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Advice / Succeeding at Work / Getting Ahead

6 Ways Keeping a Journal Can Help Your Career

Keeping a journal is a great idea—and not just for aspiring novelists and 15-year-old girls. And I’m not referring to the public online journals that many of us (myself included) keep—though there’s value in those, too. I’m talking about a private, intimate journal; a daily record of your experiences and observations, particularly at work.

This type of journal is an unexpectedly great way to help you work through issues, analyze where you’re at in your job, and grow in your career. In fact, consider it the easiest (and cheapest) form of professional development you can find!

So, go pick out a new notebook or journal, and get started writing—for these six reasons and more.


1. Log Good Ideas

Brilliance doesn’t always strike when it’s most convenient. In fact, your next great workplace idea might occur before bed, as you’re cooking dinner, or—as mine often do—when you’re in the shower (like I said, not convenient).

But don’t let those ideas fall by the wayside simply because you didn’t think of them between 9 and 5. With a journal on hand, you can write thoughts down when they come to you and make a note to share them with your boss or team. You might also find that, when you jot down one idea, a few more come to you.

2. Learn Your Lessons

There’s little value in going through experiences, both good and bad, if you can’t learn from them. So, whether you totally nailed a client meeting or totally stumbled through a presentation, don’t forget to take note of the lesson. By writing down what you’ve been through, noting what worked and what didn’t, and analyzing what might help you in the future, you’ll set yourself up for much greater professional success.

3. List Good Advice From Mentors

There are undoubtedly people in your career, both inside and outside your office, who provide you with invaluable feedback and advice. And you know what’s even more valuable than getting that advice? Remembering it when you need it most.

So, when you get great guidance from a mentor, manager, or peer, write it down and use it as a resource when you’re struggling or looking for a bit of inspiration. It’s likely you’ll want to remember their words of wisdom for the rest of your career—and maybe even pass it on to your own mentee one day.

4. Vent (in a Safe Space)

Did you get a passive-aggressive, condescending, or downright hostile email today? Did a client yell at you for something that was out of your control? There’s no more perfect place to vent your workplace frustrations than in the privacy of your own journal. (In fact, sometimes that’s the only place you should be venting your frustrations!) I don’t mean to say that you should keep all negative feelings and experiences bottled up inside, but getting some of the little, day-to-day stuff off your chest, privately, is often the most therapeutic and safe way to move past your dissatisfaction.

In your journal, jot down the response you really wanted to send to that colleague or client. Read it a few more times if you want, then let it go.

5. Collect Compliments

It may feel a little self-absorbed, but there’s no better place to keep track of the compliments and praise you’ve received than in your personal journal. The value of this is twofold: First, it allows you to quickly remember the great things people have said about you when you need to provide a testimonial of your work, and second, it also acts as a quick and easy morale boost on days that seem harder than others. If you’re being praised at work, it’s likely because you did something right. It’s okay to relish that!


6. Envision the Future

Use the work you’re doing now to envision what you want to do (and can do!) in the future. In The How of Happiness, researcher and professor of psychology Sonja Lyubomirsky says that spending 20 minutes each day writing a narrative description of your “best possible future self” can help cultivate optimism and an overall sense of happiness. This exercise, which involves “considering your most important, deeply held goals and picturing that they will be achieved” is a valuable workplace exercise as well.

Instead of becoming stuck in your routine, think (and write) about opportunities you see for growth. Then use this narrative to help build a roadmap. Now that you know where you want to go, how can you get there?

We’ve all gotten good at sharing publicly—we post our thoughts on public forums, share them at lunch across from our favorite co-workers, and tweet them out to the world. But by sharing your career experiences and your thoughts in a private space, you’re in a better position to analyze your profession, reflect upon your experiences and goals, and plan for next steps as you grow in your career. I hope you’ll start writing today!

Photo of writing courtesy of Shutterstock.