Writing Forces Clarity

If you’ve hung around me any length of time, you’ve heard me say, “Writing forces clarity.”


I wish I could lay claim to this statement, but I took it many years ago from a friend who is a HUGE proponent of journaling.


I also wish I could say that I’ve journaled regularly throughout my life, but the truth is, like many good habits we aspire to, journaling has been a spotty, on again, off again activity.


But I am a fairly consistent reader, and recently read Harvard Business Review’s article entitled, “The More Senior Your Job Title, the More You Need to Keep a Journal.”


The nuggets in this article rang loud and clear to me, and journaling is now back at the top of my list. It speaks to the need to slow down, and process what just occurred, and why.  I know we’ve all heard about the benefits of reflection, but my guess is that many don’t buy into it; otherwise we’d do it more.


The author also notes his experiential observation that groups in brainstorming mode operate better once they’ve had a chance to break for a time, and then come back together to complete the activity.  The brain simply needs time to process, and organize all the barrage of information.


I’ll never forget when I first learned about this better way of group brainstorming by author and researcher Susan Cain.  One of Performance Culture’s recommended readings is Quiet:  The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking.  In this book, Cain highlights the benefits to better group brainstorming by helping extroverts understand how everyone needs time to process alone and quietly (introverts already get this and are dying for us extroverts to learn this by the way).


Another gem from my friend on journaling is how it allows us to refocus when inevitably our A.D.D. minds will take us anywhere and everywhere.  Our thoughts are a scattered mess; have you noticed this, or is it just me?  When we’re writing and this happens, no worries!  You can get right back on track to where your thoughts just were because it’s on paper.  They’re not “poof!”, gone to the wind with all our other great ideas.


So what does all this have to do with performance management?  Lots.


First, the performance review itself is often thrown together at the last minute, with both employee and manager staying up the night before, just putting something down to get through this dreaded task.


Clearly, no real reflection is happening in this scenario.


Second, opportunities to learn from events that took place throughout the year are missed altogether because they’re gone from our brains!  I can’t remember what I had for lunch two days ago, much less the details of a conversation I had two months ago.  What hope do I have in recalling and learning from an event if I have no journal to look back on?


Performance Culture believes so strongly in the power of writing our thoughts down – in a safe place – that we built our performance management tool around this.


Employees are encouraged to check-in as frequently as they like with their managers, and managers have the opportunity to respond, again, in a thoughtful, no time-pressured manner.  These documented conversations are now the journal of events, conversations, and organization happenings that affected both parties.


Employees and managers gain clarity in a number of ways when using check-ins on a regular basis.  The sheer act of writing out one’s thoughts drives clarity for the author.  And if you don’t buy into this, try my journaling exercise below for a week and then see what you think.


Secondly, managers can ask clarity-gauging questions such as, “What are your key priorities for this week?”  This seems so simple, yet through years of coaching managers, we’ve found that a lack of clarity around expectations almost always exists. Numerous studies have revealed that the majority of managers in an organization believe expectations are clear, however, only half of their direct reports believe the same.


At Performance Culture, we also recognize that emotions play a big part in how we respond, and sometimes….we shouldn’t fire off that email right away, or be held forever to a performance review we documented based on how we’re feeling that day.


That’s why managers have a safe place to document their observations or notes about an employee, anytime throughout the year, and then later – when you’re ready to have the formal conversation, you simply proof-read, or altogether delete, certain notes that you might think better of now that you’re cool-headed again.  And there’s a huge side benefit – time savings – because editing is a whole lot faster than starting from scratch the night before.


Clarity and learning are the big benefits to journaling, yet many will not take this plunge.  Why?  Because it’s a habit that takes time, might seem like it’s not helping you get your job done better or faster, or, as Dan Ciampa correctly noted in his HBR article, journaling may cause you to relive some unpleasant circumstances.


So I’m speaking to everyone out there that wants to grow, or wants their organization to grow.  Growing pains are real, but they’re usually not as bad as we fear, and it’s always nice to look back and see how far we’ve come.  This gives us the fuel to keep going.


Want to try some journaling with me?  Take a week with this journaling exercise and I invite you to comment on your experience.


Journaling Exercise


  1. Grab a pen and a notebook (seriously, try hand writing your thoughts, there is some science to this as well).
  2. Find a quiet place where you have at least twenty minutes by yourself. Try to pick a place where you can consistently go for a week.  Coffee shops are fine, but take some headphones so you can drown out the noise.
  3. Start writing, and at first, write about anything, just to get in the mode of doing it. Try starting by answering these questions:
    1. How am I feeling today?
    2. What do I hope will happen today?
    3. What do I hope will happen in the near future?
    4. Why do I hope this?
    5. What is the thing that’s bugging me the most right now?
    6. Why is it bugging me?
    7. Am I willing to do something about it? Why or why not?
    8. Who do I need to forgive? (Okay, that one’s pretty deep…you can tackle this one eventually).
  4. Remember the rules for journaling:
    1. Don’t worry about spelling or grammar or even handwriting – unless yours is so bad even you can’t read your own.
    2. Don’t give up.


I welcome your written thoughts on this post.  And in the meantime, happy writing!






  1. Linda Blumenfeld
    July 24, 2017 at 10:44 pm

    Journaling has been the most valuable rool in my business this year 2017.
    My husband Larry encourages me to set goals daily, weekly monthly and
    write them down, I am a very visual person in business. I use props for my
    leadership workshops. The best way to take action on what you journal is
    to use The Five Seconnd Rule by Mel Robbins who I had the pleasure to
    see and buy her book that made a large impact on my daily routine.
    It is powerful and so is she.
    Linda Blumenfeld LBL Marketing Wilmington North Carolina

  2. Bob Pious
    July 25, 2017 at 4:13 pm

    Thank you Melissa for your post and your thoughts. I appreciate your endorsement of Susan Cain’s book and approach (yes, I am a mild introvert, so I “get it”).

    In one of the business courses I teach at UNCW, I have seen recently the power of reflecting – as I have assigned Reflection Papers (rather than a final exam) for the students to think about what impacted them throughout a course. I am amazed and heartened by the insights and thoughts from the students – and I am sure I get as much from their reflections as hopefully they do from the exercise.

    Thanks again!

    Bob Pious
    Instructor, Cameron School of Business, UNCW

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