How to use Journaling for Professional Development


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Have you seen your CEO carrying a moleskine, or spotted a shiny-leather bound volume sitting on your MD’s desk? All the entrepreneurs and leaders you may have read about, or seen videos of, often talk about their personal notebooks too. This is not a coincidence.

From Leonardo Da Vinci to Robin Sharma, leaders keep a notebook. Journaling, while incredibly powerful tool for personal development is no less useful when it comes to professional development. I have written before about how you can keep a career journal. In this article, I want to highlight how you can use your journal in your day-to-day work life for professional development. 

Here are five simple steps to using journaling for professional development:

  1. Evaluate Yourself

    You don’t need to wait for official evaluation at work. Getting useful feedback is good, but letting someone else have control over your career progress is not very empowering. Particularly, because not all bosses are equipped to handle such responsibility. If you happen to be one of the lucky ones, and have a really good supervisor who gives you good feedback, and is keen on your development, then work with them. But even then, the responsibility should not be completely on them.Professional evaluation in most companies is simply an exercise, which add in resentment or bonuses, and not much more. But there are opportunities to use it for more. Throughout the year, evaluate yourself.

    Did particular project go well? Make notes about it. What was good? What wasn’t? What worked so well that you would repeat it again? What did not work? What lessons have you learned? If certain projects failed because of other people, don’t focus on the blame game. Your journal is for your professional development. Focus on what you could have done differently, whether by selecting different team members, or participating in the team differently in a way that would have encouraged others to be more efficient.

  2. Job Description

    Look at your official job description, and answer following questions in your journal.How much of your work actually matches up with that? Are there things on the job description that you are not doing? Are there things that you are doing, but are not on the job description? What are these tasks? Why are you doing them? Are you expected to do them? If you are, can you have them added to your official job description? Are these the things you are doing because you want to? How do they add value to your skills, as well as to the company? Make a case for them in your journal, so that you are prepared to make a case for them to your company when the opportunity arises.

  3. Above and Beyond the Call of Duty & Thank You Notes

    Write down specifics whenever you go above and beyond the call of duty at your job, and when people compliment you on your efforts. If a grateful client showers you with gratitude, or your line manager/colleague is pleased by your dedication, make a note of what you did (and how you did it). If you spent time quietly fixing away a problem that no one else had picked up on, and prevented a disaster, then make a note of that too. 

    The point of this exercise is not to continuously blow your own trumpet or turn into an arrogant ass. But rather to start understanding how often you go out of your way to do something useful for the company. Once you have written down these examples, dig into your motives. Why did you do it? Why did you went out of your way, spent your Saturday, missed out on spending time with your family, to do this extra bit of work? What drives you? If you are looking for a fulfilling career, and not just a job, then knowing your motivation is essential. To be able to sustain an interest, or even passion for a large part of your adult lives – needs strong motivation. Figure out if you have it, or you may find yourself dissatisfied and disillusioned few years down the line.

    As a side note – there is nothing wrong with changing paths if you do find yourself in that position. I have done it myself. However, with hindsight, I can see things may have progressed much faster if I had been more certain of what career I wanted to follow from the beginning. I hope that by reading this, it may help at least one person follow more direct route.

  4. Where You See Yourself

    Your job title is just your current position. It tells people what you do right now. It doesn’t define you (though a lot of people judge you as if it does). Never ever forget that. Your job title is not a permanent part of your identity. Think about where you see yourself.

    Are you content to be where you are now? Or do you see yourself at the top of your industry? Perhaps a mid-level management position is all your desire, something that gives you enough work satisfaction without being absorbed by it. There are no wrong answers. Not everyone needs to have sky high professional ambitions. Your focus could be on family ambitions, travel ambitions, creative ambitions…whatever it is, it has to be important to you. 

    Figure out how much your work matters to you, and that will give you an answer on whether or not you are prepared to make the sacrifices that come with the kind of career you envision for yourself. For example, even for much coveted positions like footballers and TV stars – there are sacrifices. You work at your profession’s schedule, not your own. There is not time-off for your daughter’s birthday or Christmas, if the professional schedule demands otherwise. So, when you decide where you see yourself, decide whether it is what you actually want to do, or if it is just the glamour of the job title, or potential rewards that make you think you want that.

    This is where journaling about your motives, as well as your motivations can help you gain that awareness. 

  5. How You Can Get There

    Knowing what you want is just the first step (albeit often very difficult step that most people don’t ever get to). Once you know what you want, you need to figure out how you are going to get it. Do you have a clear vision now of where you want to be? A clear vision driven by your intrinsic motivation (not merely by material rewards)? Okay, now make a map. Point A is where you are right now. Point B is your ultimate destination. Now map out all the points in between. Further break down what each of these points would require. See below example:

    This is just one example of a corporate ladder. Use what suits your industry, and your company (or the companies you are interested in working for).

    Point A – Purchasing Administrator
    A.1 – Assistant Buyer
    Do you have all the skills, and even some experience to be an Assistant Buyer? If you don’t, then start gaining some of that. If you do, next step would be start finding that opportunity either in your company or elsewhere.

    A.2 – Buyer
    When you are an Assistant Buyer, start picking up skills that a Buyer would need. All industries may also require professional certifications if you intend to move up. These qualifications usually require time, money and lots of effort. Keep note of reasons why your company might want to finance this education. Most SMEs and large corporations may do this if they consider you a good employee they want to retain. 

    A. 3 – Senior Buyer
    By now, you may have your qualifications. You have excelled as a Buyer, shown that you can build good relationships with suppliers, are a good team player, and have shown some leadership abilities. As a Senior Buyer, you can then take on official responsibility of being a manager of people, as well as of purchasing. You may be responsible for an Assistant Buyer, or simply overseeing some of the accounts that the Buyer is handling. Start building your CV to reflect those skills. They don’t all have to come from your company, or even from your industry. Most skills are transferable, the skill lies in how your present them.

    In your journal, get used to making notes of skills you use for the things you do both at work and in life. Whether it’s your presentation skills, sales skills, or organisation skills. Start writing concrete examples of how you have displayed the use of this skill. (By the way, this will also make interviews much much easier, because you will have all of these information at your fingertips).

    Point B – Procurement Manager
    You think you can handle the stress and the responsibility? Then, start applying for this position.

Using journaling as a tool for professional development is like constantly conditioning yourself to be where you want to be. People don’t just climb Mount Everest. They first train for it, condition themselves to handle the altitude and the physical exertion. Only once they have gone through it that they start the actual climb. Moving up on a corporate ladder, or indeed any profession, is no different. Start with a  vision, and forge your path.  


Start journaling for your professional development. Today.