Career, Professional Development

Work Journals: Why and How

When’s the last time you wrote in a journal? Middle school? During a college-level writing course?


Before I started what I’m calling a work journal, I wasn’t a consistent journal writer: I’d find myself unable to make it a habit and thus procrastinate. Writing, somehow and someway every day has tremendous benefits  for both one’s personal and professional life, but on top of the writing I did professionally and/or for graduate school, I could never seem to find the motivation.

So, I didn’t.

However, I’m proud to say that I am now a consistent-ish writer in my work journal. (“Ish,” because I’m not writing as many entries I’d like, but I do it frequently enough for it to benefit me. So, “ish.”)

I’ve found that having a focused topic–what’s going on at work?–lets me focus. The topic of “work” is also broad enough to allow me to tackle any number of issues that could come up during the work day, during my commute, during the time I spend on my side work, or ruminate on my future goals.

I also like having the ability to track my actions, reactions, and feelings on the matter across time, pulling out patterns both positive and negative. You’re guaranteed to find habits and behaviors emerge in a journal that you’ll want to change for when similar situations arise in the future.

One recent discovery through my own journaling? I’ve been reacting to offhand, and likely unintentional, unfriendliness from others in my office environment. I’d fixate on weird interactions, even if they really consequential to the task at hand.  Really. How dumb. While part of my overall goal of reacting less and acting more (proactively, that is), I’m now working on not letting the actions of others determine my mood. I don’t need a pat on the head. I haven’t screwed something up if I don’t receive this sort of commendation. I wouldn’t have seen this unhealthy pattern emerge if I hadn’t been recording my thoughts after a work day.

Plus, journaling is a habit of many successful people–and I love mimicking the routines of highly productive leaders.

Don’t feel the need to journal in some sort of “right way.” You’re the boss of your work journal, and you pick how you want to approach this project.

Frequency: You can set your own expectations for writing. You may want to jot a few lines every day, or once a week, or write a longer post every few weeks (this is what has ended up happening with me, but I’d like to do this more regularly). Or, you may want to journal after you feel yourself having a strong reaction to some event or situation at work.

Format: You’re also the boss as far as the medium. I journal in a Google Drive document–I can access and edit it on my phone and on any computer–but you may prefer writing in a different app, in a word processing document, or even in a physical notebook. Your call–just pick something that minimizes the barriers that would keep you from making this a habit.

Focus: Maybe you want to focus on one particular part of your working world. Are you challenged by a particular, regular task? A client? Is there an area that you know you could improve upon? Journal about it.

I’m in the process of making work-journaling a career-long habit, and am looking forward to the insight that will continue to rise from the (digital) pages.

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