The Single Tool You Need To Learn From Your Mistakes

Mistake after mistake and learning nothing from it

Oh, I felt stupid…oh so stupid. Making this mistake AGAIN? Are you kidding me? I was preparing a proposal for a tender. Only that I had forgotten a crucial piece of the proposal puzzle – contacting candidates as soon as possible to secure them. When I contacted them, it was too late. Other agencies had put out their feelers long time ago.

But the embarrassment avalanche didn’t stop rolling there – I had forgotten exactly the same step a few weeks earlier in another proposal. A lesson learned that wasn’t learned. My walk to my boss was going to be a walk in shame.

Have you been in a similar situation? You make a mistake and realise that you shouldn’t have. Because you made it before. Because you learn from your mistakes (or at least that’s what you tell yourself). And then it’s usually not the small mistake that you can easily rectify. It’s a huge one.

I felt horrible. And I didn’t want it to happen every again. I needed a system where I could document my performance, learn my lessons and revisit those lessons to learn from my mistakes.

Would it be yet another boring spreadsheet? A lessons learned spread sheet in which I document my lessons learned but never look at again as it is slowly collecting electronic dust on my electronic book shelf? No, I needed something different, more exciting and supporting continuance.

How successful people make sure they learn from mistakes

One thing always came up when listening to podcasts like The Tim Ferriss Show, Entrepreneurs On Fire, The School of Greatness…successful people keep journals.

Why is journaling so common amongst successful people?
It’s the ultimate way to track progress. It’s the ultimate way to review what you did, learn your lessons and adjust. It’s the ultimate way to provide a structure to your brain’s clutter that we call thoughts.

I can understand if you’re having doubts. You might have the same thought that I had when I heard about journaling the first time: isn’t journaling like keeping a diary? I don’t want to keep a diary!

But hear me out: you cannot NOT keep a journal. If you’re striving for success in any area of your life, a journal is the one true way to get there. To get to your destination you need to continuously ensure that you’re still on track.

It’s like driving a car: is your GPS any good if it’s not tracking your journey? It’s tracking your journey so you have assurance of being on the right track along the way. Wouldn’t you like a GPS for your life? The Journal will be your GPS – tracking your every move, alerting you to when you are going off track, making sure that you stay on track and ultimately achieve your goal.

Success is the culmination of failures that get you iteratively closer to your goal. Without documenting your day or at least revisiting it, how can you make an informed decision on where you went off track, why and what to do next?

Journaling is the simplest way to do that – it’s an effective way of lessons learned and for continual improvement.

Inconsistency dilutes intelligence

If you’re on a weight loss program and measure your weight on Day 1 after waking up, on Day 2 after having breakfast and on Day 3 before dinner will be bad science. Can you see how messy this gets?

If you’re taking a blood test you’ll get different results before and after exercising, before and after eating. To ensure information is

To make an informed decision it’s essential to take measurements under consistent conditions.

If you’re using a journal to track your progress, to revisit your day and decide on next actions, you must decide on one journal format and stick to it. I’m not saying that you’ll find your preferred format on day 1. But within the first month, your final journal format must be consistent.

The god of progress tracking: the project manager

Imagine a position that doesn’t have direct visibility into progress but is accountable for progress – welcome to the world of project management. If a project manager wants his/her project to succeed, tracking of progress is a MUST.

The project management world has it all developed – now you just have to take and adopt.

In my journal I use several techniques that are used by project managers responsible for multi-million dollar projects – and with a little adjustment they work for my own life just as well.

The format doesn’t matter

The format of journaling really doesn’t matter. Whether electronic or pen & paper. Whether in a leather bound notebook or on stapled sheets.

What matters is that you find the type of format that ensures you’re being consistent with it.

A short hint: this applies to everything in life. Don’t get hung up on the hardware, the tools – consistency is king.

Consistent tracking with the Project Manager approach

Upfront, let me be perfectly honest: there are many styles of journaling out there. My journal style is a mix from journals of the most successful people in business (Tim Ferriss, Grant Cardone, Robin Sharma to name a few), added in a good portion of project manager magic and seasoned it with common sense. It works for me – it might not for you (but it is a good start to take and adopt).

If my style doesn’t suit, you should play around, delete, add until you have the format that suits you.

“Suits you” meaning the format that allows you to consistently complete your journal in the morning and in the evening.

What my journal looks like

For you to see what my journal looks like, I’m sharing my Evernote Journal template with you.

#1 Thinking BIG

I’ve adopted this section from Grant Cardone – Grant’s sitting down every morning and evening to think big, to write down what he wants to achieve. Not 1 year, not 5 years from now. Big Things (15-20 years or more). Side note: on this topic “Thinking Big” by David J. Schwartz is a must-read.

Write these in the 1st person present tense i.e. “I am…”, “I have…”, “I do…” to prime your thoughts with Big Thinking every day.

#2 Must Do, Should Do, Could Do, Won’t Do – The MoSCoW Technique

No need to take out your Russian dictionary. This is a great technique from the Agile project management world, used to prioritise project scope – I’ve adopted it to manage my daily priorities.

MoSCoW stands for Must do, Should do, Could do, Won’t do.

The Must Do has 1x task assigned and one only. I MUST get this done that day.

Only when I complete the MUST DO, I can tackle tasks from the Should-Do category. I allocate a maximum of 3x Should-Dos. You’ll see that I’m not consistent with this prioritisation – I get it most of the days but I’m also human.

All other tasks go into the could-do category that I will only touch when the Should-Dos are completed.

Must Dos > Should Dos > Could Dos

The last category (arguably the most important) are my WON’T DOs. Tim Ferriss emphasises this strongly – it’s often more important to get clear what NOT to do than what to do.

This eliminates distractions, time wasters and other stuff that is clearly not contributing to your goals.

#3 The Retrospective

Again, taken from Agile project management, this section looks back at your day – What Went Well (The Smiley), What didn’t go so well (The Roadblocks), What would you do differently (The Delta).

What Went Well – Write down 3x things you’re proud of that day. DO NOT write less than 3x. It’s important to celebrate the little wins along the way.

What didn’t go so well – Include roadblocks that hinder your progress and that you have to find solutions for.

What would you do differently – if you could do it differently, what would it be? Why and what would you do it differently?

#4 Express gratitude

Chase Jarvis (Co-Founder of Creative Live) and award winning photographer has noted various times in his and on others’ podcasts that having a daily practice of gratitude is the one factor that contributes significantly to his tremendous success.

#5 – Rescue Time Rating

All the stuff you’ve written down so far can be fairly subjective. I like to include objectives measures. In today’s world where knowledge workers work most of their times on electronic devices, one of the best ways to track productivity on those devices is the app Rescue Time.

RescueTime tracks your time on your desktop and laptop (and android mobiles). Upfront you categorise which app is considered productive and unproductive in your world. RescueTime spits out your productivity score at the end of the day, week and month. The higher, the better (if you’ve been honest with yourself and categorised video gaming as unproductive – unless you’re planning an eSport career).

Including my daily productivity score with each journal entry gives me a pretty good understanding on whether I’m wasting too much time on Facebook and Email or whether I actually get important stuff done (yes, I don’t consider Email productive. How can the ping-pong of information be considered anything else? No product, not producing – unproductive).

When to write your journal

The how doesn’t matter. The when doesn’t either. The DO matters. However, most people pick the early morning or the late evening. Pick times when distraction levels diminish and you find some time alone to revisit your day.

I prefer the evenings as my memory is still fresh. Writing the day after about the day before always has a bad taste as I struggle to recall the details of my thoughts, emotions and actions.

Write when it suits you – “suits you” meaning the time that ensures consistency.

Like any habit, journaling is hard

In the beginning consistency is hard. It was for me. It might not be for you (you’re the exception). I struggled to keep my journal every day. Only when I made the conscious decision to be content if I miss a journal entry consistency followed. I know; it’s counterintuitive. It’s as if the fear to fail the daily entry blocks me from keeping the journal daily.

Give it a go

Get your papers, notebooks or phones out and start. Don’t give up after day 1, day 3 or week 1. Continue to develop a journal your style. I hope the above will be helpful in doing so.