Guide to Keeping a Work Journal (with downloadable template)

Did you know that some of the most successful people kept a work journal? To name a few — Einstein, Bruce Lee, and Thomas Edison.

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.

Below, I share what I have learned from studying the work journals of successful people and applying those learnings to my own work journals — kept for personal and professional projects.

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.

My work journal template
An entry from my work journal – May 30th, 2017

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;

Download Work Journal Template (.docx, .pdf) via Google Docs

9 comments On Guide to Keeping a Work Journal (with downloadable template)

  • I’m interested in email updates.

    • Darrel, I have added you to the email list! Please check your email and confirm the subscription. Excited to have you as part of the community!

  • I am curious about this journal keeping and want to use this tactic to help build on the team I have. How do I start?

    • Misty, good question. Please do write to us with more details about your team (how many, type of team, goal etc) and I will be happy to give you guidelines and tips.

  • Thank you!

  • I was looking at journaling and came across your post I found it refreshing and will start my journaling journey soon with a focus on reflection.
    Would love to receive more content from you to help me build my experience with journaling

  • Thank for this article!!
    I am currently dealing with a a very difficult the coworker at my workplace was wondering if you can help me with the best template for a journal for difficult coworkers.

    • Jeffery, good question and a difficult one to deal with.
      Here are some journaling tips that might me of help;
      1. Create two sections – one section for “things in your control” and the other section for “things outside your control”. Now, under each section, write down what you can do about it. For example, under “things you can control” write all that you can do to deal with this situation. These things might include like talking to a trusted manager, managing your mindfulness and breathing so that you don’t take the stress onto yourself.
      2. Remind yourself to breathe and be mindful as you go through the difficult times at work – this will not help remove the situation, however, will help with minimizing the impact of the unpleasant situations at work.

      These tips (alongside with your effort to make things better at work), should improve the situation.

  • I came across your page and I need to start journaling my freelance work. I ahve been out of work since Marc, 2020, due to COVID shutting down theatre and film industries. As an ADD freelancer, I’m all over the place most of the time, while trying to get work and accomplish the job, with out letting interruptions get me off track.
    Your ideas look interesting and simple to do.

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