Keep a Work Diary To Minimize Mistakes And Document Successes

What do John Adams and Oprah Winfrey have in common?

December 3, 1764, “I am determined to keep a diary, if possible, the rest of my life. I fully realize how difficult it will be to do so…it is my purpose to write down each evening the events of the day as they occur to my mind, …I shall try to deal truthfully with all matters that I may refer to in these pages, whether they be of national or personal interest…” – John Adams

April, 2011, “I’ve been journaling since I was 15…now I do a combination of gratitude and trying to give some perspective to whatever I’m writing about…It’s astonishing to be able to track your own evolution—who I was, who I’m still becoming.”- Oprah Winfrey 

A daily diary.

Though reading the accounts of John Adams and Oprah Winfrey may be fascinating to us, the benefits they gave the writers were probably far greater.

Why keep a work diary?

There are four reasons, according to Teresa Amabile and Steve Kramer from “In the Power of Small Wins” at the Harvard Business Review

  1. Focus
  2. Patience
  3. Planning
  4. Personal Growth

They discovered that of all the things that can boost emotions, motivation, and perceptions during a workday, the single most important is making progress in meaningful work. And the more frequently people experience that sense of progress, the more likely they are to be creatively productive in the long run. Everyday progress – even a small win – can make all the difference in how one feels as a manager and holds clear implications for where to focus one’s efforts.

In their research on how events at work influence people and their performance, 200 people sent in daily diary reports. The diarist realized that personal growth was the most important benefit. Keeping regular work week diaries took no more than ten minutes a day, but gave many of the participants a new perspective on themselves as professionals and what they needed to improve.

In my own experience with diaries, I had to chronicle my daily experiences leading a project team in providing food service for the Olympic Village in Atlanta. It was something our company had not done before, and the project notes would be helpful in making future decisions on participation. I still enjoy reading them occasionally, particularly the bit about wearing the Gold Medal of Amy Van Dyken (she needed a late night snack right after her win). My professional reflections, along with many others, helped us to make the decision to continue our association.

Where to start?

In his article, “Writing and Keeping Journals”, Mark K Smith suggests a basic framework is probably useful. A good starting point is to use four basic elements:

  • Description – information on the situation/encounter/experience that includes some attention to feelings at the time.
  • Additional material – information that comes to our notice or into our minds after the event.
  • Reflection – going back to the experiences to capture feelings and evaluate the experience.
  • Things to do – the process of reflection may well lead to the need to look again at a situation or to explore some further area. It may highlight the need to take some concrete actions.

There is, however, no ‘right’ way, rather, what is most comfortable for the writer.

Now back to John Adams – In July 1776, Adams wrote some great reflections in his journal:

“No Member rose to answer him: and after waiting some time, in hopes that some one less obnoxious than myself, who was still had been all along for a Year before, and still was represented and believed to be the Author of all the Mischief, I determined to speak” (On the subject of independence).

The conclusion:  A daily work diary helps one focus on progress, recount personal and professional concrete actions and reinforces making positive behaviors habitual.

Debra Koenig, President, B2A





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