I am writing this article for all those students starting internships this summer, in co op, or those who might already have a job, to give you a piece of advice: workers MUST keep a work journal!
It all began when I decided I wanted to make some pocket money, leading me to look up “work” on Pinterest, where I came across a post that recommended readers to keep a work journal. To be honest, I did not even open the link. I saw the professional and “chic” looking journal on the picture and thought: I want one.
Before even applying for what would turn out to be my first job, I went to an office supplies store and bought a forty-dollar agenda. Little did I know that due to the lack of work experience I had at the time, the price of that journal amounted to 15% of my first minimum-wage paycheque. There went 1/5 of my month’s earnings.
Fortunately, this extravagant purchase proved to be an investment rather than an expense. That overpriced collection of blank pages would end up getting me an offer for a promotion on my first job, and land me a second job (without me even applying for it).
How did it happen? It can be summarized in one simple word: organization. Why organization? First, as soon as I bought the journal, I started planning: how will I divide the journal? What would I write about, exactly? Should I write every workday?
I decided I would divide each entry into three parts: 1) what I did that day, 2) what I liked and learned, and finally, 3) what I thought needed change/improvement. In each category I would write about the company, my co-workers, and myself.
From the beginning, I had it all there: my observations, my experiences, my expectations, and my perceptions of the day. I wrote about how I solved problems at work, and how I created them. I wrote about words exchanged with co-workers, and about our interactions with our clients.
This process of free writing allowed me to see each day in retrospect and reflect upon my daily highs and lows in an organized manner. This proved to be very useful because, as it turns out, when you forget about something, you no longer think about it. WHAT? I know, pretty obvious, right? But let us take a second to interpret what this seemingly redundant claim means.
As time passes, and we move away in time relative to an event, we tend to remember fewer and fewer details about it. Now, if the event was a problem at work, an impasse that you and your co-workers found and could not seem to crack, does the problem just fade away, along with the memory? Normally, the answer is no and it might even come back to haunt you. Luckily, I realized that by writing down the problem, I was replaying it in my head, and giving myself more time to consider possible solutions.
When an issue is not forgotten about immediately after it’s occurrence, you rethink it and remodel it, and chances are you will resolve it. For me, getting home at night and writing in my journal allowed me to review the current issue at work. Because I re-evaluated the situation, I was giving myself more time to unfold it and to organize my thoughts into a coherent plot, pinpointing where the actual problem was.
Recently, at a leadership conference a keynote speaker said: “if you have a problem but you cannot write it down in a complete sentence, you would not be able to solve it”. Those words resonated with me because that is exactly what I learned to do: find the subject and the object in an issue, relate them, and then tag the matter.
Now I understand why the phrase on the Brazilian flag reads: Ordem E Progresso (Order and Progress). Once you organize your thoughts, it is easier to identify where the source of the problem is, and once you deal with it, you boost motivation and through these small wins, make progress.
Once you recognize issues you can grow through constructive self-criticism and willingness to make changes. You will inevitably flourish as a lifelong learner and enjoyment of the work itself increases because milestones are seen as positive challenges rather than impossible walls.
This is why, when you keep a work journal, it helps to write down important messages that you can always go back and reread. It’s also a great place to vent in a pacific way, externalizing your workplace frustrations and moving past a difficult event. As for me, I felt myself growing. I felt like I was learning new things daily, and instantly applying the knowledge. It gave me confidence as a competent worker and apparently transmitted this confidence to my boss, who offered me a temporary promotion as a teacher (not an auxiliary any more), though I did not feel ready and ended up rejecting the offer. She also offered me another job (at night, after this current job) at another institution, which I did end up taking and enjoying. For this second job I also kept a journal, of course.
If you are still not convinced of investing in a work journal, take a look at what Oprah has to say about this.
And, best of luck on your journaling journey!