Keeping a journal, often known as “journaling,” isn’t just for antsy teenagers. Oprah Winfrey, Mark Twain, George Lucas, Thomas Jefferson, Ben Franklin, Isaac Newton, and Lewis and Clark all keep/kept journals. In some cases, those journals recorded weather and temperature; in others, the pages tracked private thoughts, inspirations and world-altering ideas.

As a freelancer, maintaining a work journal helps you chronicle your tasks, ambitions, thoughts and overall goals. A work journal helps you plan for your future as well as learn from your past. Most importantly, a work journal helps you learn about yourself and what you wish to gain from your career.

Here are 5 big reasons why you need to start keeping a freelance work journal:

To plan

Journals help you plan your time more effectively and get more done than just “winging it.” Each day, you can sit down and write (or type) out your daily tasks. Those tasks might include contacting X number of clients, drafting a work proposal, editing a manuscript, etc. Writing down your daily tasks is an effective motivator for actually completing them because it creates accountability. Likewise, you have now created a written reminder of what exactly you plan to get done today.

You don’t need to create a list of 20 tasks; in fact, creating too many tasks to accomplish can overwhelm and discourage you. In reality, three or four tasks is plenty. The key here is to generate tasks that can be started and finished within the space of a single day. If they can’t, then they should be divided up into week-long or even month-long tasks.

To progress

As you accomplish your tasks, you should check them off in your journal. By doing so, you participate in your own progress. Seeing your own progress encourages you to tackle your next daily task and finish it too. Try to celebrate each task completion with a little reward or work break.

As your daily tasks roll into weekly and eventually, yearly tasks, you should review your accomplishments and whether or not they are leading you towards your intended outcome.

For example, if you successfully sent out 20 letters of inquiry to various websites and magazines, that’s great; however, did this effort result in a reply or two? If it did, which letters were responsible (and why)? If no replies came back, perhaps it’s time to reevaluate that task and whether it should be continued. Perhaps, instead of continually querying potential clients, you need to step back and learn new skills.

To understand

The value in keeping a work journal is not always in the moment but in retrospect. Once thoughts and plans are written down, they become “frozen in time.” After several weeks, months, or even years go by, those notes become an invaluable resource to you.

Reviewing older work journal entries helps you accomplish two things:

1) It pieces together events, comments and ideas that previously appeared separate and unrelated.
2) It sorts out which work activities are enabling you to achieve your long-term career goals and life ambitions.

To eliminate

Keeping a journal is about more than just “looking busy.” While you could spend half your day filling out the pages of your work journal, the more important goal of keeping that work journal is to remove the tasks that don’t lead anywhere or that actually waste your time.

Likewise, keeping a work journal helps you track your contacts and which ones are helping (or hindering) your freelance business. Are some individuals a huge time suck for you? Are other individuals a benefit? You’ll understand which people to avoid and which people to seek out if you record your regular interactions with them.

To reminisce

As you grow in your freelance career, you’ll forget your early days and struggles to “make it.” The status quo will change. Having a bridge to the past will help you remember where you started, how far you’ve progressed, and where you still need to go. It will also provide immense benefit to anyone you wish to mentor.

To reduce stress

Mulling over your goals and dreams on paper (or computer) can reduce stress, make you more efficient, help you solve irksome problems, and even reduce depression.

Starting a freelance business is hard enough without undergoing feelings of self-doubt or fears about future financial stability. Many freelancers spend long and lonely days holed up at home, cranking out code or blog posts or graphics. Having a place to express their worries, hopes and dreams can help them to cope with and manage their emotions.

To manage others

If you end up hiring other freelancers or contractors to help you build your business, you’ll need a work journal to not only chronicle your own activities but theirs. Such project management is available in various forms, including software platforms such as Asana and Basecamp.

By mastering your own personal work journal, you’ll be better prepared to dole out tasks to others and track their progress. You’ll also become adept at fitting the work tasks of others’ into your own.

Working with a work journal

Work journals can be physical, virtual or even a combination of both. They can include short bits of text or drawings, scribbles and formulae. There is no right or wrong when it comes to the manner and style in which a journal is kept; in fact, different individuals had different means for chronicling their daily tasks.

In the upcoming year, have any of you decided to start a freelance work journal to track your work progress? Share your goals in the comments below.

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