October 9th, 2012

Journaling Shows Progress (and helps you find meaning)!

Geoff DiMasi

Teresa Amabile: Track Your Small Wins to Motivate Big Accomplishments


Earlier this year, Alex Gilbert and I took in the 99% Conference in NYC and had the opportunity to hear Teresa Amabile speak on the value of journaling.

There were lots of great speakers over the course of the two days, but this talk has stuck with me a few months later. The basic premise is that daily journaling has a huge impact on your "inner work life" (a.k.a. work satisfaction). 

One of the key insights is that journaling helps us all become more aware of the progress we make each day (even if it is small). And making progress (more importantly being aware of progress) improves your satisfaction with your work ("your inner work life").

Teresa summed up some of the values of journaling:

  1. Helps you celebrate the small wins in work.
  2. Let's you plan your next steps (if you had setbacks).
  3. Nurtures your own personal growth.
  4. Helps you spot patterns - identify strengths and weaknesses.

"And it can help to cultivate patience.  Because it can show you that in the past you have persevered and succeeded on days that might be even worse than whatever you are experiencing today."

She gave some tips for what to write about when you journal:

  1. Write about progress and setbacks for the day.
  2. Write about crystal moments - insights, something beautiful you saw, etc
  3. Hassles & Horrors.
  4. Write one progress catalyst for the next day.

She also has made this diary tool available on her website.

In experiencing this talk again, I was reminded of my recent reading of Drive by Daniel Pink where he talks about how people are more motivated by autonomy, mastery, and purpose than what you might expect (money, status, etc). It occurs to me that the diary tool also helps you focus your work on things that actually matter to you.

In my estimation, you want to be checking the box next to "tasks I cared about" way more often than "meaningless tasks". Like Steve Jobs so aptly stated:

For the past 33 years, I have looked in the mirror every morning and asked myself: "If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?" And whenever the answer has been "No" for too many days in a row, I know I need to change something.

Maybe looking in the mirror and asking yourself that question is enough, but if you don't have a mirror handy each day you might consider journaling to help find the meaning and purpose in your work. 

Geoff DiMasi