Have you ever wondered about how the Internet works? How does a router find its way to Facebook, or why is there so much lag on your favorite MMORPG? These are the types of questions that most people don't really think about, but without answers to them, we're unable to even use our electronic devices and appliances. But don't worry: if you've read this far then you have at least one thing in common with engineers. Engineers love understanding how things work! And what better way to do it than by keeping a journal as an engineer? Hooray!
Keeping a journal has many benefits of note for any engineer. It will reduce stress levels which will help improve productivity, make solving complex problems easier (as it will show how you came to the conclusion), and it'll even save you some money in the long run. Considering all of these benefits, why wouldn't any engineer want to keep a journal? Now that I've discussed the benefits of keeping a journal, let me tell you about my own personal experiences with keeping a journal as an engineer…
Each time I start a new design or analysis, I like to keep a journal. This is my way of making sure that I don't forget anything in the future. It's really handy because you can pick up where you left off and just start writing again. The first thing that I do is write down the point of why I'm doing the project, such as "design a new circuit to pump argon gas up into the atmosphere of Jupiter." Then I'll write down all of my assumptions and constraints. What is my budget? Can I use exotic manufacturing techniques or do I have to stick to traditional methods? Is time critical in this design, or can it take however long it needs to take? The more assumptions that I can identify, the better off I'll be.
After I've laid down my assumptions and constraints, I start jotting down my goals for the project. What is it that I want to accomplish with this project? If your goals are not well defined, then how will you know when they're done? Your goals should be defined to an extent that a layman could understand what you're trying to do, and why. After I have my goals, then I make some notes about previous efforts that were done on this project. If there were any problems in the past which had to be overcome, or if there is code from a prior design that might be useful in this design (if it's applicable), that will be noted.
After those things are defined, I'll do a brain dump of everything else that I know about the project. This could include any prior research or testing that was done on the subject matter, and what were its results? How well did they work out? If I know of a prior design that is similar to my own, it'll be noted. If I see any problems or issues with the project that haven't been thought of yet, then they will be written down. Don't worry about writing everything down...at first. The point is just to get as much information out in an organized fashion so that you can refer to it later.
Engineering is a very broad field, and there are so many different engineering fields that you could go into (such as computer engineering, electrical engineering, mechanical engineering, chemical engineering). This means that there is a large amount of information out in the world on various topics such as material properties for various alloys or magnetic strengths. If you had to research all of these topics on your own, it would be very time consuming and costly in terms of money. But if you already have a journal with information about the project, then all you have to do is keep an ear out for new information that might pertain to your project as you read or watch television or listen to the radio. If you see a new material that has interesting properties, or if there is a new development in testing methods for materials, then mark it down in your journal.
If you're working with other people on different aspects of this project, then be sure to take some notes about their tasks and progress. Are you keeping a journal that is useful to you or do you just keep a mass of notes scribbled on stickies that get lost?
I highly recommend that you start a journal today. I hope this has given you some ideas on why you should keep a journal and how you can use it to your advantage.
Ready to step up?!
Here's some of my favorite journal note books on Amazon: