Do you have trouble recalling what you worked on the day before?
When quarterly reviews come around, do you have trouble justifying why you should get a raise or promotion?
When you’re interviewing for a new job and are asked about bullet points on your resume, do you have trouble answering questions concretely?
If you answered “yes” to any of these questions, I have a tool that may help you - a work journal.
I know, it’s not revolutionary. In fact, I heard about the idea from somewhere else (although I cannot recall who told me or where I read about it).
A Quick Story
A long while ago, back at a previous job, I was not happy with my job. I did not feel empowered to make changes that would would result in me being happier at my job, so I started looking for a new one.
One of the first steps in the journey of finding a new job is updating your resume, so I did that. I ran into some snags while updating my resume because I had trouble remembering everything relevant I did over the past 5-6 years of employment that I could consolidate into a number of bullet points.
When I started my new job, I decided I didn’t want to have this problem anymore, so I started keeping a work journal.
What Is A Work Journal?
It’s pretty much what it sounds like: a journal where you record work-related material. Keeping a work journal allows you to retain data about your career that you can use for different purposes, such as:
- Personal reflection
- Getting up to speed from the previous work day
- Evidence that you can bring to reviews with your manager in order to make a case for a raise and/or promotion
- Consolidating work into bullet points for your resume
- Allowing you to speak concretly about the work you have done
Here are some things I like to keep track of in my work journal:
What I worked on
Writing down what I worked on allows me to give specific, relevant information to my teammates at stand-up instead of giving a vague summary, or even worse, saying that I can’t remember.
This is a huge benefit of the journal. This is what gets you raises, promotions, and jobs. If you can’t speak concretely about the work you’ve done and how you’ve made an impact, it’s going to be a hard sell to whoever you’re talking to in order to get that raise / promotion / job.
Things I learned
Quirks about the codebase, new keyboard shortcuts, new tools & technologies - these are all things that my brain sometimes forgets and it’s nice to persist these things somewhere in case i forget.
Picking A Journal Medium
It’s all up to you how you want to record this stuff. You like being tactile with pencil and paper? Do it up. You want to type it into an electronic document? I would suggest checking it into version control and pushing it to a private repo.
Personally, I have been using my ReMarkable 2 to write things down, which gives me the best of both worlds. I feel like I’m writing on something physical, but the data gets persisted digitally to a non-public place.
Reviewing Your Journal
Don’t forget to review it! Depending on the reason, you can do this at different frequencies. If you’re looking at what you did yesterday, you’ll read the previous entry on a daily basis. In order to get things together for quarterly reviews or my resume, I look at each quarter of entries and synthesize them into a number of bullet points that summarize the most important work. Do what works for you.
Here’s an example of some entries from my journal. Sensitive information has been redacted. Please excuse my awful handwriting.
There are a few things here. I wrote down a learning, which I typically mark with either a “Learning” like I did here, or I mark it with the letter “L” in a circle. Feel free to come up with your own legends.
My coworker told me a great idea to try when writing tests for code. Since those of us in western countries read left-to-right, if you split-screen files in your editor and put the test file on the left side of the screen and the production code file on the right side of the screen, it will flow more easily to start with a test on the left and then make it pass on the right. Very smart.
I made a remark about how my team has been getting better with mobbing with VS Code LiveShare. At first, it was frustrating and slow, but as we did it more and worked on points of friction, mobbing has become a better experience for our team.
I have a few entries around the work I was involved with. The level of detail I write about those can vary.
I highly recommend starting a work journal to help you out with your career. At the end of each work day, take a few minutes to write down a summary of your day. It will benefit you from the small (remembering what you did yesterday) to the large (remembering what you did two months ago).