Keeping a work journal

What is a work journal? Well, it can be a number of things. It can be a “project” journal/notebook, containing the details of a specific project, as well as notes about any problems that arise, things to remember for the next project, ways to improve the work process, and so on. It can be a record of “cover your rear end” information: information about incidents at work, documentation of your role in the situations, documentation of confrontations, and so on. It can also be a record of the details of your work on various projects at the same time: an organized method so that you can keep it all straight. It can also simply be a book of notes related to your job in general – numbers you need to remember, helpful websites, conversations you’ve had and need to remember, information you need to transfer to a calendar or another record, et cetera.Why keep a work journal? There are many possible benefits of keeping a work journal, as well as many reasons that you may wish to keep one. The journal can be helpful in tracking information that management needs, such as hours spent on each specific project, things that went well and things that did not, and materials used or needed. You can also use a work journal to cover yourself (CYA for those who know what that stands for; I won’t spell it out!). This is particularly important if you are in a situation with a coworker that involves confrontations or conflict; it is a good idea to document everything: time, date, people involved, general situation, your response, the other person’s response, and so on. Other reasons to keep a work journal include:

  • For your own use: to keep track of time spent on various projects
  • To keep track of information on various projects
  • To record information on why you made decisions that you did, how you arrived at the decision, and so on
  • To prepare you for your next job opportunity. For example, you might keep track of accomplishments, projects worked on, and awards/recognition received. You could also track any training you receive on the job.
  • Also useful in preparing for performance reviews
  • To evaluate your own work, to look for ways to improve
  • It can relieve stress. This can be true if you keep a work journal for your own sake, perhaps not on company equipment (i.e., computers). It could allow you to vent your frustrations.
  • It can help organize you.
  • It gives you a place for reflection. You can think about what went right with your day, along with what went wrong, and how to get the results you want.

What do you put in a work journal? Well, some ideas have already been mentioned. For a journal that you are keeping for your own use, you could include ways to improve, notes on assignments that pertain to you only (like things YOU need to remember), important dates to add to your calendar, and assorted notes on things you need to do your job. In a more generic work journal that management might look at, you could include business-related ideas like how to improve processes or procedures, and ways to make a project more successful. You could also list your accomplishments; the boards, committees, groups that you work on, time spent on projects; products you created or were involved in creating – basically, all the information you THINK that you’ll remember when looking for a new position or for a promotion but that you won’t when it comes time.

What format do you use? Well, that is entirely up to your preference and probably depends a little on the purpose. If this is an “official” work log, you may want to keep it in a word processing program on your computer. That is easy to update, print out, and make copies of as well. If it is more for you than anything, you may wish to keep it on paper; then it can’t be confiscated if you are told to pack your things and leave. That actually is an argument for keeping one for your own purposes as well as the “official” work log – so that you have a record of achievements, awards, accomplishments, promotions, and so on. One thing to remember if you keep the work log on company equipment: you need to consider your company’s rules on document retention and destruction.

One side note on blogs. I would recommend being careful about keeping a work-related blog. There have been instances where that has become a problem for the employee; I am not sure what the legal ramifications are, but I would recommend being careful about putting too much about your job online. Companies do apparently “google” employees these days; be careful about what you put out there. I found a number of sites that I found interesting on this subject:

Some suggestions about keeping a work log/work journal include:

  • Date/time stamp entries that may be used in preparing for performance reviews
  • Indicate the start dates/end dates where applicable.
  • At the end of each hour, jot down a few notes about how the hour was spent. At the end of the day, write an overview. Note how the time was actually spent versus how you wanted to spend it; is there room for improvement? What slowed you down? After doing this for a time, you should be able to see if there are patterns that need changing.


Filed under Self-Improvement, Writing

9 responses to “Keeping a work journal

  1. Great post. I keep a binder on my projects. It is tabbed and one key section is “correspondence”. I keep copies of all mine so I can document time frames and sources.

    I like you highly recommend it. Definitely helps get organized. Also if you set it aside for a while to reflect or work on something else reading through it makes it easier to get going again.

    Steve Davis


  2. mmiller

    Thanks! I too have found it so helpful. If you have to work on something else, it really makes it easier to come back to the project. This is so helpful when you have multiple responsibilities or projects.


  3. Hi! I was surfing and found your blog post… nice! I love your blog. 🙂 Cheers! Sandra. R.


  4. mmiller

    Thank you so much! I’m hoping to do a better job keeping up with it now! 🙂


  5. Thank you for sharing your info. I really appreciate your efforts and
    I am waiting for your further write ups thank you once again.


  6. Christopher

    I realize this is an old post, but I had a question about the work journal.

    I’m a working engineer, and I currently don’t keep one. I think it’s important that I do keep one for work related reasons, in particular, having a leg to stand on if legal issues that just happen to pop up. It’s something I’ve learned about in school, but my current work doesn’t have the policy (requirement) of doing it, so I haven’t done it.

    But my question is more related to the work journal for personal use. I’m currently reading through the book “What Color is Your Parachute” and it suggested keeping a journal to document your achievements and successes. The objective being that during an employee review or when you’re looking to get a raise you have a well documented achievement list and you can easily name off what you’ve achieved. Also if I need to update my resume and find another job, I have these achievements to easily add.

    But my question is how you record achievements/successes when each day at work is just more or less a mundane grind to get work done? For me I’m at the point of where it’s like “What did I do today? The same thing I did yesterday and the day before, except just a different client.”

    Any ideas?


    • mmiller

      I am not sure what type of engineer you are but I would think that you might have projects. If so, perhaps completion of a project (or part of it) ahead of schedule might be an achievement. Something else – if you do something that pleases your client and wasn’t expected, that would certainly count as an achievements. Sometimes achievements can come few and far between. Other things that I consider achievements are completing learning that improves your work (or is work-related), reading up on current topics in your field and staying on top of developments and improvements, taking seminars or classes (when possible – I know money is tight both personally and on a corporate basis these days).

      Some days really aren’t marked by what I would call achievements so much as just getting as much work done as I can between interruptions. I do like to note ideas that I have for possible improvements to processes – sometimes that is really the best achievement of the day, making something good out of perhaps a problem that arose during the day at work. If you can find a solution to a problem in a process, that is definitely an accomplishment.

      I hope that helps!


  7. Christopher

    Thanks for your help. I guess I can’t expect to be having achievements everyday. But I do take courses and things like that, so I’ll keep track of things like that.


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