Dear Diary: The 4 Payoffs from Writing a Work Journal

Last Updated Apr 28, 2011 3:23 PM EDT

A diary? Who has time to write a diary?

Well, it will take you just 10 minutes a day, and the payoffs include greater effectiveness in your job as well as in your career.

Teresa Amabile, a Harvard Business School professor and expert on the creative process, blogs that keeping a business diary can help you in four ways:
  1. Focus. Journaling provides introspection on our strengths and weaknesses, and helps us identify where we like to be most engaged (and thus successful).
  2. Patience. Looking back through your personal time machine allows you to recall how you overcame obstacles and teaches the power of patience in getting things done. Amabile quotes a former student: '''I am always encouraged to look back and know how far I have come in a year's time, and how major obstacles seem to become minor speed bumps in hindsight.'''
  3. Planning. Work projects are rarely accomplished in linear fashion, so your diary will reveal how your work goes forwards, backwards and sideways. This knowledge will help you plan realistically for the future.
  4. Personal Growth. Regular work diaries can provide a new perspective on on ourselves as professionals and what we need to improve.
What do you diary about? You might chronicle the major events, accomplishments and disappointments of the day and, just as importantly, what you learned from them.

Ask Judy Yi, who responded to Amabile's post with her own journaling method.

"I use my Outlook (digital calendar) as a work journal. I create a "private event" and write brief notes to myself, particularly my reflections of the day. I also use this time to record finalized projects or specific outcomes and achievements. When it comes time to complete my semi-annual performance review, I do a search of these journal notes and re-read my history... "

Read Amabile's detailed post, Four Reasons to Keep a Work Diary, on HBR.org.

Do you keep a work diary? What does it do for you? Also, what do you use to make your comments?

Related Reading (Photo by Flickr user magnusfranklin, CC 2.0)
  • Sean Silverthorne

    Sean Silverthorne is the editor of HBS Working Knowledge, which provides a first look at the research and ideas of Harvard Business School faculty. Working Knowledge, which won a Webby award in 2007, currently records 4 million unique visitors a year. He has been with HBS since 2001.

    Silverthorne has 28 years experience in print and online journalism. Before arriving at HBS, he was a senior editor at CNET and executive editor of ZDNET News. While at At Ziff-Davis, Silverthorne also worked on the daily technology TV show The Site, and was a senior editor at PC Week Inside, which chronicled the business of the technology industry. He has held several reporting and editing roles on a variety of newspapers, and was Investor Business Daily's first journalist based in Silicon Valley.