Work Journaling: the key to better work.

Work Journaling
What if I told you there was a simple way to improve the way you work in less than ten minutes per day? What if this method could help you be a bit more mindful, reduce stress, and improve your decision making? What if this method didn't require any costly changes, but instead, was a simple change in your behavior?

I'd like to introduce you to the idea of keeping a work journal.

In this post, I'm going to discuss the benefits of a daily writing/journaling habit for work. We're going to cover the following topic areas in the rest of this post:

  1. What is a work journal?
  2. What are the benefits of a work journal?
  3. Offline vs. online work journals
  4. Work journal questions & writing prompts
  5. Next steps

What is a Work Journal?

A work journal is a structured, re-occurring way to document, reflect, and improve your decision-making at work.  Unlike other journaling methods, the questions and prompts are geared towards your work experience vs. personal life.

At work, it's easy to be reactive. Instead of being proactive and planning your day, you react to whatever lands in your email inbox. While this can be difficult to avoid, a work journal forces you to be more thoughtful about how you work on a daily basis.

There are two common flavors of a work journal, listed below.

Morning: Forward-looking

Firstly, you can fill out an entry in the morning, ideally before you start work. As you might imagine, the questions are focused on what high-priority items you plan on completing in the upcoming day.

This process is future-focused and aims to align the work that you do over the next eight hours. Unlike todo-lists (which can be noisy and tactical), a work journal aims to identify 2-3 top priorities. 

It's not about documenting everything you do that day, but instead, it's about identifying the right things and what would make the day successful.

Evening: Reflective

Another approach is to reflect on your day after the work is done. This typically happens in the evening. The goal with this approach is to be reflective, sifting through your day and discovering ways that you can improve tomorrow.

I've found both of these approaches to be valuable, but you need to find a solution that integrates with your everyday life. In the morning, I typically have about 30 minutes to myself, which is when I will journal.

Maybe you have time for both of these activities?


The benefits to keeping a work journal

There are a variety of benefits to keeping a work journal. We'll list a few of them below:

  1. Writing in a journal enhances reflection (according to research)
  2. Writing improves your ability to think
  3. Writing is a great way to remember how far you've progressed in your career
  4. It's a great way to document your decision-making process
  5. It increases the probability that you will reach your goals
  6. It's therapeutic (see quote below)
“I don’t journal to ‘be productive.’ I don’t do it to find great ideas or to put down prose I can later publish. The pages aren’t intended for anyone but me. It’s the most cost-effective therapy I’ve ever found.” - Tim Ferris

Personally, I tend to be impatient at work. I've found that work journaling is a great way to remember the past and see how much things have progressed. I frequently don't even realize how much progress has been made until I look back a week or two.


Online work journal apps vs. physical work journals

This next section may be a bit controversial, but I prefer an online work journal vs. a physical notebook. Yes, it's true that the physical act of writing things down has serious benefits, but I'd like to convince you why an online work journal app may be a better pick.

Triggers & Habit Formation

I have a difficult time creating new habits - maybe you are the same? I've tried to create a journaling habit on many occasions, but it never "stuck." Habit formation is crucial to the work journaling process.

The biggest issue was that there wasn't a trigger/prompt to encourage me to answer questions in the journal. I knew that I needed a trigger to encourage me, which is why I prefer a digital journal. Sure, you can create a calendar reminder to write in a physical journal, but it was too disconnected to work for me.

Additionally, I spend a lot of time in my email inbox. I knew that if the trigger was an email notification, I would be more likely to build the habit.

Customization Required

Next up, I purchased several journals that had structured questions and prompts. While I appreciated the structure, the reality is that I wanted to be able to customize the questions and prompts. Unfortunately, this is impossible with physical paper.

Rich Media

Finally, I wanted to be able to embed rich media directly in my entries. For example, I wanted to embed Trello cards, calendar events, or photos from my phone. This is impossible for a physical notebook, but it's doable if you use an online journaling app.

You may still want paper and that's okay!

At the end of the day, you need to do what makes sense for you. There's a ton of journal options that you can pick from if you prefer a physical notebook. I still keep a notebook, but it's a scratchpad for ideas vs. being a structured journal.


Sample Work Journal Questions & Prompts

Questions and prompts are a great way to encourage you to write vs. staring at a blank page. Here are some work journal questions you can ask to encourage inner dialogue:

Forward-looking questions

  1. What is the one thing I need to accomplish today?
  2. What are my must-wins for today?
  3. What would make today great at work?
  4. What are my priorities for today?
  5. What am I thankful for at work?
  6. What am I thankful for today?
  7. What is the most important thing I need to accomplish today?
  8. What's on your mind?
  9. How are you feeling right now?

Reflective questions

  1. What did you accomplish at work today?
  2. Was today successful at work? Why or why not?
  3. What is one area you could improve at work tomorrow?
  4. What do you with you did differently at work today?
  5. Did you make any big decisions today? Document your thought process.
  6. Who went above and beyond today?
  7. Who are you thankful for at work right now?
  8. What could you improve tomorrow at work?
  9. What's preventing you from doing your best work? How will you overcome this tomorrow?
  10. How did you feel at work?

These work journal questions and prompts should give you a great starting point for customizing your own prompts. I strongly recommend adding structure to your journaling process.

Next Steps

I hope by now I've convinced you to start a work journal habit. This daily behavior has significantly leveled up how I get work done. I think if you stick to it, you'll discover the same thing!