4 Reasons to Journal Your Way to Happiness at Work

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by Janet Choi

How many times have you been asked, “How are you?” or “How’s everything going?” at work only to respond with some non-substantive answer? "Doing great!" or "just fine here!" seem to be the standard responses we give in these situations, yet your job and work environment can rather reliably cause all sorts of substantive feelings — frustration, anxiety, excitement, even joy, and fear — too many emotions to capture in small-talk responses.

Work is personal. And what’s going on in your head affects how you feel and perform at work.

Harvard Business School professor Teresa Amabile and psychologist Steven Kramer have found that paying attention to those feelings is vital. In uncovering something they call the “progress principle,” they discovered that the strongest motivator at work is the sense that you’re making progress toward a meaningful goal, even if the progress is made up of small wins. In fact, meaningful progress is a better motivator and driver of employee happiness than any other factor, including financial incentives.

Paying attention to the personal stuff — your emotions, perceptions, and observations — is necessary for cultivating that progress and achieving those wins. Here are four great reasons why the best way to reflect on your workday is to keep a work journal:

1. Acknowledge your progress and celebrate small wins instead of losing them to a busy workday.

Sometimes the workday is such an illusion; a place where you can feel both harried and unproductive. Use a work diary to get a truer sense of where you stand at the end of the day. Plus, there’s almost always one thing on which you made progress. Taking time to acknowledge even the small wins provides that really powerful motivation that can fuel you forward.

2. Learn from the past to get the big picture.

There’s that saying, “you can’t know where you’re going without knowing where you've been,” and that applies to your work too. Elite performers, such as athlete,s make videos and have coaches to help them analyze their past actions. Keeping a work journal can provide that perspective and analysis to help you learn from negative experiences and setbacks. Go back in your record to review your decisions, actions, and efforts to pinpoint where things started to go wrong or to refresh your memory on what worked really well.

Having a reference is particularly helpful for observing trends. You may notice nonconstructive patterns or productive streaks. Discovering that you’re staying late every time you have meetings during the day or that you’re always jazzed up when you get to present to clients is valuable information. Get a sense of the ebb and flow of events, behavior, strengths and weaknesses.

3. Express how you’re really feeling.

Sometimes you need an outlet for expressing how you’re really feeling so that you can move on to making more progress. The work diary gives you an opportunity to center yourself, think things through, and regain control over a situation. Have you been anxious that you’ll be in the next round of layoffs? Are you not getting along with a co-worker? Regain a sense that you can steer the situation by figuring out where and how you can make progress. Maybe you’ll find out how to concentrate on what you can control, such as your own work or a plan to look for a new job, or figure out that the co-worker is not such a dummy but that you've both been victims of miscommunication. Consult your brain power to work through difficulties.

4. Feel resilient.

One of the greatest benefits of keeping a work diary is that you become more patient and resilient when the goings get tough. You can always look back and see that you've made it through bad days and how you made it better. With this clearer picture of what you have done and what you've been through, you’re better insulated against the flood of anxiety, negativity, pressure, and stress that can wash over you, thanks to your work. Building a record helps you see the long-view.

So take a few minutes at the end of your workday to reflect, celebrating your accomplishments in addition to discussing the setbacks that tend to stick out more in your memory. Pay attention to your personal journeys where so many of us spend such a large chunk of our lives, and foster a deeper happiness that will positively impact your outlook and output!

About Janet

picJanet Choi is the Chief Creative Officer at iDoneThis, the easiest team-building and progress management tool around that tracks, shares, and celebrates your accomplishments. She writes about productivity, creativity, fulfillment, and the way people work. She has had former gigs as an opera magazine editor, lawyer, and gelato scooper. Follow her on Twitter @lethargarian.


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