that has a certain strategic advantage.

You also build up a repository of ideas, milestones, hopes and visions to work on when the time is right.

What do I write on the first page of my first-ever business journal?

  1. Today’s date

If you’re not ready to stop, choose an appropriate technique from section 4 and use it to analyse one of the points you’ve identified.


The blank page of a brand new journal can be scary. If you feel like you can’t write, flip the page and start writing on the second page. Come back to the first page and fill it something when the time is right. Or just leave it blank as a symbol of overcoming problems.

How do I decide what to write about the next day? And the day after that?

There are four areas to cover daily.

The order does not matter. Neither does word-count. Sometimes you’ll have a couple of sentences, other times you’ll run into pages. Simply write until you feel you’re done.

The 4 areas to cover daily (the order does not matter):

  • A review of outstanding work


When you journal issues, challenges and worries, it’s a good strategy to journal possible solutions too. It gets your brain used to thinking in a solutions-orientated way, keeps it flexible and protects against the shock factor

How do I keep my momentum going?

It’s a matter of training yourself.

Your enthusiasm makes it easy in the beginning. Build on that by putting in some habits that’ll help you once the novelty’s worn off.

  • Write during a natural break in your day — before bed or last thing before you leave your desk.

3) Select Your Journaling Tools

Photo by Clark Young on Unsplash

When I started, I thought accessing my subconscious should be a dignified and sacred act. I got myself kitted out like some constipated Ernest Hemingway: leatherbound notepad, quill pen, blotting paper. The works.

A week later, my notebook remained pristine. I’d been too scared to mark the pages with the dumbness of my thoughts.

I brought a 5 pack of A4 Black & Red notebooks, a 50 pack of Bic pens and haven’t stopped writing since.

Don’t be a constipated Hemingway. Choose something that makes you want to write (if you’re a leatherbound notepad kind of person, I might have one going spare.)

Paper or Digital?

Ultimately, it doesn’t matter and you should choose whatever makes you want to write. Here are some advantages of each:

  • Paper and pen forces your brain to slow down so you can pull the thoughts out and mull on them

You can even carry a paper journal for the bulk of your work and use apps like Workflowy and Evernote as supplements in different situations.


- If you’re including illustrations and design in your journal, get a paper quality that supports your watercolors and inks. Alternatively, you could paste them in.

- Use a bound book because you’ll want to save your notes. Loose-leaf needs a filing system which adds an unnecessary step.


Photo by Ayo Ogunseinde on Unsplash

Your business journal will be home to half-baked ideas, prototype drawings, stream of consciousness ramblings, lists and questions you’re trying to figure out the answers to.

Password protect your digital journal and keep your paper journal safe at work. Create an environment at home where privacy is respected.

Sometimes, you’ll write something that sounds awful to your own ears, let alone anyone else’s. There’s no need to tempt fate. Write down the edited essence of what you’ve said and use clever squiggles to block out the offending words.

It’s the essence of the message that’s important anyway.

4) Power Techniques to Journal for Business Success

Photo by Thought Catalog on Unsplash

While business journaling is a personal activity, it’s not a random one.

The techniques in this section help you journal in a business-orientated way to:

  • Build trust in your leadership, vision, and ability

The techniques move you away from self-sabotage, helping you design and build the business you want.

Writing with intention helps stop self-sabotage

Journal to Build Trust in Your Leadership, Vision, and Ability

Photo by Dwayne Legrand on Unsplash

Somehow it feels safer to trust the world outside of you, rather than the universe inside you.

But if someone offered you the opportunity to dump all your problems in exchange for taking on theirs, what would you do?

Yep, decline the offer and keep your own.

Here’s the thing.

You already have an implicit trust in yourself.

You might be rough around the edges, feel a little inept at times and be hating that procrastination kills your days.

But deep down, you know your current situation is of your own making, and, even though you have no idea how or when, you know you have an innate capability to pull yourself out.

Just as you are your own problem, you are also your own solution.

Your journal’s going to let you get in touch with your innate capability and start building solutions.

The technique to build self-trust

Identify something that’s really prickling you. The prickling means your subconscious is supremely bugged and wants to work on a solution.

Here are some examples:

  • Why am I so rubbish at getting followers?

Write your question at the top.

Now write what you want: use language that doesn’t blame others and be honest with what you want.


  • Why am I so rubbish at getting followers? I wish I didn’t talk like I have a rod up my u-huh

Then, just write.

Don’t worry if you start shaky, it’ll settle. Be aware that it can take several sessions for the answer to come. Sometimes new questions come up and you have to take a tangent.

Stop when:

  1. You’re tired: start up again when you’re ready

Journal to Remember your Perspective and Purpose

Photo by Gonzalez on Unsplash

There’s so much star-spangled success out there that it’s easy to hitch up to someone else’s cart, even though they’re not going in your direction.


  • Top influencers inspire you to concentrate on your social influence — even though they’re selling $2000 courses to a worldwide audience and you’re an independent boutique serving a local clientele

The way to beat this seduction is to take on the mindset of a window shopper.

Admire what’s around you. Look at their success the way you would look at something over-priced but gorgeous. Pick out the bits that would look nice in your home and see how you can introduce them.

The technique to remember your perspective and purpose

Every so often, write about what’s going on in your business through these filters:

  1. Business perspective: What is this doing for your customers. Remind yourself who they are and what they want.

Ask yourself trigger questions to make sure window shopping isn’t tricking you into buying.


  • You’re chasing followers: Why? Who are they? Why do you need them? What are they going to do for you? What will you do for them? Which demographic? Which platform? How will you fit it in? Is it a good return on your time? Are you doing it because people are saying you should? How will you create a social media strategy that fits your vision and resources?

Journaling for business success involves analysis. You’re challenging yourself to think about the deeper reason, rather than chasing whatever glittery bauble floats by.

Journaling Milestones and Goals

Photo by Heidi Sandstrom. on Unsplash

If you don’t plot your journey, you won’t know when you’ve taken a wrong turn.

If you write your ideas, do-lists, visionary goals and notes on any old bit of paper that happens to be lying around, you already know about the it’s-here-somewhere syndrome.

Symptoms include:

  • Spending hours hunting for that tagline you came up with. Did you write it down or put it in an app? Which app? Was it on this phone or the one that’s gone in for repair?

You want to get organized, but that’s a four-letter word and your mama told you not to swear.

The technique to journal milestones and goals

There’s no easy way to say this.

You’re going to have to pretend you’re a mega-successful entrepreneur who gets to keep his riches only if he submits his receipts to the accountant every night.

In your case, your receipts are all the ideas you’ve had during the day that you haven’t already written in your journal.

That’s it.

Once they’re in your journal, you timeline them. And check in to your progress regularly. Journal successes as well as difficulties.


- Keep your goals and timeline at the back of the journal to make them easy to find.

- Your business journal’s a living book so keep it with you to jot things down when the thought strikes. It’s okay to glue post-its etc in too.

Journaling your goals frees up your headspace. You gain mental clarity to make real progress because everything’s always there when you need it.

Journal to Confront Personal Ghosts and Regain Confidence and Energy

Photo by Christian Lunde on Unsplash

There’s a reason it’s easier to plow headlong into life when we’re young.

We haven’t had time to shackle ourselves down with limiting beliefs, made heavier by past failures.

But you know, so many insecurities and confidence issues get set when we’re young that we grow up thinking they’re part of our personality.

In reality, they’re alien entities placed on us by the events, circumstances, and people from our formative years.

They’re clinging to us but we can get them off.

Journaling for business success here involves letting your notebook be your therapist in a way that stops the issue impacting on your business activities.

The one thing to bear in mind is that if your issue is complex, or stems from trauma, you should work with an actual therapist initially.

The technique to journal your ghosts

Your ghosts don’t know they’re imaginary.

They arose due to a real “thing” and stayed because they thought they had to. Sometimes they stayed because you thought you had to let them.


15-year-old Emma gets “dumped” by her wealthy best friend, Mel. Emma’s shock is overwhelming because they’ve been friends since they were babies! She sees Mel hanging out with the other rich girls and blames the breakdown of the friendship to the wealth divide.

As the years go by, she subconsciously develops “them and us” thoughts about wealth as a way to protect herself from being rejected by money. Her friends, behaviors, and lifestyle reflect these thoughts.

When she starts her own business, she finds she has difficulty with charging a fair rate and spending on quality resources.

When you start journaling a ghost, you don’t know what it is. You can only see the symptom: Trouble charging a fair rate and spending on quality resources.

This is what you do:

  1. Write down the symptom and notice how it makes you feel

Stop when you feel like stopping and know that it could take several sessions.

Sometimes your beautiful complex brain makes you stop because it feels that you’re making it give up a safety blanket. Othertimes, there’s an interconnection of events and you have to explore other feelings and timelines too.

In the above example, Emma (not her real name) was a client I worked with. She discovered that the friendship didn’t break down over a wealth divide. It was a values divide since the two girls were going different ways.

Through journaling, she understood Mel had always wanted to have a good time while Emma had more reserved and studious. The only problem was that neither girl knew how to talk to each other about it. Emma said the closure “gave me an emotional mending.” She started thinking about money without resentment and no longer had issues with pricing.

Your breakthrough will often give you an emotional release.

Journaling for business success will often help your thoughts and behaviors align with your business needs.

5) Five Mindsets for Business Journal Mastery

Photo by Noémi Macavei-Katócz on Unsplash

These mindsets help develop effective routines to log and chart your business journey. It’s the advice I wish I’d started with:

a) Make it a habit: Write often in your journal and date each entry. Document everything from goals, achievements and aide memoirs through to blockages and dilemmas.

b) Be natural: Don’t worry about being neat and tidy. Don’t worry about your language or grammar or the structure of your sentences. Let your hand work at the speed of your brain. They’ll synchronize.

c) Identify patterns: Go through previous entries from time to time looking for patterns and ingrained habits. They’re often more visible on a page than in real-time and a way of discovering where you’re stuck and what you need to work on.

d) Whinge with purpose: Filling your journal with woe-is-me writing keeps you stuck in the past. When you write about darker moments, have “how do I solve this?” in the back of your mind. Let your subconscious work on a solution while you’re having a whinge and more often than not, you’ll find your hand writes you into clarity.

e) Style isn’t important: Diagrams, sketches, color, and doodles are all fine if they represent something to you. Don’t journal in pretty calligraphy and draw cartoons just because you’ve seen someone on Instagram do it. You’re not writing for social likes and you can’t tap into yourself if you’re copying someone else.

You’re Not Just Keeping a Business Journal - You’re Writing Your Life’s Work

Photo by Ben White on Unsplash

Turn to a fresh page and write today’s date.

Start with the name of your business. Add a tagline. And an elevator pitch.

You don’t have an elevator pitch?

Use the rest of that page to craft one. An elevator pitch isn’t just a marketing gimmick. It’ll remind you about your vision for your customers.

And as your vision changes, which it will over time, your pitch will change too.

Your journal is a living book that chronicles your business journey right from the point you’re at right now.

One day, you’ll touch the pages and feel the rush of all the hard work, tears, desperation and joys that were the dance steps of the incredible ballet that you call your business.

You’ll use your learnings to teach others. Pull out ideas for blog posts. Cringe with shame at how naive you used to be. Feel a surge of awe at how much you overcame.

You’ll look through the pages and see the life you built because you didn’t let self-sabotage, ghosts, and insecurities get in the way.

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Jessica Barnaby

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♥️ Writer | Artist | Brand Strategy & Marketing 🌟 I help you turn your talents & skills into a business ♣️

The Startup

Medium's largest active publication, followed by +583K people. Follow to join our community.

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