February 20, 2024

This daily ritual made me so much better at my job

It’s December. The world is as chaotic as ever, everyone’s spent this year encouraging each other to go easy on themselves. We’ve suggested you rest when you’re able, cry when you need to, take walks in the middle of the day, and feel all of your feelings without apology.

We’ve talked about gratitude, resilience, brain fog, and grief, but the truth is that work stressors and responsibilities remain. If you’ve lost work during this time, your professional stressors have likely intensified. And if you’re employed, your tasks won’t go away without your help. It’s easy to feel like you’re failing (even though I bet you’re not).

There’s a Toni Morrison essay that I think about often. In it, Morrison talks about cleaning houses as a child, toiling away to earn money, and the emotional ups and downs of having a job. I won’t give away the ending (it’s a worthy read), but ultimately she comes to some pretty profound realisations.

”You are not the work you do,” Morrison writes. ”You are the person you are. ”

So I’m giving you an unlikely recommendation: My friend started career journalling to remind herself of her strengths, and-on a whim-I followed her lead. For one week I wrote about the things I published, but I also reflected on expert interviews that stuck with me when they were over. I celebrated the days when I made time to eat. I mused over the lines I enjoyed writing. I unpacked days when I somehow managed my stress. And yes-I kept it real about the things I could’ve done better. I saw myself beyond my list of daily tasks, and for the first time this year, I thought about what I’ve accomplished in 2020 and how I’d like to experiment when things are less chaotic.

What did I learn from this small experiment? That Toni Morrison is right: In the endless tunnel of deliverables, it can be hard to remember that you are more than a collection of tasks, but take the time to reflect. It’s worth it.

Here’s how I organised my career journal.

There are lots of ways to organise a career journal. After Googling a few prompts, I found it most helpful to freewrite and reflect at the top of the page (I wrote by hand) and jot down quick wins at the bottom. Why? Because, much like with a gratitude journal, I think there’s value in being able to go back and experience those good moments at a glance. But you can do what feels best for you.

You might organise your journal by wins, losses, and reflections. Or you could pose questions to yourself like: What job has made you happiest and why? What do you like most and least about your current situation? If you have trouble thinking about how you’re making a difference, you could reflect on how you helped someone or made life a little easier for the people around you (every small action and interaction counts). The idea is to take a few minutes each day to remember that you’re more than your to-do list.

If you’d prefer a more guided journalling experience, the Deluxe Career Journal (£37, Amazon) gives you prompts for daily wins, weekly bragging, and overall satisfaction.

Not convinced? Here are a few reasons a career journal might make sense for you:

– If you’re struggling to figure out where the days go, writing can help you slow down enough to notice your wins.

– If you’re not sure what you want your overall career trajectory to look like, journaling about the things you’ve enjoyed or done well can help you think about where you’d like to go next.

– If you use softer skills like managing up, throwing company Zoom happy hours, or diffusing difficult situations, a career journal can help you recognize those contributions.

– If you need a way to end your WFH days, writing a few reflections is a nice way to tell your brain that your workday is over.

– If you’re between gigs, a career journal can help you remember that your career is bigger than just one job.

– If this seems like way too much work right now (getting up and doing your job is hard enough), I totally understand. But if you have the energy to start a career journal, now might be a good time. No matter what, try to remember that your value extends far beyond your to-do list.

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