Keeping a Work “Diary”

Cody Bunch has been discussing note taking on twitter recently and has started a grand experiment today. I believe that Cody wants to dive into all the potential uses of note taking throughout our workdays and is soliciting feedback. I can’t speak to the entirety of taking notes as an IT person, but I’d like to share some information about my work “diary”.

I do keep a journal for work. No, I don’t write “Dear Diary” at the top of every page, but I do write in my journal every day so I jokingly call it my diary. As you may have guessed from the word “write”, it happens to be a paper and pen journal. I keep things short and to the point, so an 8 hour day rarely takes more than half a page in a college ruled notebook. It’s not meant to be exhaustive, but to capture the essence of a day or an outage – most of the details would be in a ticket number I reference. I also note when I’m working on a weekend and when I take vacation. For instance, my journal around Thanskgiving will look something like this:

11/25/2015

Processed a bunch of account creations, apparently everyone really wants to work on the holidays!

At lunchtime, $customerX blew up. $SiteY required an RMA of their $widget. Their building got hit by lightning last night and apparently our equipment wasn’t the only thing affected. Hope nothing else dies from this. Ticket 123456789

Watched a video about $technologyZ. Pretty awesome that you can foo the bar with it! Looking forward to some lab time with it next week, but first: TURKEY

11/26/2015 – Thanksgiving, holiday, TURKEY NOM NOMS

11/27/205 – holiday

Someone didn’t get their account request in on Wednesday so I got called at 7am to take care of it for the holiday crew. Boo.

A customer’s building got struck by lightning, which might be important if another piece of equipment dies next week. My holiday and vacation time is recorded so I can put those in the time system or use it as evidence if I get audited. I wrote up when I got an “on-call” engagement; this may be useful if I find myself getting called too many times for documented tasks. I can pull these events and ask my manager why I’m getting woken up in the wee hours constantly for things that shouldn’t require me. Whatever it is that happens, I’ve got it recorded along with tickets numbers that provide more precise details. I also keep it light and humorous, it’s for myself – but I write as if other people may see it. No slandering coworkers or customers.

I have been doing this a while. I have work journals going back to 1997. I can look up that time we had a freak tornado in Pittsburgh, PA, our building got struck by lightning, and 70% of our hubs were blown out because of a lack of surge protection (spoiler: tornados suck). I can also look up the last 6 months of issues for a customer and tell my boss whether they’re having more or less outages over time. That’s really useful, especially for some of the seemingly unconnected-at-the-time events that later prove to be connected, or systems that are difficult to search or correlate information in. But that’s not the real reason I keep a journal, just a bonus.

The real reason I write in my diary every day is that the act of writing a note to myself, with a pencil on a piece of paper, reinforces the memory I am describing. Most days, I couldn’t tell you what I ate for lunch the day before. But I can tell you that I held a meeting with a customer and found a solution to their problem, because I lived it, I wrote it down, and then I read it back to myself and remembered it again. I’ve tried electronic diaries and I don’t have the same success in recalling previous memories. The tactile sensation of the paper and the pen, where I place the words on the page – even the misspellings that I scratch out and rewrite correctly next to the original – and reading the entry back to myself; these sensations and actions help me move the memories of the day from short-term to long-term memory and recall them more easily. In most instances, I don’t actually need to refer to the journal, because now the memory is already accessible! There’s even science that shows how recall from words on paper is generally higher.

If you find yourself with a poor memory of your work week, or just need a little more precision in your memories, try keeping a work diary on pen and paper. You may find that a few weeks of a diary helps out. This may not work for everyone, though. If you have other tips for keeping a diary or note taking in general, drop them in the comments!

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