Activity Log: a time management technique to figure out where your time is going

Keeping an activity log sounds like a major pain -- and it kind of is -- but it's also a time management technique that can be enormously helpful in helping you figure out where your time is being wasted and to help you improve your focus.

As the name implies, an activity log is simply a list of things you did and how long you spent on them. It can be as basic as a piece of paper on your desk, or as complex as a piece of software with a specialized code for every possible activity. I personally like to track it in Excel, which automatically calculates how much of my time was spent on useful activity and how much was spent on useless; you can download a copy of my spreadsheet here. David Seah has a basic (but pretty) pen-and-paper one called the Emergent Task Timer .

The activity log can serve two (inter-related) purposes:

  1. It can tell you how much time you're spending productively.
      It's one thing to spend 8 hours in the office, and an entirely different thing to work for 8 hours. An activity log can tell you how close you are to actually working 8 hours.

      Steve Pavlina likens self-discipline to muscle strength self-discipline to muscle strength: it's something you have to build bit-by-bit. If you're used to only working for 2 hours of an 8-hour day (a 25% productivity ratio), you're not going to be able to jump up to 8 hours (a 100% productivity ratio) overnight. By keeping an activity log, you can hold yourself accountable for building yourself up to a 30% productivity ratio, then 50%, and so on.

  2. It can tell you where your unproductive time is being spent.
      If you look down your activity log, and find that 80% of your unproductive time is spent on Twitter, maybe you need to block Twitter during work hours. If your downfall is chatting with coworkers, find some way to not get drawn into conversation; my mother found that noise-cancelling headphones increased her productivity enormously. Whatever your productivity problem, the first step to solving it is knowing what the problem is.
Doesn't sound like you? Go back to Time Management Hacks and look for a time management technique that fits you better.