Have you heard of a “work journal” or development journal? You might think it looks something like this:
Today at work I think I committed career suicide. I held an important meeting and it was a complete disaster…..[insert complaints about people, processes, or policies, accusations of unfairness, suspicions about who is dating who, etc….]
Until tomorrow, when I shall return with more despair…
Fortunately, a development journal looks very different from this. That’s good news, because a growing body of evidence supports the benefits of journaling in areas ranging from the cognitive to the creative. Not convinced? Check out this this article or this one to get you started.
As you see, journaling in general is linked to an impressive list of positive outcomes. Achievement of goals. Increased focus. Improved communication skills. Are you thinking the same thing I am? These benefits also happen to be great compliments to an individual development plan (IDP). Particularly, IDPs that are part of a self-owned development practice.
To get the full benefits, a development journal should not be a place for egocentric regurgitation of the day’s ups and downs. What should it look like and how does it work? Here are five principles to follow for using a development journal to support the IDP, or any kind of career development.
1. Development journal content should be linked to specific professional development goals.
The development journal should support the IDP, not replace it. This means the content should be linked to specific actions described in the development plan. For example, if a person has a development goal to improve presentation skills, and one of the supporting activities is to deliver a presentation to senior management, the person could journal about that presentation.
2. Answer specific questions and identify next steps.
While it may be therapeutic to journal about whatever comes to mind regarding that presentation to senior leadership, it probably won’t do much for one’s development. Without specific questions to answer, there is no clear linkage to the assessment of how the presentation went and therefore no next steps to act on. Here are a few examples of specific questions one could address in the same example of delivering a presentation to senior management:
What 2 things did I do in the presentation that worked well? How do I know they worked and how can I do it again next time?
What was the most challenging portion of the presentation for me and what can I do differently next time it happens?
By reflecting on these questions in the development journal, the person can identify the most and least effective tactics used in the presentation. This learning can then be applied to future presentations and ultimately improve presentation skills.
3. Establish a regular schedule and reserve the time on the calendar.
You’ve heard this one before. The age-old time management trick that applies to everything from exercise to staff meetings to eating lunch applies to journaling as well. The busier someone is, the more important it is to allot the time required. Otherwise, you know what will happen….or more likely not happen.
4. Keep it private.
Although employees commonly share their individual development plans with their bosses, the journal content should not be part of what gets shared. Chances are that content will be toned down if it is expected to be read by the boss. The development journal should be a place where one feels free to say anything with no repercussions. It’s a growth exercise after all.
5. Be honest and don’t hold back.
Self-awareness is critical to career development, and you can’t be self-aware without being honest. With the journal being set as completely private, it creates a safe environment for introspection and insight, which facilitate learning and growth. This type of reflection helps keep the focus on true development rather than meeting stated deadlines.
Have you used a development journal? Would you use one in the future? Share your experience and thoughts about it in the comments!