How Journaling Can Help You Succeed at Work

June 15, 2017, 11:00 PM UTC
Close up of female writing in diary
Photograph by Getty Images/Cultura RF

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When was the last time you thought about how you can challenge yourself? Or took inventory of your accomplishments? Or even checked in with whether you’re happy at work?

Sometimes, you’re so busy crossing tasks off a constantly growing to-do list that you’re inadvertently neglecting your career performance and goals.

You can reclaim that focus in as little as 15 minutes. How? By journaling at the end of every workday.

“A typical day at the office in 2017 involves a lot of professionals constantly moving from one task to another, one device to another,” says Jill Jacinto, a millennial career expert based in New York City. “Journaling is a great tool that can help you reflect on your workplace and the work you are doing.”

We spoke with experts to explore benefits of writing “Dear Diary” daily and provided some journal ideas to help get you started.

Identify your long-term career vision

Take some time to think about what you want to accomplish throughout your career and the type of career you want to have. Introspective questions can help you delineate between what you actually want and what you think you should want.

“Journaling can help you gain clarity on your career vision and keep you accountable,” says Rachel Andujar, founder of the Maryland-based career-coaching firm Rethink Nine to Five. “I remember journaling while still working as a CPA and trying to figure out my next step. By writing it all down, I was able to feel more confident about what I wanted to achieve and who I wanted to impact.”

Journaling prompts: What type of job would I want to do if salary weren’t a factor? What type of company culture is best for me? How do I define a successful career? What are my work values?

Track your progress and future goals

Use journaling to reflect on the past—and focus on your future. Todd Cherches, an adjunct professor at New York University, asks his clients to keep a journal “so that they can capture their thoughts and challenges, reflect back, and track their progress.”

Cherches also notes that journaling allows you to be proactive about planning for the future. (So maybe you’ll have an answer next time someone asks you about your five-year plan.) “Journaling allows you to plan your time better, prioritize, systemize, organize, and strategize,” he says. Identify your goals and create an actionable plan for making it happen.

Journaling prompts: What are some accomplishments I’ve achieved, and how can I continue to build upon them? What are my short-term and long-term goals? What progress have I made toward accomplishing my goals? What are challenges that are making it harder for me to reach my goals?

Create productive strategies for handling work stress

Let’s face it: Sometimes work can be stressful. Use your journal as a safe space to vent without having to worry about your comments getting back to your boss. And that’s not the only benefit; journaling allows you to be reflective and thoughtful before you react.

“Journaling can help you process challenging times, experiences, and events at work in a more effective and productive way,” says Kathy Caprino, founder of Amazing Career Project. “It allows you to take more productive action and have more balanced conversations and interactions going forward.”

Journaling prompts: How did this situation make me feel? What can I do to make the situation better? Is there anything I did that contributed to the situation? What can I do differently next time? Is there anything I can do to reduce my stress?

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Evaluate your career happiness

It’s a simple question: “Do you like your job?” But the answer can be, well, complicated. Journaling can help you home in on certain emotions that might otherwise go unnoticed. When you go back and read entries, you might realize that most of them are about feeling stressed, dealing with toxic coworkers, or trying (and failing) to work well with your horrible boss.

“A career is a journey and it can be easy to get stuck in a mindset that how you are feeling today equals a permanent state,” says Alyssa Krane, chief talent strategist at the Toronto-based talent acquisition firm Powerhouse Talent Inc. “Once you start to see concerns appear in more of a chronic state, it may be time to consider a change.”

If you’ve been putting off searching for a new job on Monster, journaling can be just the springboard you need.

Journaling prompts: What tasks energized me or drained me this month? What do I like or dislike about my colleagues? What are some positive and negative things about my work environment? Is there anything I can do to be happier at work? What are some pros and cons about my current job? Would I be happier at another company? Would switching jobs make a difference or would I need to make a career change?