Journaling for Professional Development
Improving Yourself Through Reflection
Would you like to become a better communicator, to develop self-awareness, to build self-confidence, and to learn quickly from mistakes, via one simple, daily event? All of this – and more – is possible when you keep a journal.
In this article, we'll explore what journaling can do for you, and how you can fit this valuable habit into your schedule.
Journaling is simply keeping a record of your thoughts, feelings, and experiences.
It may sound like another task that you'd struggle to fit into a busy schedule, but it need not be a time-consuming chore. In fact, once you get started, you'll likely find it an enjoyable, worthwhile habit.
Calmly recording the details of an event after it happens can provide you with valuable "mental space," allowing you to assess – objectively and dispassionately – what has just occurred.
Journaling can help you to:
- Identify mistakes that you have made, and reflect on how to avoid them in the future.
- Review your learning, cementing new concepts in your mind and keeping information fresh.
- Develop your critical thinking and problem-solving skills.
- Become more self-aware and emotionally intelligent.
- Manage stress more effectively.
Journaling can also help you to develop your communication skills, because you get to practice your writing skills, and to learn how to express your thoughts and feelings more clearly.
It can also help you to deal with negative events more effectively. One key study showed that people who used a journal to describe and analyze their emotions after a stressful event felt more positive about it in the long term.
Also, journaling can help you to track your progress toward your goals. It's easier to see what you've accomplished when you record it, which, in turn, can be motivating and fulfilling.
You can journal in many ways. Consider these examples:
- Lachlan updates his journal after attending training classes, to reflect on what he has learned in each session.
- Marissa records a journal entry each evening after work. She takes time to reflect on what she did well, and she thinks carefully about what she could have done better, especially when it comes to interactions with her team.
- Michael has felt unfulfilled in his job for several years. He recently began journaling every morning to help him to identify a new purpose in his work.
How to Keep a Journal
There are no strict rules about how to keep a journal. It's a very personal process, and over time you'll likely find your own approach.
If you're new to it, try these seven tips to you get started:
1. Choose a Format
Paper journals are the most common format: many people find that the physical act of "putting pen to paper" helps them to reflect. It's slow and measured, and it can be a valuable way to start or end your day.
Another option is to keep an electronic journal. This could be as simple as keeping a document on your computer, or making entries in a note app such as Google Keep or Evernote. Or, you could use specific journaling apps, such as iDoneThis or Moleskine® Journal.
Our article on The Cornell System offers advice on effective and efficient note-taking, which can help you to recall relevant information and important points.
You could also consider starting a blog, if you feel that your insights could benefit others. Keep in mind, though, that anyone will be able to read your thoughts, feelings, and experiences, so avoid saying anything negative or damaging about your colleagues, clients or organization. Or, set up your blog so that only you can access it.
Alternative formats include keeping video or audio journals, which can work well if you're more comfortable speaking than writing.
If you want to write down your thoughts on paper, buy a notebook or journal that appeals to you visually, as you're more likely to use it.
2. Pace Yourself
Your daily journal entry doesn't have to be a novel! Go slowly at first. Perhaps write for five or 10 minutes, and then stop when you've had enough, or when you feel you have nothing more to say. Over time, you might find that you want to carry on for longer, raising other issues.
Also, try not to amend or censor what you write or say – just let the words (and feelings, emotions, and ideas) flow.
3. Make Journaling a Habit
To get the most from your journaling experience, aim to record your experiences at the same time every workday – ideally when you won't be interrupted. First thing in the morning, lunch time, or right before bed are popular times, but the important thing is to work out the best time for you, and to stick to it.
4. Reflect on Your Experiences
Effective journaling combines a clear narrative about recent events with critical thinking about what you've learned – and, perhaps most importantly, what you can change or improve.
To help you to reflect, consider the following questions:
- What has happened since you last journaled?
- If you could revisit a recent event, what would you do differently, and why?
- What have you learned since your last entry?
- What mistakes have you made, and what has gone well?
Whenever you journal, think carefully about the most important thing that's happened to you since your last entry, and keep in mind that this event can be subtle.
For example, you might have pulled off a great presentation. But, it may be more important to note that you were upset with your assistant before the presentation, and that you snapped unnecessarily. This is the event that you need to record in detail and learn from, exploring why you became upset and why you behaved as you did.
Also, record any quick wins that you've achieved (for example, getting an informative email response), so that they don't slip out of your memory. Reflecting on these can boost your motivation and self-confidence.
And, if you can't think of anything to record in your journal, don't worry. You could just write or say, "I've got nothing to report today" or, "Things were very quiet today," and move on. Chances are, it won't be long before you do have something to report.
Cognitive restructuring is a great technique to use to think about difficult or painful events more objectively. Use it as part of the way that you keep your journal.
5. Be Honest
Try not to "sugarcoat" events as you record them. You'll only learn from your experiences if you're honest about them. Be candid about what you thought, how you acted, or how a person or situation made you feel.
Remember that no-one is reading these words apart from you – unless you're blogging publicly, of course – so there's no need to worry about anyone else's opinion.
6. Focus on Positives and Negatives
Even if you've had a lousy day, try to reflect on at least one positive thing that happened – and the more you can think of, the better. What led to this positive event, and what did you learn?
If you can't identify a positive event, simply "count your blessings" by thinking about things that you're grateful for, such as your health, your skills, or your family.
7. Keep Your Goals in Mind
Think about your long-term goals as you make your journal entry.
What progress have you made since you last added thoughts to your journal, and what can you do next to make progress on your important goals? Did anything happen during your day that could impact those goals? (For example, being handed an unexpected project that will take up a lot of your time.)
You could even kick off your journal by making a list of your goals, and then schedule regular reviews as you progress.
Download and print this journaling aide-mémoire. Cut this out and paste it into your journal as a quick reminder of what you could record.
Journaling is the process of recording your daily thoughts, feelings, and experiences. It offers many benefits for your personal and professional growth.
To begin journaling, decide on a format, and find time (from a few minutes to an hour) in your day to record your entries, so that it becomes a habit.
When you record events in your journal, think critically about what you've experienced, how you could have behaved differently, and what you've learned.
Be honest about your thoughts and feelings. Try to identify at least one positive thing that happened in your day, and reflect on your goals, and your progress toward them.