Wednesday, January 27, 2021

Keep a Work Journal

Actions to take: Keep a daily work journal. In it, note any conversations of significance you had during the day and any particularly valuable actions you took. 

My Human Resource Management professor once said "If you take nothing else from this course, remember this: keep a daily work journal where you track every important thing you do and every important conversation you have." He was adamant about it. When I started my next job, I kept a daily journal. For several months, I did not really see why I was doing it. Then, about 4 months into my position, my boss rolled out a new assignment. I needed to provide a monthly report on my activities: successes, failures, challenges, plans, etc. The work journal immediately began paying off. I could tell that my coworkers were stressed about this assignment at the end of each month and took hours trying to come up with things to say. Meanwhile, I was able to produce my report in about 45 minutes. I got feedback that mine were the most robust and informative that she received each month.

That experience, however, is just a side benefit to the real value of keeping a work journal. At some point in your managerial career, you will be subtly but persistently interrogated about some aspect of your job. This will probably be in regards to a poor performer. HR will want to know every detail of your work with that employee. They will be looking for gaps, for shortcomings in your management. In this situation, or situations like it, effective documentation practices will save you. 

Each time this has happened to me, I was able to give specific dates for each and every conversation related to the issue--not just when I spoke with the employee, but dates when other employees complained about them, dates when specific incidents occurred, dates when I spoke with my boss or others in the chain of command about it. Along with those dates, I was able to supply details about the interaction at hand. Perhaps most importantly, I was able to say to HR, "This is not just me trying to remember six months later. Here is what I wrote down about the conversation that day, so I am very confident that this is what happened." There is no describing the satisfaction you feel when HR is struck nearly speechless by the comprehensiveness of your notes.

This is not hard to do, and it doesn't require anything fancy. Just keep a work journal. Mine is a word document with the date, then a bulleted list, then the next date, its bulleted list, and so on. In it, make a short note of every important conversation and any particularly valuable actions you took that day. Some days will have just a few bullets, some will have ten. Many bullets will just be a single line of text, 5 to 10 words. Occasionally, you'll want to write a few sentences. For very important staff performance issues, I recommend documenting those conversations separately in greater detail, though you'll want to note that the conversation happened in your journal. For all of your entries involving other people, Write the person's name, perhaps their title, and anything else that might be useful for finding it with Ctrl+F several months later. Here is an example journal entry:


  • Usual morning duties. Greeted staff. Updated schedule due to call-in. Did daily pre-opening meeting.
  • [Peer, Head of X] emailed to ask for advice about staff goals. Emailed back some thoughts.
  • Weekly 1-1 with Alexis
  • Weekly 1-1 with Elena
  • Received positive feedback email from [Superior, Director of Y] following report submission: I “did a lot of good groundwork to get everyone clear on the issue” plus a few other positive remarks
  • Discussion with [employee] who was frustrated. Having trouble dealing with “entitled customers who need everything done for them.” Discussed strategies. Made note to follow up 1-1 next week & 4 weeks. Possibly assign training.
  • Updated supplies budget spreadsheet. On track to hit target within 1%.

The usefulness of your work journal will crop up in little ways elsewhere in your work. You'll need to remember the name of this or that external partner you talked to back in March, or the context for some project an employee proposed 8 months ago. Your journal will be a great resource in jogging your memory. Peers, employees, and the chain of command above you will be impressed with your uncanny ability to recall details. They will think you have some kind of super power, when in fact you are just doing a very simple thing that takes no more than 15 minutes a day. 


  1. I love this!! I'm going to start keeping a daily work journal now, this is a great habit to form.


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