Harvard Business School professor Teresa Amabile's research reveals the many benefits of keeping a diary about work. Speaking at the 99U Conference, Amabile describes a study that analyzed thousands of daily diary entries from more than 200 professionals. The research showed that keeping track of challenges, successes, and other experiences enhanced creativity and motivation.
Amabile coauthored a book on the subject, The Progress Principle, with her husband Steven Kramer, looking at how incremental progress motivates workers. Her 99U talk is full of tips for people interested in keeping a journal, starting about 13 minutes into the video:
Don't make a big commitment to it; tell yourself you'll do it for just one month. Five to 10 minutes a day, focusing on just one project, one issue, that you want to work on. Pick a time in the day when you're likely to have about 10 minutes uninterrupted. It's a good idea if it can be the same time every day. Attach a reminder to that time. So if you want to do your diary before you leave work, you might set a repeating calendar alert for 15 minutes before you take off ...
Find a medium that you know you're going to enjoy using. Maybe it's a physical book that has a nice silk bookmark or something. Maybe it's an online application of some kind, or a Word document. Anything that you think will be easy for you to keep. At the beginning of your journaling period, give yourself one or two minutes just to refresh yourself, just to relax and clear your mind. And then reflect on the day and see what stands out from your work day, anything that you want to capture, and then capture it, in any form that seems to fit whatever it is that you're trying to keep for yourself. And it is for yourself.
Amabile recommends one app in particular, I Done This, which has the benefits of searchable, digital note taking, and even makes word clouds of words that appear often. She also mentions a cool analogue alternative: a five-year journal that lines up the same day of each year on one page, so that you can see exactly what you were writing about the year before. The medium, however, is less important than the message, Amabile notes. The important thing is "reviewing this wonderful personal history" that a diary creates.
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