Skip resolutions. Make this to change your life in 2016.

A spin on journaling for the year ahead

New Year’s resolutions are for the birds. Whatever the goal, making them is inspiring at first, but failure and guilt too often follow. To that I say, not this year.

Instead, make something easy that will have a tremendous impact on your life and career in 2016:

start a professional life journal.


We’ve all kept diaries of our personal lives, but have you ever thought about keeping one for your career?

That’s what a professional life journal is. It’s a free, private, easy-to-keep document to record, reflect, and revisit your professional highs and lows.

Some of my favorite people like Austin Kleon celebrate the power of keeping a journal. Benjamin Hardy just wrote a great piece on how to do it and why to do it daily recently here on Medium.

I’ve kept diaries or journals throughout different phases of my life like most people. However, two years ago, I started a professional life journal and it’s transformed my business and my life dramatically. My only wish is that I’d started it at the very beginning of my career, all the way back in college.

Today, I’m going to break down the idea, why it’s helpful, and how you can start one to make an impact on the year ahead.

I came up with this organically for myself (focusing on my career in a journal) but I’m sure a lot of other awesome people have had the idea to some degree, format, etc. If you’ve heard of this before, please share with me in a comment here. I’d love to see how people make it happen.


Who should keep a professional life journal?

College students starting with internships, entrepreneurs, career professionals, business owners — really anyone who has a career or is about to embark on one can benefit from keeping a journal of their professional life.

Why? Because so few of us ever keep a record or give ourselves any credit for what we do, especially those of us who run small businesses and are in our own heads all the time.


What will it do for me?

A professional life journal is a tool that I created at first just for posterity. In my own practice, it has since become the most reliable system I have for getting what’s so critical as an entrepreneur, perspective.

Imagine when you went through your last job search, you kept a record of what was working, what didn’t, your wins — big and small, your great interviews and your terrible ones.
 
Now if you had that to review and really see the impact you were making in your life and on others, you suddenly have a way to measure and quantify your efforts. It also becomes a way to learn from your mistakes, while giving credit that’s so hard to give — credit to yourself.

What if you had this kind of a journal since you started your business? Or since you entered the working world as a college grad?

What could you learn from having some sort of story of all that you’ve done in your career over the years? The possibilities are really amazing.


How does it work?

When I’m having a really rough month, I look back across the years of history now and see that I got through similar or worse tough times and keep going. When I’m doing awesome, I can look back and be proud of what I’ve accomplished, and document the good news for those rainy days.
 
Every month, without a doubt, updating this tool reminds me that I am making things happen — some months little by little, some by big strides — but it adds up. And I would never be able to see that in the same way if I wasn’t keeping tabs and it helps me make more intentional decisions, especially as I watch that intention pay off tenfold over time.

The journal you start doesn’t have to be pretty, or complex. In fact, simple sentences or incomplete bullet points will do — it’s whatever works for you.

For example, mine is just simple sentences and a header. Here’s what the beginning of mine looks like:

Annie’s Business Diary
 
February 2013
First Client orders wrap-around personal labels
Applied on whim for MTH Scholarship, and got one!

March 2013
Got Ruffled DIY Contributorship (led to 11 projects throughout the year)
Launched first DIY project
Attended Making Things Happen Conference in Chapel Hill, NC (March 13 & 14)
Talked about Storytelling business idea with Howie while staying at his house
Booked First Wedding Client — ceremony programs (including “Story” page) and reception papergoods

April 2013
First Birthday Party Invitation Client
Designed new side business labels
Blogged three times a week for the business

I keep this kind of list/journal in Google Docs as part of my Gmail account, so I can access it from anywhere.

My key to keeping it updated (because confession: I’m terrible about sticking with any productivity system generally) is to have a Google Calendar reminder that says “Business Diary” appear on the same day once a month.


How can I start a professional life journal?

  • Create a document on the writing platform of your choice and title it “Professional Life Journal” or “My Sweet Business Diary” — whatever makes you excited to update it. If you choose one that’s online/cloud-based, you can make updates to it or view it anywhere. Here’s a few quick ideas:
  • Google Documents (what I use)
  • Evernote
  • iPhone Notes App
  • Microsoft Word, Apple Pages, or another word processing program
  • And of course, good ol’ pen and paper, perhaps in a real journal
  • Schedule a weekly or monthly calendar reminder in your calendar and label it “Journal Update,” then update it accordingly. I do monthly because that’s easiest for me to keep up with.
  • Start filling the journal with whatever’s noteworthy to you. See my ideas to get started below.

Tips:

  • If you do yours monthly, flip back through your calendar of meetings and your past emails from the month to jog your memory.
  • Feel free to back-date your journal to get started, especially if you’re already underway with your business or career. I started mine in September 2013 but as you can see, I back-dated to the beginning of my business (when it was on the side and part of a personal blog called anniemade) in February 2013. I just put down highlights so I had more of a full history on the business side.
  • Check out how my friend Stephanie Scholl is deploying this idea in her wedding planning business.

What should I write in it?

This is really up to you and what you want to reflect on, so do feel free to get creative and create this tool in your own way.

To get you started, here are a few ideas that I use quite often in my own professional life journal.

You can write about or document:

  • Booking new clients or getting new customers
  • Receiving business inquiries
  • Making a great connection with a future collaborator
  • Indicating new people you met or discovered that inspired you
  • Progress or a milestone reached on a long term goal
  • Reaching a noteworthy financial place (highest earning month on record, etc.)
  • Business problems you encounter
  • Business solutions you are trying out
  • Attending events and conferences, noting a few key learnings
  • Insights you’re having about the business
  • New business ideas
  • Great feedback you received
  • and anything you want, really!

What else do I need to know?

You got this, and here’s your permission to skip the resolutions. Go make 2016 your greatest year yet (and make sure to write it down, so you know it to be true).

Happy New Year!


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