Productivity Tip: How to keep track of all the s**t you need to get done
Do you struggle with prioritization and keeping track of your tasks? Learn about my Daily Log technique and you can become a task ninja!
"Everyone gets the same 24 hours in a day" is a common platitude. It's true, we do all get the same 24 hours in a day, but how do we choose to use them? There's no right answer, but there are definitely steps you can take to make sure you maximize getting done the right stuff each day.
In one of my internships, I met with an org lead who gave me a fantastic piece of advice that I have continued to use and have since taught to my mentees as well as other peers. The advice went something like this:
Keep a daily log
For each entry, have 3 sections:
What I did today
What I want to do tomorrow (or Monday, if this log is for work and today is Friday 😁)
What am I stuck on?
The structure within these sections is up to you. I've found that the simplest structure is to have a bullet point list of items for each section.
This log doesn't have to be that large and it shouldn't require a lot of effort on your part. Maybe just 15 min at the end of every day to fill out the above sections with whatever level of detail is most useful for you. If you're super detail oriented like me, every bullet point in the above 3 sections could have hyperlinks to docs, calendar events, code review, etc. The whole goal is to be able to have a constant guide on what stuff you have done and what you still need to get done. This will help orient you every day and across successive weeks.
That's it. The whole secret to being a productivity ninja is this. With this one piece of advice, you will complete every task you ever need to do!
Just kidding. No piece of advice is ever that good. But what this Daily Log strategy will help you with is multi-faceted:
You will always be able to quickly re-contextualize yourself to the work you've done over any period of time, even if you take a multi-month vacation (or if you forget what you were working on literally 2 days ago 🤣).
You will have a much easier time prioritizing what work you still need to get done based on the recent work that you have done.
You will be able to trace your own patterns of development to see if there are common things you are stumbling with, or things that you are a master at and can perform in your sleep!
There is another major benefit to this strategy, especially if you are using it for work. Every 6 months, most tech companies have some form of performance review and calibration (but that's a topic for another post). During performance review, you will have to write a self reflection for the stuff you worked on over the past 6 months (or however long the performance review period is for; sometimes it can be a quarter). Most engineers, including myself, cannot remember what was done over a period of 6 months. I mean, how could you? No one's memory is that good. Maybe there was only 1 project you worked on, which would simplify the process of writing a self review, but do you remember all the deliverables? Did you hit all of them? Did you take on additional tasks and uplift your team in some way? What impact did you achieve?
To answer those questions, most people have to go back through a lot of sources (like JIRA, GitHub, Google Drive, maybe even their calendars too) to get up to speed. That's painful. There has to be a better way.
And there is:
IT'S YOUR DAILY LOG! In the span of 10 minutes, you can quickly scan through your Daily Log entries and you'll know exactly what you worked on, without having to go back through project docs or every piece of code you wrote for 6 months. And a supplementary thing you can do at some cadence, say at the end of every month, is to create a high-level summary of what you worked on for the month, by using your Daily Log.
I hope that this strategy helps you to become even better at execution so you can be a task ninja.