The most valuable resource every leader has is their time.

The problem is that most leaders believe they do not have enough time in the day. And when that is the case, activities that are incredibly important get cut in order to deal with the tyranny of the urgent.

But that is no way to create great results for your organization.

Effective leaders adhere to boundaries and invest in activities that will help them increase their capacity.  The one activity with the most leverage done is the art of journaling.

In just 5-minutes a day, a leader can grow their emotional intelligence and as a result, the value they create in their organization. 

This article will show you why it’s important and how to start journaling to grow your emotional intelligence.

Why emotional intelligence matters …

The Center of Creative Leadership found that 75% of careers will be derailed because of a lack of emotional intelligence

So the odds are stacked against YOU. 3 out of 4 leaders who read this article will do something that will negatively impact their careers.

A book that helped me grow my emotional intelligence was Emotional Intelligence 2.0 put together by a group called TalentSmart.

Over the years, TalentSmart has tested 500,000+ leaders regarding emotional intelligence, and they found that only 36% of the leaders tested could accurately identify their emotions as they happen.

TalentSmart also found that 83% of people high in self-awareness are also top-performers and you can add $1300 to your annual salary for every point increase you develop in your emotional intelligence. 

It literally pays to be emotionally intelligent.

I should know. I have worked hard at increasing my emotional intelligence and I have seen my salary increase along with this work.

The most powerful tool in your toolbelt is journaling.

In my experience, this activity has increased my self awareness and has helped me move from a reactive to a proactive leader (proof below)

The world’s best journal questions …

A few years ago, David Peterson, an executive coach at Google, taught me some journal questions that I could reflect on each evening.

The best part …

It only takes 5-minutes to complete and is arguably the most important 5-minutes I spend each day.

Journaling has turned into a ceremony. 

This process signals that the work day has ended and family time is about to begin. 

I like playing the Dave Brubeck Quartet’s “Take Five” while I journal. The song is just over 5-minutes long.

So here are the questions I answer in the evening:

  • What was something NEW I did today?
  • What was something that I LEARNED today?
  • What WORKED for me today?
  • What DID NOT work?
  • What will I CHANGE for tomorrow?
  • What are my BIG 3 tomorrow?

The BIG 3 are the three tasks aligned to my most important work of the day. It’s not all I will do, it’s just the most important.

Why these questions work …

These questions work because, done together and consistently over time, they teach you important lessons about yourself.

You start to notice positive and negative trends. When noticed and acted upon, this is one way to switch from a reactive to proactive leader. This journal routine also becomes your teacher. It teaches you your operating system, and with that knowledge you can decide if you’d like an upgrade or not.

Here is why I love each question individually …

What was something NEW I learned today? Each day I should be experimenting in order to expand my capacity. By experiencing new things each day, I will grow. This question also challenges me to be present and take stock of the day. Am I operating only on autopilot? Am I doing the same things over and over each day? Is that what I want for my life and leadership?

What was something I LEARNED today? Just like the first question, this question pushes me to constantly be learning and evolving. Many principals call themselves “Lead Learners.” Clever titles don’t matter. Action matters. Do you walk your talk?

One of my personal core values is called “The Sponge that Scales,” in other words, I am always learning. 

Years ago I learned the I-L-T framework. This means I invest in myself, learn a bunch of great stuff, and I teach it to others. When I do that I create more value for the leaders I mentor, and create more value for myself. 

I-L-T is a winning formula for leadership.

What WORKED for me today? Each day you should identify something that went well and worked for you. Even on the hardest of days maybe you made your bed or still went to the gym. On the best of days, you might have more to write about. The point is something good should happen in service of you each day (and you want to continue doing just that)!

What DID NOT work for me today? This is the opposite of the prior question. These journal questions teach you how much is in your control. Focus this question on what is in your control and avoid a consistent pattern of things that do not work for you, which brings us to the next question.

What will I CHANGE tomorrow? Maybe I have skipped meditating or I have gotten lazy with my fitness. Often, I will then prioritize what DID NOT work for me and make sure I do it the next day. This isn’t always the case, but there is a beautiful marriage with these two questions. If you don’t like something about TODAY then make a plan that will change that outcome for you TOMORROW. Self leadership is the most important kind of leadership.

What are my BIG 3 for tomorrow? I added this question  to David Peterson’s recommendations. It’s part of my productivity system. Every day I want to identify 3-or-less goals that I elevate to most important on my list for the day. 

It’s not everything I will do, but the MOST IMPORTANT tasks I will do. I also keep score at the end of the day. So each evening I identify my 1-3 most important tasks for the day and at the end of the day I score if I completed the tasks or not. This is a binary YES or NO score. I get 1 point for completing the task and zero for not completing the task.

(I also share these scores in public, which motivates me to take care of business!)

Ready to level up?

I’ve created a 5-day challenge, “The Back to School Boot Camp,” that helps school leaders start the year off powerfully and intentionally. 

Over 5-days I will send you an inspiring video along with an actionable challenge to help you kick off the year.

The challenge will help you grow relationships, improve communication, create a remarkable culture, learn the secrets of high level execution, and why you should embrace the elegant idea that “less is more.”

Join the challenge today! 


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