How journaling helped me be consistent

One thing’s for sure – in these Covid-19 times it’s certainly not business as usual. We must think and work differently to succeed. But which of our previous tools and habits would work well right now. And which behaviours and processes must we change for the better? We look in this article at how journaling helps improve consistency and productivity.

How journaling helps improve consistency and productivity

One of the behaviours I’m dwelling on at the moment at is consistency. Being consistently focused is always something I have had to work on. I’m often full of ideas, always excited to start a new business or project. When the routine of executing day to day tasks arrives, (an inevitable part of succeeding at something), I would often lose momentum. There were days when I did the work of three people.  Then other days, when unfortunately, I just didn’t make any worthwhile progress at all. There’s no denying that with Covid-19 working from home, there’s an opportunity to notice how you consistently feel each day. Whether this means being consistently productive or consistently anxious, listless or even angry.

Many people find it easier to be consistent when they’re busy at work and have deadlines to meet. This may be due to more obvious accountability. It’s a bigger challenge right now; working from home, with many businesses reimagining how they add value. If you’re an entrepreneur, running your own business, needing to tweak or even pivot right now, taking small steps every day and consistently making daily progress are key to accomplishing your goals.

Can a lack of consistency hold you back?

What’s your relationship with consistency? Maybe you’re naturally consistent and enjoy carrying out your work methodically every day? Or do you struggle, yet plod on, get through the tasks, suffer through the boredom, day in day out even when you’re not really enjoying it? Or perhaps, like me, do you leave things until the very last minute so you create a sense of urgency to get the job done? Do you find when there’s no real deadline or maybe when you’re going to be the sole beneficiary of success (stick to that healthy eating plan, learn a new skill, a language), after the initial burst of enthusiasm you give up?

In the past, as my various businesses (retail pharmacy, wholesale health and beauty brands distribution, writing books, developing business and leadership-effectiveness courses) grew, I noticed that my lack of consistency was holding me back. I wasted time when aspects of work didn’t interest me – things took longer to get done.

I was leading teams, working to targets and deadlines, usually reaching goals in the end. But there came a time (2008 recession) when I realised that if I was more consistent, focused better, I could achieve more. More importantly, I realised that deadlines could be met, targets achieved with less stress for me and my team if I found a way to be more consistent.

In 2008, at the start of the last recession, I – knowing that in business, the numbers always tell the real story – resolved to once and for all sort my consistency issue. I decided to calculate my ‘off’ days, write them down, identify patterns and see if I could solve this lifelong challenge of mine. I purchased a new notebook with beautiful butterfly images on the cover. True to form – I was starting well and full of enthusiasm!

When I realised my lack of consistency was holding me and my team back, I calculated my ‘off-days’ over a period of 6 months. Ouch, the results shocked me into making the changes necessary to – sort this out.

Noticing My Productivity

During that 6-month period, there were 15 Tuesday’s, 2 Monday’s, 3 Wednesday afternoons, 4 Thursday afternoons and 3 Friday mornings where I just didn’t do enough with my time to be as productive as I needed to be. That was 22 full days out of a period when I didn’t focus enough to feel I had done my best. When I saw that in writing, the penny dropped. Those days extrapolated to 44 off-days in a year – 20% of available productive time! I just could not let that continue. The numbers absolutely shocked me. I was overworked and yet I was not working as effectively as I needed to.

As well as totting up the days, I also wrote down whether I exercised that day, slept well the night before and how I felt at the end of each day – good and bad. In business, the numbers tell the true story – there’s no denying that. Knowing this number, for me was the aha-moment that changed that pattern instantly.

When I measured my productivity, I noticed those unproductive Tuesday’s – what was that all about? I almost always started Monday being positive. I had exercised over the weekend and felt positive about the goals I had set. However, most Monday’s were spent at my desk where I snacked my way through the day, drank too much caffeine which ended up disturbing my Monday night’s sleep. Result – tired Tuesday’s. The pattern was crystal clear when I read through my journal notes and straightforward enough to deal with. I made sure that Monday’s were busier, arranged more meetings and allocated myself more interesting tasks that I enjoyed.

Knowing that journaling helps improve consistency, I recently decided to journal about it again. Even though I found a workable solution 12 years ago, I’m finding that, although I am enjoying the flexibility working from home brings, the old lack of consistency is rearing its’ head once again.  I believe this time of social distancing definitely offers a huge opportunity for reflection and relaxation. I know I’ll feel better if I balance this time for reappraisal with enough productivity to plan for future business success, achieve certain goals and maintain a sense of purpose.

Consistency with self compassion

Finding consistency is a challenge during Covid-19. While I’m reminded of what worked back in 2008, I’m also looking at consistency through a slightly different lens, and that is one with increased self-compassion. Consistently making some progress every day is key to maintaining business momentum – beating yourself up over the odd bad day is not.

Ad graphic for The Formula Book Workbook Journal with writing " An essential tool for making wise choices & finding happiness, joy & success

I’ve been chatting with friends, family and clients over the past few months, when everyone’s working from home. We are finding the behaviours listed below helpful.  This helps us to balance being consistently productive while using the opportunity for reflection and ‘going with the flow’.

  1. Decide what amount of consistent productivity you want and need right now. You may be in a situation where you’re working harder than ever.  Or this may be an opportunity for you to spend some time and energy to focus on family, creativity, relaxation alongside being productive at work. An effective way to decide, is to take a page and write down what you’d like to achieve in various aspects of your life when the next two weeks or month has passed. Include family, friends, work, health. Break your action into small, achievable steps, so you can make some progress every day.
  2. Take a break when you need it. If you’re trying to work and you become distracted or can’t seem to focus, then simply take a break and come back to it later. Go outside if you can, grab a coffee or a snack, take a nap, call a friend.
  3. Get enough sleep. If lack of sleep is the reason you can’t focus on any day, perhaps allow yourself a short nap. If sleep is an issue for you, take note of the habits you believe adversely affect your night’s sleep. Admit it to yourself – are you drinking tea or coffee after say 3 or 4pm? Are you getting enough exercise – any exercise? Are you worrying, yet not doing anything to help you stop? Make some small changes. Practice gratitude each evening by writing down 5 things you’re thankful for, listen to a guided relaxing meditation, take a bath. Do whatever works for you. Allow yourself the time to do what you need.
  4. Design your day Take advantage of the opportunity to design your day more to your liking. You may choose to exercise during the time you would have commuted to work. Or perhaps you choose to get out of bed later. If you choose consistency at this time vs totally going with what life brings on a daily basis, designing your routine and preparing the evening before will give you a head-start every day. If you choose to go with the flow, allow yourself to wake naturally, take more thinking time; then ensure you include self-nourishing ‘stuff’ in your day to ‘go with the flow’ in whatever style works best for you. This could be exercise, sleep, nice food, virtual chats with colleagues, writing in a beautiful journal, calling friends…
  5. Choose Joy – Finally, ask yourself, what would being me some moments of joy every day? Usually joy can be accessed through simple pleasures; the beauty of a flower against a blue sky; the feeling of a warm breeze on your skin, the buzz of a fast run. Joys like these are easily deliverable to yourself whether you choose consistency or to go with the flow – or a balance of each one.
  6. Accountability, discipline and consistency can save you. Journaling Helps Improve Consistency. Use your journal as your accountability partner. Write daily and check-in with what you have written at least every week. This will help to ensure you take the actions your life needs. No matter what challenges you now face, use your strengths. Become a problem solver, make some progress every single day – and measure your progress.

My own solution this time has been to set clear goals, achievable by taking small steps every day. Most importantly, I stop beating myself up when I have an unproductive day. I choose joy and gratitude and write down what I’m thankful for each evening – along with my ‘to do’ list.

#journaling #consistency #kindness #accountability #habits #selfcompassion

By Maria Burke

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