I rarely meet a designer who loves to write. Often, when I suggest that they develop a writing habit, I’m greeted with groans and eye rolls.
Effective writing is a core communication skill that ultimately benefits designers. Even if writing a sentence fills you with incomprehensible dread, take a deep breath and hear me out.
I’m about to share a habit that I’ve built up that will improve your observation skills and make building your portfolio a little easier. It’ll only take about 5 minutes or so of your time at the end of the work day (you can also use this framework to track personal projects).
At the end of every day, I fill out a note in my notebook (physical or digital—whatever floats your fancy) where I ask myself a few questions. It’s similar to a standup but more personal:
Documenting my day makes it much easier to hold myself and others accountable, keep a daily record, and build my portfolio when the time comes.
Let’s break each one down, including what I write for each and what purpose they serve.
Don’t think of this question as an exact play-by-play of each minute of your day. Think of the most critical tasks you set out to accomplish, and that’s what you’ll record here.
Think of anything helpful to note in a 1:1 with your manager, a performance review, or a portfolio case study.
For example, say I’m working on building a design system. Today, I audited our existing components—I’d document that audit and maybe even add a screenshot.
Here, you’ll note any obstacles you encountered. Maybe you can’t work on a task because you need something from another team to complete your work. That’s a blocker, so you’ll want to note this.
If you haven’t encountered any, you’re a lucky duck! When this happens, I write “none” and feel incredibly self-assured. 😎
Knowing what you plan to work on tomorrow keeps you focused. This is especially powerful if you’re one of those people who, in a morning haze, turn on your work computer and stare blankly at the screen, unsure of how to begin.
Well, have I got a cure for you!
All you have to do tomorrow is look at this section in the note you wrote today, and voilà! Your haze is still there (sorry), but at least you know what needs to be done for the day.
Now we get to the fun part—what’s something you did today that you’re proud of? This could be small—speaking up and sharing your thoughts even though you felt scared. It could be large—stepping up to lead design for a highly visible product in your organization.
It’s easy to forget and acknowledge what we accomplish, so make sure you record them. I try to always fill out this section, even if what I consider a win feels minuscule (“got out of bed today, yay 🥲”).
Memorable moments are large or small, pleasant or unpleasant. For example, maybe a coworker took credit for your work in a meeting—you should note that. You can see patterns by noting it—perhaps this was a one-time thing or something that happens often.
Or maybe you and a few coworkers were doubled over in laughter on a call earlier in the day when someone shared the confused Pikachu meme. Note that! In this case, reflecting on moments of humanity you shared with your colleagues is fun—you often forget these little moments that shape your work experience.
Of course, this is what I do. Please use/tweak/copy/do whatever to this system and make it your own.
The key here is that you want to document the work you’re doing, its impact, and your environment. Doing so keeps you covered when issues arise and allows you to track your growth and advocate for yourself.