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Three Months of Work Log

I don’t remember where, but I saw a recommendation a few months ago to keep a written, daily log of everything you do at work. Toward the end of February, I decided to apply this to my own work and I’m writing this after just finishing the third month of doing so. This is my method for tracking my work.

I have a folder on my laptop called work_log and each month gets its own Markdown file. Throughout the day I make short notes about what I’m working on, subject to a few rules. First, everything that takes more than a few minutes gets a note, including meetings, code review, and helping coworkers with something. Second, except for meetings, I strive for every note to have a ticket number associated with it. If it’s important enough to be working on, it should be important enough to have a record of what we’re doing and why. If I’m doing a code review or helping someone, I use the ticket number for what they’re working on. When I end up working on something that doesn’t have a ticket yet, there’s probably a good reaosn for it and the solution is simple: I add a ticket with the necessary details. If I come across something that really doesn’t warrant a ticket, but I have to do anyway, I begrudgingly include it with just a note of where it came from, which is usually an email request for some kind of one-off work. Notably, I do not include how long I worked on each task. The notes are just what I worked on that day, mostly because I don’t find time a particularly useful measurement so recording it feels like unnecessary overhead. At the end of the month, I review this document and write a recap. This is a bulleted list, just like the daily entries, but I group it by project. This allows me to look at the month in the context of the broader goals of what I’m working on rather than the minutiae and confusion of individual development tasks.

After three months, I can say this process has been a massive success for me. It adds practically no overhead to my day, but has shown some notable improvements in my work. First, it takes away a surprisingly large mental load of having to remember what I’ve been working on. Many weeks, come Monday morning, I wouldn’t immediately remember what I had been working on the previous week and needed to take time to reorient myself. With a detailed log of what I’ve been working on already open, this doesn’t take any time or effort. Similarly, we do weekly status meetings for several projects I work on and I don’t need to remember details, I can just look at the last few entries in my notes for what I accomplished. When I forget what ticket number a particular task has, it’s often easier to find it in my current month’s work log than search for it in Jira.

Second, having a log of what I’ve been working on can be valuable career wise. With detailed notes of each day, it’s easy to show accomplishments when progress is going well and just as easy to find where tasks are unexpectedly getting in the way when it isn’t. Even though I don’t record the time I spent, when I see an individual task or similar types of tasks appearing more frequently than I expect, that is an indicator I should look at how we’re prioritizing work or whether I can automate some of the tasks to free up time for what we thought should be getting done. Having the monthly recap organized by project is extremely useful for performance reviews. My annual performance review is coming up and it’s been so much easier to prepare with organized documents explaining what I’ve accomplished and the types of tasks that went into each accomplishment. When I go to write my self-evaluation, I will have this information readily available so I can more accurately portray my work than I could from memory alone or searching through completed tickets after the fact. When I get to the annual review, I will likely combine the monthly recaps into a single document for the year for an even higher-level view of my contributions.

The third benefit is more mental than job related. I frequently feel like I’m not getting enough done or accomplishing tasks as quickly as I want to. This is because I have extremely high and often unrealistic expectations for my own productivity, so any time I’m not getting particular tasks done when I think I should, it feels like I’m not doing a good job. The recap at the end of the month has massively improved this mentality for me. Each month so far I’ve been surprised when I put together the list of what I’ve done because there was more there than I expected. It is too easy for me to get bogged down with current distractions or the things it feels like are taking too much time and I don’t recognize where I’m actually making progress. Going through the ritual of looking at everything I’ve accomplished in the previous month helps remind me I am making progress and makes it easier to ignore the feelings of unproductivity as figments of my imagination.

I’m going to keep doing this because it works for me and I don’t think I’ll drastically change the process, but if I do I’ll share it here.