Everybody wants to be more productive, and you can find loads of tools and systems designed to help you do just that. But how do you measure your productivity in any given day? That’s where a daily log comes in handy.
Keep a Log of Everything Useful You’ve Accomplished
You might be tempted to simply use your to-do list’s completed items view to track what you’ve accomplished, but you’d be fooling yourself — between co-workers bugging us, unexpected problems arising and just plain old procrastination, the difference between what we check off our daily to-do list and what we actually do can be huge. A lot of the things you accomplish may never make it to your to-do list.
This is where the daily log can help you understand what you’ve actually done for the day in comparison to what you had planned for the day. It’s not difficult — simply keep a log of everything that you’ve accomplished for the day, preferably adding notes quickly as you go along. Made it through a boring meeting without sleeping? Log it. Finally sent in that that report, cover sheet included? Log it.
You might be surprised at the outcome, especially when you give in to procrastination — your to-do list might be telling you to start that big, important project, but your daily log will detail how you cleaned everything in your house instead of tackling it.
Keep Your Daily Log Simple
You can use any tool to create a daily log — it doesn’t matter whether you prefer pen and paper, a ubiquitous capture system like Evernote, vim on the command line or a simple notes application — they can all accomplish the job, and what you choose only depends on what works best for you.
The only really important factor to consider when setting up a daily log is how easy it will be to add new items to the list — if the barrier to entry is too high, you’ll find yourself forgetting to add anything at all. As someone who spends most of his time with a computer at least nearby, here are some of my preferred methods.
Use the .LOG Notepad Trick to Generate a Daily Log
There’s a little-known trick built right into Windows’ default Notepad application that will make it so whenever you open the file, a timestamp is generated on a new line at the bottom of the file, and the cursor is automatically placed below it, ready for your entry.
Simply create a new text file, and add the text “.LOG” (without the quotes) on the top line of the file. Save the file and re-open it, and you’ll see the new timestamp added to the bottom. This little trick can save you a lot of time and make it simpler to keep track of your daily accomplishments.
Pin the Log to the Taskbar for Easy Access
You can easily pin a specific document to your Windows 7 taskbar by creating a new shortcut to Notepad.exe, and then adding the full path to your text file as a parameter. Open up the shortcut properties and assign a new custom icon to the shortcut, preferably something that stands out and reminds you to keep your daily log. Once you’ve finished creating the shortcut, right-click and use “Pin to Taskbar” to put the icon onto your Taskbar.[imgclear]
Use a Hotkey to Quickly Add Notes to Your Log
Create a new AutoHotkey script, or paste the following into your existing script, making sure to edit the path to the DailyLog.txt file to point to the same location as your own daily log.
InputBox, UserInput, Daily Log, What did you accomplish?, , 380, 170
If Not ErrorLevel
Once you’ve created a new script with the code above, you can simply use the Ctrl+Alt+L shortcut key (you can tweak the shortcut to your liking if you’d prefer something different) to pop open the dialog in the screenshot above, type in what you accomplished, and then hit Enter to append your accomplishment (with timestamp) to your log file.
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.
Do you keep a daily log? Let’s hear about your method for keeping track of what you’ve accomplished in the comments.