Keeping a Work Journal

JoelMontes / Foter / CC BY-SA
As a productivity and process professional I am always focused on the tool or tools being used to make processes more efficient and effective.  Sometimes though it’s not about the tools…it’s about something more basic.  Over the past three months I’ve been working on a number of projects where it is important to keep running track of the work going on in parallel.  Due to some specific limitations for security reasons, I keep track of my work in a paper journal.  Now normally this would be perceived as inefficient and in dire need of replacement with digital tools and processes.  However, let’s not look at the tools and rather let’s look at the process.
My journal starts with a page each day that acts as an index to the work accomplished each day.  Included on that page is the date and the start and end times for work that day.  Since I’m responsible for reporting my time for my client (as many of us need to do) I need to know not only what I’ve done but how long it has taken me.  As the day progresses and I switch from topic to topic two things happen in the journal: first I make a verbose record of the work and second, if I’m starting a new activity for the day, I add a line to the daily summary.
It’s not a complex system  There are all kinds of techniques on the Internet to “improve” the efficiency of such a system but what I feel they lose sight of is, does the process and the tool meet the original objective?  With each week I have had the instincts to “tinker” and try to improve the tools and techniques and wind up coming back to my paper and pens.  This process of verbose journaling has helped me focus on objectives, develop more detailed plans, and work through iterations while providing myself visibility into my own thinking process than I have had before.
How do I start a work journal?
First you have to give yourself permission to spend time capturing a level of detail about your activities greater than you are accustomed to.  The reason why I say, “give yourself permission,” is because we are trained to find the most efficient path for our work which doesn’t necessarily lend itself to taking a detailed record of what we do for the purposes of review and learning.
The method of work journaling is more important than the tools involved.  Use your journal as a storage place, a work space, and a narrative of successes and failures.  The key is to circle back frequently and transfer important content from the journal to your normal note and information management systems.  The journal is all about the capture, not about the organization.