Create a work journal to keep your portfolio up-to-date

I’m not sure about you, but I sometimes find it challenging to remember what I worked on yesterday, let alone what I worked on a few weeks ago. It’s tough when you work in-house on a product as there is often no clearly defined lines to say what you did and didn’t do compared to agency work, where it’s easy to see where one client begins and ends.

Like most of you, I’d like to keep my portfolio up to date to show everyone what I’ve been working on and what processes I’m using to solve problems. And, again, like most of you, this is more of a dream situation because, in reality, your portfolio (like mine) probably isn’t up-to-date.

So, I’ve started a work journal.

The goals of my work journal are to:

  • Remember the work I’ve produced.
  • Record achievements and quotes from teammates and users.
  • Reflect on any mistakes or things that didn’t go to plan.
  • Note down new learnings or discoveries.
  • And ultimately, use the content to create case studies and keep my portfolio up-to-date.

I’ve been adding to my work journal for three months now with varying levels of success. I still don’t think I’ve entirely cracked the code yet, but I’ve discovered a few things that have helped me on my work journal journey.

Where to keep your work journal

Short answer: anywhere you can store text. Since you’ll most likely be transferring copy into your portfolio, it’s probably best to keep your work journal digital so you don’t need to rewrite handwritten entries. I was using Google Docs, but because Docs isn’t the most exciting platform, I lacked the motivation to add to it consistently.

To keep my motivations up, I’ve recently moved my work journal onto Notion. They have the perfect journal set-up to create yourself a template for each entry — this will help extract the most valuable content instead of staring aimlessly at a blank page. Of course, a private blog would also work if you already have one set up.

Screenshot of creating a new journal entry in Notion showing the template I use instead of a blank page.
Screenshot of my Notion journal template.

The style of writing

When I first started my work journal, I wasn’t doing a great job of reflecting on my day. I’d list out tasks that I had completed, such as:

  • attended product meeting
  • went through user flows in the product
  • worked on the UI library

While I had technically completed these, they failed to tell the story behind the task. These types of lists weren’t going to help me create content for my portfolio. So instead, I did a restructure after getting some great advice from my manager, Sophie.

I began writing tasks I had achieved but added my thoughts, feelings, what went right or wrong and most importantly, I started answering why. Why did this happen? Why did I/we make that decision? Why was I feeling that way?

For example, instead of ‘worked on the UI library’, I would rather write:

After researching page header layouts and looking at UX patterns from design libraries like Atlassian, I was able to come up with a potential solution for the page header template. Having the option of an additional actions panel when multiple actions are required could work well and won’t stray from the design of simple headers. In addition, this layout should make actions more straightforward and (as a side bonus) showed the need to change the styling of tabs to differentiate them from our button component — keeping caps for buttons only.

With this type of writing, you can see how it will be easier to extract information to add to my portfolio. And it’s also going to remind me why I made decisions.

How often should you be writing entries?

Daily is the dream but probably not the most realistic answer. I have aimed to write an entry daily, but sometimes I forget or lack the motivation to add something. I’m trying to improve at this by setting daily reminders around 4 pm, so my brain hasn’t wholly clocked off, but it’s late enough in the day to be able to reflect.

Reminder text to reflect on your day — write your work journal entry now to keep creating content for your portfolio.
Get into a routine of daily writing by using reminders.

At a minimum, try to write into your work journal at least once a week. For example, you could put an entry in every Thursday/Friday to reflect on the week as a whole instead of daily. The most important thing is to pick a time goal and stick to it to try and turn it into a natural part of your routine.

My work journal layout

There are many different ways to structure your work journal, and you have to find what works best for you. If you’re stuck on where to start, here is how I’ve set mine up using Notion.

I’ve created a template with six sections:

  • Super wins: For anything super amazing or exception that has happened above the norm.
  • Achievements: Things that I’m proud of or happy to have accomplished.
  • Things that didn’t go to plan: Mistakes made or something I’m not so proud of.
  • New learnings/discoveries: Things I’ve learnt that I didn’t know before, whether that be UX related, an understanding of our product or maybe something technical.
  • Quotes from team/users: Comments from users about our product or even something said internally within the company that stood out to me.
  • Thoughts: Anything additional — could be my thoughts and feelings about the day in general or a reaction to a specific event.

These sections prompt me to note down the best information possible and capture the positives and the negatives. They will help me to build real stories for my portfolio.

I knew that I would start to get some juicy info for my portfolio with this layout, but I was worried that it would get lost in all my entries. So I’ve also included the ability to select from a dropdown the type of content in each entry.

A screenshot of the different content types that match my sections.
A multi-select dropdown of different content types that match my sections.

This is so helpful as it means that if I want to see all my Super Wins, I can filter by that content type, and it will only show me the entries with Super Wins. If you want a head start, I’ve created a template on Notion that you can duplicate for your use!

Screenshot of work journal in Notion
My Super Wins won’t ever get lost in the crowd.

How has a work journal helped my portfolio?

I’d still call myself a work journal beginner. It’s only been the past few weeks where I’ve found a structure working for me and is starting to produce portfolio-worthy content. I’m planning on doing a complete overhaul of my portfolio website in the coming months as it hasn’t had any love in two years. Writing case studies is the thing I’ve always struggled with the most, but I feel super confident that using my work journal content will help me create content faster and showcase the stories and actions behind my projects.