Why You Should Keep a Work Log

Recording what you did is as valuable as planning what you’ll do.

The Daily Record of Events was the hardest part of my Franklin planner to fill out. It was also the most useful to refer back to, if I did.

The prioritized daily task list and appointments were the easy part. They represented the plan. If everything went according to plan, then I would have a perfect record of what I did that day, and who I met with. When was the last time your day went exactly like you planned?

Your task list and calendar are an important part of your digital planning system. They’re your plan for the day. You should also keep a log of what you actually did. This look back at the day will help you get a better picture of what you’re doing with your time and get better at getting things done.

Photo courtesy of ©iStockphoto/daizuoxin

  • See the gravel. You schedule the big rocks, but have to do the smaller things, too. Last-minute requests come in. There is often a gap between what you “should” be working on, and what you end up having to do. By keeping a work log, it’s easier to see the gravel that fills in that gap.
  • See where your time went. I often get interrupted to deal with some smaller task that needs to be handled right away. If I don’t write them down, it’s easy to reach the end of the day and not be able to account for half the day. Instead of wondering where the day went, I can see exactly the time I spent unexpectedly in Quadrant 1.
  • Leave appropriate margin. If you regularly spend 80% of your day in Quadrant 1, you can start to plan for it. Do what you can to prevent fires before they need put out, of course, but it may be the nature of your job right now that you are responding to crises as they come up. Give yourself extra margin to handle Quadrant 1 emergencies. Know what you’re going to work on next, so you don’t run out of things to do, but accept you may not get to some of your list until tomorrow. Focus on the most important task, whether or not you knew about it at 9:00 am.
  • Improve your estimation skills. Most of us are terrible at estimating. We don’t even know how long it takes us to get to work, and we do that every day, with immediate feedback. Keeping a work log will help you improve your ability to estimate, if you keep an accurate log and refer back to it. The better you are at estimating, the better your plans will be, whether you’re planning a project or planning your day.
  • Know when you are(n’t) done. Closing the loop at the end of the day lets you see the progress you’re making. Make sure you check off everything you can—you’ve earned those check marks! You will also think of things that still need to be done before you can call a project complete. If you can’t get them done today, put them on your list for tomorrow.
  • Make annual performance reviews a breeze. Annual performance reviews (at least the part where you write down everything you did that year) is a breeze if you write it as you go. Roll up daily logs into weekly overviews, and distill weekly overviews into monthly highlights. You’ll be surprised how much you have accomplished in a year.

Create the log as you go. Include what you did, key insights, challenges. Note the things you got right, be honest about the things you could do better. Don’t worry about writer’s block—just a sentence or two will suffice.

Keeping a log will help you both at work and at home. You have the same need to make and reflect on progress in both roles. A work log or journal will provide a valuable sense of perspective and continuity, connecting past and present, and laying a foundation for the future.

Question: How do you keep track of what you’ve done in a day? Share your thoughts in the comments, or on Twitter, LinkedIn, or Facebook.

About

Colter writes software and blogs about personal growth and productivity. He lives in Silicon Valley (California) with his wife and children, recently took up golf, and watches mostly British TV shows.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic. For more information, see my comments policy.