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How to Create and Utilize a Career Journal

by Teri Aulph | February 26, 2019

A reader, colleague, friend, and former co-worker requested that I write an article about how to create and utilize a career journal.  She works at a university and plans to use it with her students. I refer to this tool in many of my articles, but this is solely dedicated to developing a work journal…in my opinion, the smartest power tool to escalate your career.

Anyone who knows me knows I am passionate about the power of documenting your story on a daily basis. I believe this is the single most effective tool to position you for success, regardless of the path you embark upon.

If you were up for a promotion in your current position and you were required to provide an outline of your successes for the past twelve months, how would you put this information together? 

Most people would begin by making a list of what they could recall.  Next, they might ask their co-workers, dig through their desk for old notes, check their calendars/phones for where they were in the last twelve months…at the end of this effort, they would most likely create an incomplete overview of their accomplishments, thus selling themselves short.  Why do we put the least effort in what has the most potential to drive our future success?

Even if you could remember most of your quantifiable successes, would you remember the context in which you achieved them?  Wins never stand alone without a supporting cast or circumstances that demonstrate the how and why of your results. This is the information that will allow you to leverage your past accomplishments for future success.

Most importantly, your story is worth documenting. On the days that prove to be less than ideal, having the ability to open your journal and remember the things you did well will keep you balanced and moving forward.

Below are the fundamentals of documenting your professional story with a career journal in an effort to drive your success a little further every day.

  1. Purchase a blank book, it doesn’t have to be expensive but is meant to remain intact. This is not a legal pad, it should be in book form.
  2. This is a tool you should keep with you throughout your day at work, so you need to select a size that works best for you.
  3. Date the top of each page and keep all your notes from meetings, phone calls, conversations, etc. in your journal. This compiles all your information in one place where it is easy to access and organize. Be careful to avoid anything confidential, in case it is misplaced.
  4. At the end of each workday, answer these three questions:

                    What were my successes today?

                    What did I learn today?

                    What could I have improved today?

This is meant to be a short exercise in summarizing the events of your day and should take less than 5 minutes. Highlight your successes.

At the very end of your day, when the noise has quieted, open your journal and write your top three priorities for the next day. If you wait until the next morning, the noise has already begun and you are at risk for losing focus. By putting these down on paper the evening before, you are able to rest feeling prepared and are ready to go the next morning.

Once you have begun this practice, over time it will become second nature.  Three months into your journal, you will be able to reflect on your career in context.  Over time, you will have data to support where your strengths lie and where you are at risk. A pattern may emerge in the areas you need to improve, this information will equip you with what you need to minimize, improve and/or eliminate.

This may appear simplistic, cumbersome and anything but cutting edge. The reality is what you physically write, you own.  What we record, we think about. Our thoughts drive our behavior.

As fast as things move in the workplace and as we are expected to do more with less, the chances of us being able to recall our successes, challenges or lessons is highly unlikely.  What you document, you have a better chance of managing.

There is nothing more powerful than understanding what has come before, how we arrived where we are today and preparing for a more successful tomorrow. Creating a rearview mirror of your accomplishments will equip you in staying the course you choose. You are the only person who can document your story, begin making that investment in yourself today.


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