Keeping a work journal is like having your own personal assistant. It can help you stay on top of your todos, capture meeting notes, manage your time, and accelerate your career growth. It doesn’t matter if you are an employee, self-employed, or retired — a work journal can improve your productivity and performance at work.
5 Benefits of keeping a Work Journal
If you are reading this, the chances are that you are starting to realize the benefits of keeping a work journal. To build on that understanding, here are five main benefits of keeping a work journal;
1. Structure and plan your day with a work journal
If you don’t plan or structure your day, it can feel reactive (dealing with things as they come) or it can feel unfulfilling (what did I even do today?). This reactive mode or sense of un-fulfilment can be prevented by planning ahead.
So what is the solution? Start your day by planning what you are going to accomplish. Write out the most important tasks and outcomes for the day. Also, if applicable, block off time in your calendar to get them done.
With structure and planning, you will feel motivated throughout the day as you will know what you want to get done.
2. Free your mind and focus with a work journal
Often at work, we are thinking in circles or confused about what to do next. Should I do A, B, or C? This wastes you’re precious energy in trying to figure out what to do next. Once you plan and structure your day (as explained above), you can then focus your mind to get the work done.
If during the work day you find yourself thinking about work, instead of doing work, take some time to write out the task (or its details).
3. Manage your emotions with a work journal
Your emotions impact how you get work done and they can change throughout the day. For example, did you have a bad start with poor sleep, conflict with a family member, or dealing with an unpleasant co-worker? If so, reflect on that and manage that emotion so it doesn’t affect your rest of the day.
Journaling or writing it down makes you aware of this emotion so that you can manage it directly. The section of the work journal that helps with this is the “Quote, Gratitude, and Affirmations” (Step 1 explained below).
4. Capture meeting notes and action items
With a work journal, you no longer miss meeting details, decisions, or action items. Use your journal to write those down as they happen in a meeting!
This also frees your mind (point #2 above), to do the work (action items or decisions made) after the meeting.
5. Reflect and improve your work performance
What doesn’t get captured, doesn’t get improved. With a work journal, you have valuable data on how you are spending your time, meetings, and work performance.
Reflect often on your work journal to understand if there are areas of improvement. For example, are you spending too much time in meetings? Are some of your days empty and you are not planning ahead what to do?
What makes a good work journal template?
The benefits of keeping a work journal help us identify what makes up a good journal template;
- A place to Capture: A place to capture work related information – meeting notes, deadlines, action items, important information, and countless other bits of information that are best stored on a paper instead of your brain.
- A place to Articulate: A place where you can articulate the information. For example, sketching out a diagram to understand what is being explained to you.
- Source of Self-Reflection and Growth: This is the most critical part of keeping a journal for work. Your ability to self-reflect and learn from your experiences will constantly improve your skill and productivity at work.
In summary, a work journal is like a storage drive which allows you to capture, process, and articulate information with the help of your brain. Therefore, your brain does the job of doing while the journal (with the help of your hands) does the job of a permanent hard drive, reflection, and planning.
Structure of a Work Journal Template
Now that we understand what makes a good template for work journal, let me jump into the specifics of a work journal template.
Above, is a snapshot of my work journal template from 2017. I have evolved it overtime and will continue to evolve it. I encourage you to do the same and use this template only as a guide to get started. With that aside, here is the breakdown of the work journal template (by the numbers on the image above):
Part 1 – The Quote and Gratitude
I write this part early in the morning (before the hustle bustle of work) so that I can keep my focus on the big picture. I consider this section essential as it allows you to appreciate the small things in your life.
Part 2 – Outcome-Based Goals
This is where you write out your goals at work. These should be planned and written at the start of the day so you can make progress towards them by the end of the day.
Part 3 – Unplanned Work
This is where you write down work that comes up. For example, your boss wants you to run a quick errand or your co-worker needs help. Your goal should be to finish and record these activities as fast as possible so you can go back to your Outcome-Based Goals (Part 2) – the work you planned to get done.
Part 4 – Personal Notes
Throughout the day things may pop-up in your head that you may want to personally get done. For example, grab bread on the way back home or read a book. This section is focused about your personal growth and should be an essential part of your work journal.
Part 5 – Stickies & Misc
Sometimes the goal or task at hand has many sub-tasks and that is when I use a sticky to write it out and track my progress towards it.
Part 6 – Monthly Experiment
This is the section where I remind myself what personal growth experiment I am focused on for this day, week, or month. For example, in the above journal entry, I was (and still am) focused on “essential-ism focus” – a fancy way to say to focus on one thing and one thing only.
That sums up the breakdown of my work journal. In addition to my journal, I still use digital task management app (i-e Trello). In future posts (or upon request), I hope to expand on how to use your physical journal and a digital task management app side-by-side to get more work done.
If you want a more detailed guide to write each of the above parts, please subscribe to my email list and I will send you resources and video guides.
Reflecting and Reviewing Your Work Journal
To make the most of your work journal, ensure to carve out time for review and reflection. I recommend doing this atleast once a month, however, you may do it more often if career growth is a high priority. During this time ask yourself;
- Are my skills growing in the work that I am doing?
How am I getting better or plan to get better over the next month?
What were some areas of improvements for better productivity at work?
Did I spend time on important tasks that will help accelerate my career?
These questions will help you review and unlock areas of improvement (which will be never-ending) in your career and work. This step can feel uncomfortable and requires self-awareness and review.
Download a Template for Keeping a Work Journal
Want a quick start with work journal template? Here is a downloadable link to the work journal template explained above;