Professional Journal Writing
Keeping a Professional Journal
By David Michael
The focus of a professional journal is tracking what you have worked on, and what you are working on.
A professional journal can include your "thought processes" as you handle each day's tasks, and even record your ideas and epiphanies as they occur during the course of work.
A large part of the knowledge we accumulate in our careers remains untapped because we never write it down. Professional journal writing software allows us to tap that resource and learn from our own mistakes and successes.
Similarly, a professional journal makes it easy to "remember" what we've accomplished, and this can be a valuable tool when interviewing for a new job or for a promotion at your current company.
Why Keep a Professional Journal
Professional journal writing is such a simple and obvious tool, yet it is often overlooked.
In all of our careers there are problems, major and minor, that must be dealt with on a daily basis. Most of these problems are handled with little fanfare, even if dealing with the problem took considerable effort. And with the next day's or next week's selection of problems to face, the ones that we've already solved are easily forgotten.
In addition to the problems solved, there are projects and tasks successfully completed and feats accomplished. But in the progression of weekdays and weekends, problems and solutions, new directions and new challenges, the memory what we've achieved can fade.
By keeping a professional journal, however, you can overcome the limitations of your memory--and, often, the memories of those you work with. Sometimes facetiously referred to as a "CYA Kit", your professional journal can help clarify who *did* stop by your desk with a request for a new feature or change to your current project.
Need to justify your request additional staffing for your department or a raise or a promotion for yourself? Want to review your accomplishments before going to a job interview? By keeping a professional journal, you can have nearly instant access to this and any similar information you need.
A professional journal is easy to start, and simple to keep going. Though it can take a bit of getting used to writing things down (or typing them in), it's a habit that is easily acquired.
Professional Journal Writing -- Getting Started
Pen-and-paper is the traditional approach, and is also usually the easiest and cheapest way to get started. With a good pen and a spiral notebook you are up and running with an investment of only a few dollars.
It's incredibly portable and useable even when the power's out or there's no place to plug in your laptop.
Generations of engineers have kept their "engineering notes" using pen-and-paper methods, filling notebook after notebook in the course of their careers. Before I created my own journaling software, The Journal, I used yellow legal pads.
I filled quite a few of these with my hard-to-read handwriting and almost-illegible "screen-shot scribbles", almost never tearing anything out or throwing anything away. And I still have them. For a slightly more "upscale" approach, there are products like daily planners. These don't often include a lot of room for detailed notes, however.
Maybe these simple tools seem a bit "low tech" to you. Not to worry. There are numerous electronic/digital options available, whether you want it for your desktop, laptop, "palm" top or a combination. Of these, the simplest is Windows Notebook, though the 64K limitation on file size can be a problem.
Other, more sophisticated, options can be found by doing a search with the keyword "journal" on your favorite software/shareware web page (such as http://www.zdnet.com) or search engine (such as http://www.google.com).
Besides my own The Journal software, mentioned above, there are a number of journaling products available. Try them all, and use the one that meets your needs.
Whichever medium of keeping a journal you decide, pen-and-paper or electronic, remember that you can always change your mind. The important thing to keep in mind is that how you keep a journal is up to you. Experiment, and keep an open mind.
Your Own Knowledge BaseSo now you have your journaling materials, what do you write in it? The short answer is: Anything. The slightly longer answer is: Anything and everything.
For example, it is often important to remember how you solved a particular problem because that problem will come up again. Rather than wrestle with it one more time, wouldn't life be easier if you could refer back to how you solved the problem last time? With a professional journal, you create your own "knowledge base" of problems and the solutions for those problems.
Similarly, when it comes time for a "performance evaluation", it can be difficult to remember how much you have accomplished in the last 6-12 months. What could be simpler than pulling a list of what you've done, at a moment's notice, from your records? With a professional journal you know what you've done, because it's all right there.
Besides the above, some other common things to record in your professional journal are meeting notes, action lists, phone conversation notes, design comments, phone numbers, business contacts, and on and on.
It's your journal, for your own purposes, so if you can think of it to write down, write it down. Keep as many or as few details as you wish. Keep in mind, though, that the more specific details you include, the easier it will be to find the information when you search through it later.
Electronic journals are the easiest to search through, since nearly all of them include some feature for searching past entries. Often it's as simple as typing in a word or phrase and reviewing the entries that are found to contain the word or phrase.
Even paper journals can be made rapidly searchable. A simple method is to write key words about the day's entry at the top of the page, or on the outside margin. Also, an index can be created for a particular "volume" or book of entries. Using the key words written on each page, the index can be created very quickly.
Taking it With YouSomething you should consider when you begin keeping a professional journal is: What happens when you and your current employer part ways? Who is the "owner" of your professional journal?
In most cases, there is no problem with taking your "work notes" with you when you leave a company. However, you have to consider any "trade secrets", patents, and other intellectual property that may be recorded in your journal. It's possible that your notes, if shown indiscrimiately to outside parties, could compromise your former company's competitive advantage.
If there is any doubt, you should ask your manager or supervisor if your company has any policy regarding work notes kept by employees. Companies which rely heavily on trade secrets and non-disclosure agreements almost certainly have a policy about this. How restrictive it is, and what kinds of information it covers, are going to vary from company to company.
Even if there are restrictions, you may be able to take everything, or a good portion of it, by signing a written agreement to not release the information.
At worst, you will have to leave your professional journal at your employer when you leave. But even in that case, you will have had the benefits of a professional journal while working there, and can easily start a new one at your next workplace.
ConclusionIn conclusion, professional journal writing is a good way to keep a record of your solutions to particular problems, remember your thought processes as you worked out those solutions, and keep a list of your accomplishments for use in wage negotiations and job interviews.
At first it might take some discipline to keep your journal up to date, but stick with it. After only a short time, you'll be used to the idea--and possibly wondering how you've managed so long *without* a professional journal.
David Michael has designed and developed software for over a decade. David has kept both a personal journal and professional journal since 1993. In 1996, he formed DavidRM Software to sell his award-winning journaling software, The Journal.
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