How to use a work journal to develop your soft skills

Mar 7, 2016

Here are 5 simple but powerful ways a work journal can help you develop the soft skills employers look for

Keeping a journal of your work activities can help you develop the soft skills you need to succeed in the workplace, whether it’s your first job or several jobs down the line. Noting events and thoughts as they occur aids reflection, and reflection, of course, is key to learning. I thoroughly recommend it for any ambitious-minded graduate as it will help to catapult the pace of your career progress much more quickly.

A work journal helps you home in on your soft skills

A journal is invaluable because it’s a way of keeping a record of what you’ve learnt – or haven’t. Most of the soft skills you need to succeed are those you learn on the job, skills such as problem solving, resilience, team-working and business awareness. You can only gain these skills by being placed in scenarios where you can develop them, through your daily ups and downs, triumphs and challenges.

You can use the work journal to help develop your soft skills whether you are employed, on an internship, involved in extra-curricular activities, or volunteering for a local or overseas charity.

A work journal can help you chart this journey and is a source of information you can review and reflect on in your own time. It’s an aide-memoire and often a source of inspiration. Besides, writing things down is marvellous therapy!

So, here are 5 ways keeping a work journal can help you develop the soft skills needed to excel in your career:

1. Develop problem solving skills by learning from the past

In a new role you’re bound to face many challenges. If you can keep an accurate record of how you solved problems or overcame difficulties, you’ll be able to use this information to assist you in similar situations in the future. Wasn’t it Edmund Burke, the 18th-century Irish statesman, who said, “In history, a great volume is unrolled for our instruction, drawing the materials of future wisdom from the past errors and infirmities of mankind”? So by making notes on how you’ve resolved issues, reflecting on these notes and learning from your mistakes, you’ll be able to act with confidence next time. It will help you understand the steps you took to overcome the challenge and, importantly, you will be able to show a future employer that you have the soft skills of problem solving.

2. Develop the skill of self-awareness

Keeping a diary or journal is also a great aide to becoming more self-aware. Through making notes each day or each week and then reviewing how you coped in various situations, you’ll discover your strengths and weaknesses. Self-awareness is a highly prized soft skill. It enables you to be able to pinpoint habits that are holding you back or skills that require further development. You may even wish to set yourself a weekly or monthly target. This target might focus on a personal quality that needs developing – e.g. assertiveness – or a new skill that needs learning – e.g. presentation skills. You will learn new things about yourself!

3. Record achievements to build resilience and self-motivation

If you’re going through a difficult patch and feeling like you’re making little progress at work, you can always find comfort in your diary. Here you’ll have proof that you’ve been learning, improving and achieving on a regular basis! When you review your notes, you’ll be amazed at how far you’ve come. This can help you develop the soft skills of resilience and self-motivation.

4. Recalling little details helps you learn

Writing notes while the information is still fresh in your mind helps you retain important details you could otherwise forget. It helps you learn. For example, jotting down step-by-step guidelines on how to use a piece of software or how a department works will help you remember the process – not only because you have your notes to look back on but also because the practice of making notes helps stuff ‘sink in’. You’ll then become more accomplished and confident at actually performing the task more quickly. You may notice little details that otherwise could have been lost or overlooked by others, and this, in turn, could improve the way you perform tasks, support colleagues and serve customers or clients. Remember, the ability to learn is a soft skill all employers look for.

5. Communicating, or selling your skills, is easier

If you keep detailed notes about the roles you’ve carried out, you’ll be able to sell your skills much easier. You’ll also be able to update your CV more easily when it comes to applying for new posts. This practical benefit to keeping a work journal will develop your communication skills – simply re-read your work diary before attending a job interview and it will jog your memory about the work you’ve done, how you’ve problem-solved, what you’ve been able to offer the company, the skills you’ve acquired and the difference you’ve made.

A work diary or journal is an excellent place to record your experience as you develop your soft skills at work: the process of moving from beginner to proficient, what you found challenging or easy, what you’re learning, your ideas and thoughts, and what you hope to do next.

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