For most of my professional life, I have kept a daily log of my activities. I use black and white marbled composition notebooks that you can buy at the office supply store for $2. They are nothing fancy, but they contain the record of problems I have solved, thoughts and ideas I have had, minutes of meetings I have attended, and interviews I have conducted over the course of my career. They are an invaluable knowledge bank. It’s fun — and sometime educational — to flip through the pages of the past and reflect on the problems and solutions contained in those books. In addition, I have found that history does in fact repeat itself. Having solved a problem once, I can return to the solution in my logbook every time it reoccurs in the future.
For a long time I have resisted the urge to convert to keeping my log on the computer in electronic form. First of all, I’m not that good of a typist so I often get distracted correcting spelling when I should be letting notes, conversations, and ideas flow through my hands to the page; I can write much quicker than I can type. Secondly, I like to draw simple pictures, arrows, boxes, etc. in-line with my notes to better express ideas and solutions; that is much more difficult on a computer.
There are certainly disadvantages to taking notes in a notebook with a pencil. I usually have to transcribe the information I collect or invent into reports or technical documents, which makes it seem like twice the work (It isn’t really, it’s reinforcing the information.). I also can’t full-text index a notebook — though I had a colleague who tried — to instantly find the page I am looking for. I have to browse through the pages.
The point is, regardless of the medium, I believe it is essential for all professionals to keep a log of some kind. Beyond the obvious benefits of keeping a record of activities, I believe there is something very therapeutic and cognitively-beneficial about taking the time to summarize your day’s activities, the solution you designed, or the brilliant idea you just had. You often learn something by explaining it to someone, in this case, yourself. Obviously our founding fathers believed that too since we have libraries full of journals from Adams, Jefferson and Washington (to name a few). And if you are a fan of StarTrek (you pick which flavor), you know that “logs” play an invaluable role in understanding other cultures, civilizations, and ourselves.
It is never too late to start. So, pick up a pencil, flip to a clean page, and record your most profound ideas — or just your daily activities. I think you will find it helps you grow as a professional in many ways.