Thursday, 20 August 2015

Keeping a work journal - what are the benefits to your career and uses?

I know what it is like ladies. We live hectically with the mottos "work hard, play hard" and we want it all - we want to climb the career ladder but in stilettos and looking good doing it. 

One of my latest tools at work in my work journal. Sure, a "work journal or diary" might sound a bit new-age management or airy fairy, but read the article before you conclude this!

It was my dad that first nagged advised me to keep a work journal when I took those first tentative steps on the wobbly career ladder nearly 5 years ago. 

is advice, being passed on from a manager of his, was that we should all be keeping a work journal of some sort, that captures a lesson learnt each day in the office.

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I must admit, I was skeptic and it is only in the last 6 months that I have finally taken his advice (sorry dad but better late than never right?) when I took a promotion as a manager. 

Reflecting on my decision to start one though, I am pleased I have been capturing my work activities, achievements and lessons learnt and I want to share with you today the benefits I have found of keeping a work journal.

First of all, what kind of things should you be capturing? Well, simply, anything!

I like to capture my reflections of the day or week just passed, looking at what went well, what could have gone better, constructive comments, lessons learnt (and this can include other people's errors), and also any issues that might be brewing.

I also log any compliments or positive feedback that I have received as it is all to easy to forget the good and who doesn't like to be reminded of a job well done or a success!

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In a Harvard Business Review, The Power of Small Wins, Teresa Amabile and Steven Kramer, highlight the importance of meaningful work. It is not just about the salary, status and activities of a job, but the meaningfulness of it that makes it worthwhile. The biggest thing that a journal can contribute to is a sense of meaning to your work. By writing in the journal, you'll log and notice the importance of your work, the obstacles you successfully overcome and wins you achieve, all adding to that all important sense of meaning to your work.

Ideally you want to be logging something everyday, however I appreciate this is easier said than done and realistically I log about two or three items a week. However much or little you write and log though, it is better than not capturing anything at all!!!

So let's look in to why keeping a work journal will help boost your career...

Reason 1: You'll remember your lessons learnt

I am a big fan in thinking that there is no such thing as failure, and that life was designed for making mistakes. Mistakes are fine in my books... so long as you learn from them! However, with everyday being a new opportunity to learn, is it realistic to expect us to always remember the things we have learnt from? Not really. I always say that our head is for thinking, not remembering, so instead of pressuring yourself to remember, just write them down in your work journal.

Logging your lesson's learnt means that you have a place to visually remind yourself of your experiences but you can also use it to identify any patterns of weakness that might be repeating. Identifying this in your mind is ten times harder than identifying it on paper.

Reason 2: Makes remembering your career easier

So much happens day to day, we cannot expect to remember every thing we have achieved or learnt, but keeping a journal helps with that, making it easier to remember your  career highlights and low-lights. This is particularly helpful when it comes to times when you need to review your career or work, such as when preparing for an appraisal, or even when you are writing your CV.

I have only been keeping my journal for 6 months, so have not yet used it for this occasion, but I can also see how useful it will be for when it comes to interviewing. Just think about the usual interview questions, such as "tell me a time when you have made a mistake and what did you learn" or "tell me a time that you successfully implemented a project". If you are maintaining a journal, the answers to these questions will be easier to remember and answer as you will have it logged. 

Reason 3: It is a great tool for reflection 

In the daily grind and hectic day to day, we don't allow our selves time to reflect on our work or career. A work journal is a great opportunity to reflect. What has been going well recently that you can translate in to other areas? What mistakes have you made in the past that you can learn from? Even if you don't set time aside to purposefully review your journal,  if you are regularly writing in it, you'll at least recap on latest entries.

It is also a fantastic reminder of recapping what you have achieved. When do we ever get the chance to stop, reflect and recognise the great work we have been going! Reflection is about looking at what you have accomplished, as well as what you need to improve on.

Reason 4: Improve your awareness overall 

Just the simple act of getting to the end of the day or end of the week, and thinking or reflecting, will boost your awareness overall. Be honest, when you make a mistake at work or when you make a great achievement, do you ever stop and think "hmm, that was a great learning curve there". Probably not. 

However, when you are forced to do it at the end of the day, and look back, you'll start making yourself aware. With time and habit, this will become more automatic and after every occasion, you'll register it at the time that this was a noteworthy moment. You'll start to become aware of yourself, your language and the way you communicate, your actions, your body language and the way you tackle your work daily.

Reason 5: Track progress

Having a clear end goal is certainly one way to see if you are on the right track to success, but monitoring your progress is another way to keep you in check. A journal where you log your progress will help you to see where you are veering off. 

To make the journal work for you, you can log absolutely anything related to your career, skills, work, industry and projects - in fact the more you write the better! Communication errors, examples of where you could have handled a situation better, project milestones you have achieved, etc. 

How to journal?

I personally like to keep it old school and use a good old fashioned pen and pad as I am quite visual. However, spreadsheets like excel would also wok well, as you could filter and search for certain words, such as "project", to make it easier for finding examples. You could simply log entries by date, like I do, or perhaps by topic. And with everything nowadays, of course there is an app for it, just search "work journal app" in to google for a wide selection.  Just do what works for you.

Good luck and enjoy the journalling journey. Let me know if you keep one! 

Inspired? Take it further and read my review of the amazing Lean In by Facebook's COO Sheryl Sandberg

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