I’m a big fan of documentation, especially in the workplace. I firmly believe that, when we put thoughts into words and commit them to “paper” (whether physical or digital), we make them more real. Whether journaling for personal development or professional, the act of writing is an important tool for self-discovery, growth and much more.
It’s no surprise then that I recommend everyone keep a work journal.
If the idea of a “work journal” is new for you, here’s a quick summary: A work journal is simply a place where you capture your daily workplace activities. Of course, that’s just the beginning. You can definitely go far beyond that—and when you do, the work journal becomes even more powerful. But at its most basic level, it’s a record-keeping tool. Think of it as the flipside of a planner. We plan what we WANT our day to look like and we journal what the day actually DID look like.
What to Capture in Your Work Journal
I think of my work journal as a kind of Captain’s Log—similar to what you might imagine a ship captain would keep when sailing the high seas. It’s nothing fancy, but it’s an accurate and thorough historical record of my work life.
Here are some of things you might keep in your work journal:
- Tasks you accomplished
- Progress you made on projects
- Professional development activities you engaged in
- Important conversations you had
- Impromptu meetings or phone calls that took place
- Events you attended
- People you met
- Questions you need to get answered
- Ideas you have for the future
- Feedback you’ve received
- Lessons you’ve learned
- Promises you’ve made
- Problems you need to solve or have solved
- Challenges you need to explore
- Thoughts that need further processing
This is not even an exhaustive list! You can literally capture anything.
The Benefits of a Work Journal
So, why should you bother with this activity? There are many, many reasons a work journal is beneficial. But if I had to boil it down, I would say that a work journal is all about R&R—not “rest and relaxation,” but “reference and reflection.”
Reference: A work journal acts as reference for the future. You can look back on it and see exactly what was happening on any given day. You aren’t looking at a plan, which may or may not have been stuck to. You’re looking at a true record of what actually took place.
This is particularly useful with regards to conversations or interactions that take place. It’s so easy to forget details. You may remember it one way, while someone else remembers it differently. But in a work setting, you really need a way to hold yourself and others accountable. Documentation certainly helps with this! It’s especially important when you’re dealing with people or situations where tensions are high and/or conflicts are frequent. Should you need to advocate for (or defend) yourself in the future, you will have greater confidence in your side of the story. No one wants to end up in such a situation, but should it happen, your work journal provides documentation to support you.
A work journal also helps you remember everything you actually did while at work. Too often, we know we’ve been busy, but we can’t actually articulate what we accomplished. After a while, it all becomes muddled. Seeing it in black and white gives you the clarity you need to promote your contributions confidently.
Reflection: A work journal also supports the process of reflection. When going about your workday, it’s easy to get stuck on autopilot. You’re not really thinking things through with the depth required. You’re simply acting based on instinct and routine. When you pause to take note of something, it immediately forces you to become more present and conscious. Thoughts transform; they go from abstract to concrete. You’re able to make better decisions. You’re able to really capture information and process it, rather than simply letting it go “in one ear and out the other.” When facing problems or challenges, writing them out will often provide clarity and help you identify and evaluate possible solutions faster. When facing a stressful situation, writing about it will often help you reframe it to a more positive light.
All in all, there’s little downside to keeping a work journal. Yes, it requires a bit of time, which I realize is always at a premium. But this small investment pays massive returns.
How to Start Your Work Journal
There’s no right or wrong way to go about this. Just pick a tool and get started. Personally, I use a paper notebook for two reasons:
- I love the act of physically writing and I happen to collect beautiful notebooks. Turning them into work journals is a good way to make sure they get used!
- I find it much easier and faster to take notes on paper when sitting at my desk (which is where I am the majority of the time when working). If I happen to be away from my desk when something comes up that should be added to my journal, I often take a digital note in the form of an email or a text message to myself. I then add it to my journal when I’m back at my desk. If I’m traveling, I take my notebook with me.
In the past, I’ve used OneNote for periods of time, and found it to be a suitable digital alternative. Whatever tool feels right for you is fine. You can always switch things up from time to time based on your current needs and preferences.
The only word of caution I have is this: Your work journal can be just as private as a personal journal. Be sure to keep it safe. If you’re worried about it falling into the wrong hands, take extra precautions to password protect your files or take your journal home rather than keeping it at your desk.
I hope you’ll consider keeping a work journal for yourself, and let me know how it goes over on LinkedIn.