To shift your mindset from managing your career mostly by default to crafting a career with purpose, keep a career journal.
What is a career journal, and why keep one?
A career journal is a tool that allows you to brainstorm opportunities, create long-term visions for yourself, resolve uncertainties, and ultimately make better decisions about your career.
When I worked corporate and performance review time came around, I was astounded by how superficial the self-assessments could be. People were always busy, and the review paperwork seemed like a burden. (Some have argued for abolishing the performance review altogether, such as here and here, but that is a separate debate.)
The reason it felt like such a burden is that people only thought about their careers once a year – at review time. What a terrible disservice to themselves and the larger team! Anyone keeping a career journal throughout the year could have completed the review paperwork in 15 minutes flat, and have a robust and thoughtful assessment to contribute.
In addition, the clearer your vision, the easier it is to get the help you need to make it happen! A career journal can help surface gaps in knowledge, who to talk to, and how to go about making changes.
Finally, the career journal serves as a record of your journey, and this has two advantages. One, it’s good for your mental health. Thoughts that swirl around in your head, keeping you up at night, are suddenly on the paper or computer, allowing your mind to rest and become unburdened by the urge to keep it on the surface until you deal with it. Two, the documentation allows you to see more clearly, revisit issues that weren’t super relevant 6 months ago but now suddenly are, and you do not need to worry about ideas being “lost” because something else grabbed your focus for a month.
How do I keep a career journal?
If you already keep a journal, great. Then use whatever method you’re already familiar with. If you haven’t kept a journal before, they come in all shapes and sizes and methods. Here are some:
- Traditional notebook: free-form paragraph writing, mind-mapping, charts or pictures
- Bullet journal: takes some orientation but many find this the most efficient
- Voice recorder, ideally with transcription feature: make notes to yourself while you’re standing in line or commuting in your car
- Personal blog: create a great-looking and inspiring blog that is set to private so no one else has access to it. You can tag or categorize entries as needed for leadership development, networking, career change, or others as needed. (Do those categories look familiar? 😉 )
- Pinterest: Collecting material and ideas (and borrowing from others) on a personal board
- Evernote: Create a notebook here and clip things you find online (like this blog post!) and your musings on them
There are many more options – experiment with what works for you!
What do I write in it?
Here are 10 topics to get you started.
- What are your professional values?
- If you imagine “living your best life” career-wise, what does it look like?
- What would you consider your greatest powerhouse talents to be?
- Who would be the easiest people to network with who you aren’t already networking with?
- What topics really interested and intrigued you this week?
- Is there a conversation you wish you handled better? What would you do differently next time?
- What specific work-life balance issue would you like to work on in the next month? Whose support do you need to make it happen?
- How can a more empathetic and active-listening approach to a difficult client or coworker help you manage that relationship better?
- What 1 or 2 things can you do in the next 2 weeks that will have the greatest impact on your work life in the following 2 weeks?
- Are you facing a career “worst-case” scenario? What 1 or 2 things can you do in the aftermath of that scenario that can make the situation immediately less bad? How likely is the worst-case scenario at all, and what is more likely to occur?
How often should I use it?
As your remote career coach, I would advise that you use it as often as possible! Realistically, you have many options, but the greatest chance of success lies in anchoring the practice onto another activity you already do.
Do you have a morning intentional or gratitude practice? Make a 5 minute note in your career journal here.
If you read before bed, keep your career journal at bedside and unload all the stressors and inspirations you can think of before head hits pillow.
Include it as a self care ritual, when you have an afternoon off, or you are at the park in the sunshine, or cozying up with some tea before watching a rom-com on Netflix.
Download a voice transcription app onto your phone and record some thoughts while you’re on the subway platform, when you’re sitting in traffic in the car, or if you’re taking a walk around the block at your afternoon break.
Or – dare I say – keep your career journal in the magazine rack next to the toilet. (The ending of Breaking Bad, anyone?)
Any way you choose, it can be easy to integrate a career journal practice into your existing routines to give you the insight you need to be more proactive than ever!