As you bump (race?) up the ladder of an organization, keeping a journal can be really useful. No, I am not referring to making an accounting journal entry but a ‘diary entry’ as we in the Commonwealth English speaking world often refer to it. Or in shipping parlance, sometimes referred to as the ‘captain’s log’.
Journals can be Really Useful
Journals are useful for two reasons, I believe: firstly, to cover yourself when there are disagreements about what really happened some time back – and secondly (more importantly) – to be able replay back events some time later where you can ponder why things turned out as they did. And perhaps to help drive improvements in what you do and to track how you are progressing towards your overall plan for the business or your career.
The best thinking comes from structured reflection using your journal as a tool to peruse what actually happened. Replaying events later is crucial to our learning about a particular experience.
Naturally, there is the hope that you are performing your work to the highest level of professionalism – and this will always be evidenced in your interesting and objective journal entries.
Writing a Journal
Five to ten minutes should be all that is required to enter what happened during the day in brief abbreviated English. When writing – try and put the perspective of the other parties in your day-to-day activities and ask the question “why’ repeatedly to identify why things turned as they did.
Try and look at the journal entry against what you were planning to do that day.
Journals should not only keep a record of what happened but also emotions and tense comments that were made at the time. In as objective and dispassionate way as possible.
Remember that writing up your journal as soon after the day is over is best as the memory slowly starts changing what you remember. And this is what is so great about a journal – when you look back a year later – you will be surprised at the contrast between what you remembered happened and your actual record of the event.
Always write a journal bearing in mind that someone unknown may read it later. It may be describing your meeting on the structural supports for a bridge which later collapsed. Your memory and details may be critical in a subsequent court case or legal dispute.
Why do we avoid making journals entries?
Engineering types tend to often avoid putting journal entries together as writing skills aren’t always a preferred activity. We also believe it can take a huge amount out of our day doing something we often believe is unproductive time. One is often hard pressed to justify the time. And, writing a journal on a particularly painful or complex event can also be really hard work dissecting the precise sequence of events.
Persistence is the way to go
My suggestion is to try and write a daily journal and take stock again after six months. It will definitely be a worth endeavour.
In writing a journal, keep Blaise Pascal’s comment in mind: ‘I made this letter longer than usual because I lack the time to make it short.’
Thanks to Dan Ciampa for a great article which I adapted entitled: The More Senior Your Job Title, the More You Need to Keep a Journal in the Harvard Business Review
Yours in engineering learning