Advance your career by keeping a journal

Nick Halper
5 min readMay 11, 2021

The idea of keeping a journal may dredge up memories of 80’s teen romance movies, but a journal is for more than just star-crossed lovers. It can be an unexpectedly great tool to help you get ahead in your career. This isn’t just any journal, though. This is a career journal: a personal record of your experiences and observations at work.

The power of this journal is not just the memory, which allows you to look back at your past experiences. Simply the act of writing out your thoughts can help you reframe them and work through issues or explore things in new ways.

The best journalers will make this a daily practice, but if that is too much then writing in it weekly can provide a good way to end the week and transition to your weekend. Get a dedicated notebook (or go digital) and start writing for these reasons.

Remember Lessons

Every day at work you have experiences that you try to learn from, making yourself just that much better the next day. Whether they are positive or negative experiences, there is always a lesson to be had. Journaling is an excellent way to remember those lessons, helping you to identify what worked (or didn’t). You can use this to more quickly refine your technique over time, and even let you hark back to specific examples when you encounter similar situations in the future.

Document Success

It can feel a little self-absorbed, but you will thank yourself later. When preparing a resume, curriculum vitae, a bio, or even when entering a performance review, you will benefit greatly from having a list of compliments, successes, and achievements. This will allow you to produce excellent, detailed, and accurate testimonials of your hard work. Plus, it can serve as a bit of a pick-me-up when the imposter syndrome sets in.

Note Advice

Most people are constantly given suggestions, tips, or advice throughout the day. While not all of that advice is amazing surely there are people you work with that provide you feedback and help that you would like to use. Unfortunately, these golden nuggets of guidance can get lost in the hubbub of the daily grind. A journal helps you remember these items when you need them most.

Catalog Ideas

The subconscious mind is a tricky thing. It may be in the middle of you zoning out in the middle of your three-hour Monday ‘status update’ meeting when you solve that problem you have been working on for weeks. Inspiration isn’t always convenient, but your journal can provide an excellent place to note these strokes of brilliance down.

Not only does this mean that you will have the tool in place to remember these aha moments, but also you can now be sure that you have a catalog of great ideas for future projects and initiatives. A nice exercise to do is go back and look through these good ideas and see if they stood up to the test of time. This can help you refine your thought process and begin to recognize really good ideas more quickly.

Let Off Steam

Maybe a coworker botched a project you were working on, maybe you said a stupid thing during daily standup, or maybe a customer screamed at you over the phone. Your workplace journal can be a place to work through your response to those events and help you vent a bit. It can also be a good place to practice some stoicism and learn to better deal with your feelings to those negative events.

Collect Feedback

If you are a manager, you might find yourself forgetting the specifics of positive or negative observations of your employees when it comes time for your weekly standup. Complimenting somebody on a job well done sounds so much more impressive when they can tell you remembered it, and a journal can help with that. Even if you aren’t managing others, being able to note to yourself when a coworker has done something well or your boss helped you out can provide you a nice list of things when making recommendations or being asked for feedback. Further, it helps you stay in tune with your work environment, painting a better picture to yourself on what you value.

Record Career Choices

Frequently, we are faced with decisions in our careers. Do we take this project? Should we accept the move to the new department? Should we start looking for another job? All of these things can represent forks in the road in our professional development. Use a journal to document your decision at these junctions. Write out why you made the decision, which factors you considered, and what you expect the outcome to be. In the future, you can look back at these decisions and use them to guide future ones. Suppose you decided to stay at your job; when you have those thoughts again you can look back to see if the factors have changed. Took the new project? Did it end up being the success you imagined? If not, what information could you have gathered to determine that earlier and be more sure?

Set a Path to the Future

A journal is a great place to keep track of goals and your strategy for achieving them. Similarly, it is an excellent place to recognize the formation of new goals and new visions that you have for the future. Use your journal to write down what you value in the work you do, use that information to guide yourself to a future career that best fits you. Maybe this practice will make you realize that the work you are doing now is the best possible fit. No matter what you get from it, using the journal as a tool for future planning is probably one of its greatest strengths.

Inherently, that is what all of these points boil down to recording things now that can guide you in the future. So what better way to use it than to help guide you to your most important goals.

Summary

A journal is an excellent way to allow you to reflect on your professional experiences and use them to your future success. Keep a daily journal where you note lessons, successes, advice, good ideas, big decisions, and future plans. You will find yourself with concrete advice from your past self and a list of useful information to help you in a variety of professional activities.

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Nick Halper

Neurotech Founder| Product Manager | Systems Thinker | Medical Device Developer | Musician | Boardgamer