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by Kaitlin McManus | August 20, 2019


Woman writing in diary

I know the word “diary” tends to evoke the image of a pony-printed book with heart doodles and a lock that will definitely not keep your mother out. But a work diary isn’t where you talk about your crush or record your deepest, darkest secrets—it’s a log that you keep in which, every day, you write down the most important tasks you accomplished. That’s it—it’s not complicated. But taking the time to keep a work diary can be extremely helpful at many points in your career, whether you do it in an actual notebook, in an ongoing Word/Google Doc, or even in a journal with ponies (I won’t tell). Though it can take mere minutes to fill out, you might be surprised at how often a work diary can prove useful.

Updating Your Resume Is a Lot Easier

When was the last time you updated your resume? As happy as you might be at your current job, it’s smart to think about when you’ll eventually have to dust that bad boy off—the Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that the last generation held an average of 11.7 jobs in their lifetimes, and they predict that younger generations may hold more. For better or worse, career change comes to us all eventually.

It can be tough to distill your entire job down to three or four bullet points for a resume. The things likely to come to mind are probably either the boring stuff you do every day (answering emails, updating spreadsheets, etc.) or whatever project you worked on most recently, regardless of how indicative it is of your merits. Keeping a work diary can help immensely when it comes time to update your resume; you’ll have all the major tasks you’ve accomplished at your fingertips. It’s a lot easier to skim through a few quick diary entries than to try to pick out four things from years of work.

You’ll Be Better Prepared in Interviews…

In addition to discussing your job duties as listed on your freshly updated resume, chances are good you’ll encounter some behavioral questions during an interview process. These are questions like, “Tell me about a time you showed leadership in a group setting,” or “Give me an example of a time you failed and how you addressed it.” You’re going to need specific anecdotes, and if you’re anything like me, being put on the spot makes your mind immediately flush itself of anything useful. Keeping a work diary can abate this problem—scanning it before an interview will remind you of specific examples that you can arm yourself with before heading into an interview, where preparation and confidence go hand in hand.

…And Also in Performance Reviews

Okay, so maybe you’ve got no plans to move to another career at the moment. Keeping a work diary doesn’t have to be just so you’re ready for the next best thing—it can also help keep you on the upward track at your current workplace. Regardless of the way your company does its performance reviews, your manager is very likely to ask you what you’ve accomplished since your last review and what your goals are for the future. Keeping a work diary gives you the opportunity to see what you’ve accomplished, including any progress made towards goals you set at your last review, and may help you determine the types of things you’d like to address in the coming months or year

Make References Easier

Maybe this is just because I despise asking for favors, but I always feel so guilty asking someone to be a reference for me. There’s just something about essentially saying, “Hey, this person may or may not call you—from an unknown number that you won’t want to pick up—but when they do, could you tell them how awesome I am?” It makes me cringe. But references are a necessary evil. My pro tip for getting through them is to make things easy on your reference by giving them talking points. I’m not saying to give them a script to follow or anything, but making a list of your top three projects (especially projects you and your reference worked on together) to jog their memory is a welcomed gesture.

Recognize Your Achievements

Tell me if this sounds familiar: You’ve got three meetings spread over the day that go way over the half-hour allotted to them, and between them you’re fielding emails that just won’t stop. Then your coworker stops by to see if you’ve seen the new season of Mindhunter, and then suddenly it’s 5:00. Ever feel like too many days are something like that—i.e., entirely unproductive?

Keeping a work diary gives you a moment at the end of the day to look back and ask yourself, “What did I really do today?” Even though you might not have felt super productive, I’m sure you got something done. Maybe you nailed down expectations on your next project in that way-too-long meeting or you got invited to a networking thing by your true crime TV buddy. A work diary gives you the chance to see your progress on a more minute level and can help remind you of all the great stuff you accomplish even when things feel frustrating. It also lets you celebrate the big moments, like closing that deal you’ve been putting so much work into or finally getting that coffee meeting with a prospective client. Diaries are, after all, for you first and foremost.

Keeping a work diary takes, at most, about ten minutes at the end of each day. But it has the potential to save you a lot of time and heartache in the future.