How and why I keep a diary every workday

Working in front of a computer monitor is strenuous on the brain, and who hasn’t experienced the mental ‘fog’ of heading home after a long day at the screen and remembering…nothing?

The answer is: Keep a diary. Or journal, if you prefer that word.

Your work diary should serve the same purpose as other people’s diaries do: Get stuff out of your head, reflect on it and remember it.

There are a lot of people, articles and books recommending you to do this and take my word for it: It works. Your days are no longer a blur and you have a clearer memory of what you did (and, important as well, decided) throughout the day.

Here are some articles on why a work diary is a good idea:

Harvard Business Review:
Four Reasons to Keep a Work Diary

The Guardian:
Why keeping a diary at work can help your career

Why You Should Keep a Journal (and How to Start Yours)

What I write

My work diary is where I jot down what I did during the day. Which meetings did I attend, what did I propose to that colleague and so on. I include the important stuff that was said/discussed at meetings as well. And since the diary is personal (as in ‘no one else reads it but me’) I also write what I think about these things:

Who made a good point, who had a great idea and is there someone who misunderstood something (which usually means that a short talk/meeting might be required)?

I also reflect on various stuff (articles, presentations, ideas and so on) I’ve come across throughout the day. It’s all about emptying the head, so if an article (or a new feature at a website) set my mind wandering, I make sure to write down the trail of thoughts as best as I can. This has an immediate benefit (my brain can let go) and a benefit tomorrow or another day (I can easily find and remember my thoughts and ideas).

But as with all other habits it’s hard to get started. And all of this is nothing but good intentions if I don’t remember to actually write. You need to find time in your schedule, otherwise you’ll end up with a bad conscience of once again having forgotten to chronicle your day and thoughts. I know I do.

How I make time

This is where I struggle. Once I get started on the writing process it more or less just flows, my fingers dancing over the keyboard.

I have found that if I want to remember keeping my work diary, it needs to be in my calendar. My calendar is the boss of my day: My meetings, appointments, assignments and so on all exist there. You can like it or not — but it works for me.

So I make two ‘Work log’ slots in my calendar every work day. One in the morning (where I get to work) and one in the afternoon (before I leave the office, in time to do some actual writing and reflection). Make sure that you set reminders (the ones in Outlook will do just fine) so you are notified.

This is how I schedule almost all of my work, as I’ve written about previously:

Believe me, this is by far the easiest way; why invent a new system when your calendar already supports notifications and automatically allotting time?

Case in point: Yesterday, as I was about to close my computer and head off, I checked my calendar and saw ‘Work log’ waiting for me in the afternoon.

I quickly opened the document (a promise is a promise, especially when it’s a promise to yourself) and wrote down the important stuff from today. Sometimes I update the document through the day — the morning task reminds me to open the document as one of the first things in the morning.

You can manage you document however you want. My work log is saved on a cloud service, meaning that I can update it from anywhere. This is important to me, since I might work from home one afternoon. Also, computers crash or get cleaned from time to time, this doesn’t effect documents in the cloud.

Some prefer hand-writing. I like that as well, for some things… when it comes to this type of writing I need to type fast (so my brain and my fingers are in sync), and that requires a computer and a keyboard.

Just do it.

But don’t get caught up in rules. The most important thing is that you ask yourself how you would like to do this. And ask yourself what you need to do so you remember it.

For me it’s the calendar, for you it might be a post-it note, a rubber band around your wrist or something else.

And remember: Creating new habits take time:

On average, it takes more than two months before a new behavior becomes automatic — 66 days to be exact. And how long it takes a new habit to form can vary widely depending on the behavior, the person, and the circumstances. In Lally’s study, it took anywhere from 18 days to 254 days for people to form a new habit. #Source
Like what you read? Give Lars K Jensen a round of applause.

From a quick cheer to a standing ovation, clap to show how much you enjoyed this story.