Keeping a daily work journal when you are on a contract with a client is an easy way to keep a history of your experiences on the project and manage some of your daily activities. You don’t have to spend much time each day to maintain a work journal if you keep your entries to a defined template. This article covers a template I’ve used for several years and have found very effective. I’ll cover the 4 basic elements of a daily work entry and 2 free tools you can use to easily manage the process. You can also access a template for your own use here. (Downloads a Microsoft Word file you can import to Google Docs or copy/paste for use in Evernote.) The main goals of a daily work journal are:
- maintain a daily task list
- track items you’re waiting on
- store agenda topics to discuss with specific people
- recap daily accomplishment and holdups
Let’s look at each of these in detail:
Maintain a daily task list
Keeping a task list with your daily entry provides you with more context for the items on the list. Because we’re working in a text document with this list, you can be as elaborate as you want in describing the task. Many app and website task lists require additional clicking to get to details. I prefer this simple list approach as I tend to get descriptive in the information I track and can be as verbose as I want.
I find this task list is helpful for me to track critical project tasks and any general administrative tasks I need to do regarding management of my client relationship. Maybe you need access credentials for client servers or cloud-based documents. Perhaps you have documentation you need to get back to human resources. There are always additional tasks to manage when you are a freelancer.
Place this task list as the first item in your daily journal entry under the day’s date. As you complete items on the list, check them off or change their color to signify to you the tasks are complete. Don’t delete them as the main goal of the daily journal is to maintain a history.
Track items you’re waiting on
Along with keeping tasks in order, it’s important to track items you’re waiting for from other people. A completed task from yesterday might have been to ask your project manager for credentials to log into the project portal. You may have checked the item off your task list as something you’ve done, but now you have to wait until you receive that information. This becomes an item to add to your tracking list. Treat this tracking list as you do the task list, marking items as you receive them and copying the list with your task list to each new day’s entry. This gives you a running history of people you’ve reached out to for information and whether or not you’ve received it, and when.
Store agenda topics to discuss with others
I’ve learned I can’t remember everything all the time and it’s best to track thoughts in writing. When I think of an item I want to bring up with someone for discussion, I create an agenda item for them in my daily journal. I add whatever info I need to for the agenda item and create a task to meet with the that person. These agenda items are copied from day to day as well until I’ve had the discussion. I may also think of other items to add to the list, so keeping it with each day’s entry allows me to add topics as needed. I’ve been on contracts where I had weekly scheduled meetings to discuss the state of my project and this list of agenda topics was always important to have with me.
Recap daily accomplishment and holdups
This final part of my daily work journal entry is usually a narrative or bullet list of major accomplishments from the day. It can also include any pitfalls or problems I encountered, which can be added as tasks or agenda items to the next day’s entry. This section is also a good place to capture anything particularly important about the day, which may include kudos you received for work done or the details of any conflicts you had with clients, teammates, etc. Remember, the point of the journal is to keep a history of your time working with this client and everything that happens.
Tools and methods
There are 2 main tools available for free to maintain a daily work journal. Google Docs and Evernote are both excellent, free resources allowing you to create and maintain your journal via a web browser. Evernote also provides dedicated apps for desktop and phone access. I use both tools for many business needs and have used both to maintain my daily journal. I currently rely on Google Docs because I use other products within the Google Drive suite and it keeps things consolidated for me.
Whether you use Google Docs or Evernote, there are 2 approaches you can take to keeping your daily journal that work on both:
- Create one doc named with the client name. Create daily journal entries with a date header for the entry (allows for easily searching by date later on). This becomes one long, running document with all your entires in 1 file.
- Create a new folder in Google Docs or Evernote and create an individual file for each daily entry with the title of the file being the day’s date. With this approach, you can open your folder and see a full list of your entries organized by date for quickly finding a specific date.
I started working with a daily work journal because I found myself repeatedly taking notes in different ways for each of the 4 key elements and decided I needed to start consolidating them to one place. My personal use of this system has proven it useful for me. My hope is you will get some ideas for using this approach for yourself, or create one of your own.
Please share your thoughts or other ways you accomplish the same thing in the comments below.