Top Daily Productivity Tip: Keep A Journal

Piotr Krzyzek —  July 10, 2010 — 3 Comments

Time management is a topic so tough and gargantuan that it requires specializes courses at colleges like Harvard and MIT just to understand the basics. For those of us who cannot afford (in money or time) to go study productivity and time management we’re gotta help each-other out and figure it out ourselves.

So recently I was doing a quick browse through Lifehacker and this jewel caught my eye. It’s more powerful than most people realize. So, let me start out my saying this isn’t an original idea, so it wasn’t thought up by me nor the Lifehacker peeps. But it sure as hell is a good one.

The idea is simple: Use a daily log (a time sheet) to keep track of what you work on and when!

See! The idea is simple, and if you hold any sort of day job (other than self-employed) you already know the ‘fun’ that is the hourly Time-sheet we all had/have to submit.

To outline the Lifehacker post for you:

  • In Windows, use notepad to keep a daily activity log
  • Review the log … daily!

They also offer a few short-cut tips to working with a daily ‘log’ file with Notepad.

The benefits of using a daily log:

You might be thinking “well wait, why on earth would I want to do something so time wasting?” Fair question. But this isn’t wasting time.

This lets you know, if done correctly, exactly how much time spend on actually productive tasks and how much of that time is spent mucking about.

I don’t have a file to show you yet, since I just started using it right before writing this post, but I can already see it’s benefits. So far I’ve spent about 15 minutes thinking and writing this post (up to this line) and about 20 minutes looking for a few ‘extra’ tips and tricks to add here. So, the actual productive time in writing this post so far is about 16 minutes.

EK! I already know I have trouble focusing, so see’ing how much time I waste on other things can (and will) surely help both of us concentrate on the things that need to be done.

Remember, when you are your own boss you really have to command and boss yourself around.

With a daily log, you’ll be able to see:

  • How much time to spend actually working
  • How much time to waste on ‘other’ things
  • When you work the most/best
  • How much time is spent dilly-dallying (ie: mucking about and not working)

All of this will keep a log for you and allow you to analyze yourself and your work habits. Is there something that keeps distracting you? At a certain time maybe?

As the Lifehacker post also recommends: “review your daily log!”

Keeping a daily log doesn’t do much good unless you periodically review it. Personally, I like to use Notepad directly to add my notes so I can see what I’ve accomplished recently—you’ll be more motivated to accomplish something useful if you’ve gone through half the day without getting anything done that’s worth writing down.

It’s also a good idea to add a reminder to your calendar to periodically check through your log and see what you’ve actually accomplished for the week, or month, and then check the completed items on your to-do list. It’s a great way to gauge the effectiveness of your to-do list, and help you tune things for higher productivity.

Timestamps with VIM/MS Office/OpenOffice

If you do not want to use Notepad (or can’t/want … like me) you can use the awesome ViM text editor. You can even do this with MS Office or OpenOffice.

ViM Timestamps:

If you don’t know what ViM is, don’t worry you can skip over this section.

In ViM there are several ways. You can download a plugin for it, but I don’t recommend it. It was a bit weird. So here is the most recommended and probably the simplest way:

  1. Open a new file
  2. Type the following command in Linux:      :r! date
    1. This will run the date command which returns the time and date
    2. Feel free to add commands and output options like through a normal command line
  3. Type the following command in Windows:      :r! date /t or   :r! time /t
    1. Both ‘should’ work, but just the date /t should be fine.

That will add a timestamp on the current like. If you want to learn more about ViM stampstamping and stuff like that check out this nifty page at a ViM Wiki site: Add current date and time in ViM

Also, to make this easier, it’s probably a good idea to add it to a macro.

To add a ViM macro:

  1. Exit out of editor mode in ViM, so that you are in the default command mode.
  2. Press ‘q’ … simply press the q key. Then press any letter (or number) on the keyboard to bind the command to. For example, I used ‘t’. So I pressed ‘q t’. Meaning, I pressed the q-key and then the t-key. (NOT AT THE SAME TIME). This starts recording the macro.
  3. Enter the desired command (:r! date)
  4. Press q again to stop recording

To use the new macro:

  1. Since we bound it to the t-key (though we really could have bound it to any ‘normal’ character key), to use it we press ‘@ t’.
    1. Press shift-2 (this is the @), then press the t-key
    2. Do this in the command mode (ie: the default mode).

MS Office timestamps:

  1. Go to Insert -> Date & Time
  2. Click ‘Adjust/Update Automatically’
  3. Insert one time/date.
  4. Next time just press this key combination to insert a new time stamp (all at the same time): Alt-Shift-t

Open Office timestamps:

This one isn’t as nice and easy. But there is always the Insert-> Date & Time method. Though I think it’s called something like Insert->Special … or something. I haven’t been in there for a while.

But, I did find this. An extension for OO to help! I haven’t checked it out but it might help ya’ll. http://extensions.services.openoffice.org/taxonomy/term/70

Did you like this tip? Let me know! What other simple yet effective tips do you all know that helps keep your organized?

(image from ihazcancheezeburger website with cats!)

Piotr Krzyzek

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Piotr Krzyzek is one of those rare people who can say he's a consultant, author, entrepreneur and programmer and mean it. His consulting firm, Chykalophia Group, has attracted international startups, Department Of Defense contractors, local mom-and-pop shops and many others from all around the world. He is a bonafide computer nerd with a passion for business, networking and business development. Learn how your business can improve conversion rates, attain a better business image and increase profits by connecting with Peter on his author page http://www.piotrkrzyzek.com/author/piotrkrzyzek/.
  • http://newbielifeline.com Sheila Atwood

    This is a good idea.

    I do make a list of things that must be done in a day. But I have not kept track of what keeps me from getting things done. I can see how this would help me put value on the things I am doing. I am going to give this a try.

    For things like this I like to use offline materials like a good old fashioned note book or white board. For some reason it give me a little more reality.

    • http://www.piotrkrzyzek.com Piotr Krzyzek

      Ahh good ol Whiteboard … how I long for one. No point of getting one for me here in Poland as I’ll be here for 1.5 more months and then I’d have to toss it. Meh. I’ll get one 2nd day I’m back in Chicago :)

      Good point Sheila. Thanks =^_^=

  • http://pithyless.posterous.com Norbert

    > If you don’t know what ViM is, don’t worry you can skip over this section.

    Recently spotted on the InterWebs:

    The vi editor is one of the most ancient yet powerful weapons in the Unix arsenal, and Vim is “vi improved”.
    - http://railstutorial.org/book#fn:1.10