Activity Logs

Finding More Time in Your Day

(Also known as Activity Diaries or Job Activity Logs.)

Activity Logs

© iStockphoto/arekmalang

How much time do you spend at work doing things that don't contribute to your success? At first, you may say "not much." But – especially if you haven't used Activity Logs before – you may be surprised by how much more time you can find.

When you properly understand how you use your time at work, you can minimize or eliminate low value activities. This means that you can do more high value work, while still being able to leave the office at a sensible time.

So, how can you understand this? One useful way is to keep an Activity Log, and that's what we're looking at in this article.

About Activity Logs

An Activity Log (also known as an Activity Diary or a Job Activity Log) is a written record of how you spend your time.

By keeping an Activity Log for a few days, you can build up an accurate picture of what you do during the day, and how you invest your time. You'll find that memory is quite a poor guide, and that keeping the Log is an eye-opening experience!

Your Activity Log will also help you understand whether or not you're doing your most important work during the right time of day. For instance, if you're more energetic and creative in the morning, you'd be better off doing your most important work during this time. You can then focus on lower energy tasks, such as responding to emails or returning calls, in the afternoon.

Activity Logs are also useful for helping you identify non-core activities that don't help you meet important objectives. For example, you might spend far more time than you think surfing the Internet, or getting coffee each afternoon. When you see how much time you're wasting on such activities, you can then change the way that you work to eliminate them.

Tip:

Don't confuse Activity Logs with timesheets – these are used for reporting on your use of time, and for tracking the time you spend on a task or job.

How to Keep an Activity Log

To keep an Activity Log, download this template, or open up a new spreadsheet and set up the following column headers:

  • Date/Time.
  • Activity description.
  • How I feel.
  • Duration.
  • Value (high, medium, low, none).

Then, without changing your behavior any more than you have to, note down everything that you do at work, as you do it.

Every time you change activities, whether replying to email, working on a report, making coffee, or gossiping with colleagues, note down what the activity is, the time of the change, and how you feel (alert, flat, tired, energetic, and so on).

Then, at a convenient time, go back through your Activity Log and write down the duration of each activity, and whether it was a high, medium, low, or no value task. (Evaluate this based on how far it contributed to achieving your job goals.)

Learning From Your Activity Log

Once you've logged your time for a few days, analyze your Activity Log. You may be alarmed to see how much time you spend doing low value jobs!

You may also see that you are energetic in some parts of the day, and flat in other parts. A lot of this can depend on how you are, the rest breaks you take, when and what you eat, and the work that you're doing.

Once you've analyzed your Activity Log, you should be able to boost your productivity by applying one of the following actions to various activities:

  1. Eliminate or delegate   jobs that aren't part of your role, or that don't help you meet your objectives. These may include tasks that someone else in the organization should be doing (possibly at a lower pay rate) or personal activities such as sending non-work e-mails or surfing the Internet.
  2. Schedule your most challenging tasks for the times of day when your energy levels are highest. That way, your work will be of better quality, and it should take you less time to do. (Our article, Is This a Morning Task?  , has more on how to discover your peak time of day.)
  3. Minimize the number of times you switch between types of task. For example, could you check and reply to e-mails at only a few times of the day, or process all of your invoices at the same time each week?
  4. Reduce the amount of time you spend on legitimate personal activities such as making drinks. (Take turns in your team to do this – it saves time and strengthens team spirit!)

Tip:

Sometimes, spending too much time on low-value or low-priority tasks can be a symptom of procrastination  . Find out how to deal with this here  .

Key Points

Activity Logs are useful tools for analyzing how you use your time. They help you track changes in your energy, alertness and effectiveness throughout the day, and they help you eliminate time wasting activities, so that you can be more productive.

Once you've analyzed your Activity Log, you should be able to boost your productivity by eliminating or delegating low-value activities, scheduling challenging tasks for the time of the day when you feel your best, minimizing the number of times that you switch between types of tasks, and reducing the time you spend on personal activities.

Download Template

This site teaches you the skills you need for a happy and successful career; and this is just one of many tools and resources that you'll find here at Mind Tools. Click here for more, subscribe to our free newsletter, or become a member for just $1.

Add this article to My Learning Plan

Comments (17)
  • Sarah42 wrote Over a month ago
    I think an activity like this is a good opportunity to remind ourselves how busy our working day can be and to take the opportunity to review whether we really need to continue to attend a particular meeting if there is no gain/valid outcome. As a team manager this is an excellent activity to undertake at an awayday or with individuals who are struggling with their workload - this has helpful for me.
  • Midgie wrote Over a month ago
    Hi Saravanan,
    As Yolande and Bree mentioned, activity logs do not need to be done endlessly. They need to be done for as long as it takes you to get a good picture of where you spend your time. From there, you can then make any changes to improve your efficiency, and focus.

    For what purposes have you been looking at doing activity logs? I'm wondering whether there are other angles to approach the situation or other tools that may help.

    Midgie
  • Bree wrote Over a month ago
    Saravanan hi,
    I've used activity logs before as a 'time audit' to improve my time efficiency and focus.

    It did seem like a heavy burden and one which would take more time than it was worth. Yet in the end it was worth it!

    I used my own 'shorthand' in my notes and took a few moments are regular intervals during the day (mid morning, lunch, mid afternoon and then at the end of the day) to jot down what I'd been doing.

    And, as Yolande suggested, you do not necessarily have to continue doing activity logs for long periods of time. Yet just long enough to get a snapshot of how you use your time and then do something about it!

    Good luck.
    Bree
  • Yolande wrote Over a month ago
    Hi Saravanan

    I would imagine that it can become really tedious if you do it for a long time. However, I think that it's a very worthwhile exercise to do for a week or two every now and again. In some circumstances it may be necessary to do it for longer - maybe a month or so. But you will then have a very clear picture of how you spend your time at work every day.

    Are you considering keeping an activity log for a while?

    Kind regards
    Yolandé
  • saravanan1994 wrote Over a month ago
    Hi Everyone,

    Is it not exhaustive to write activity logs for a long period of time?

    Regards,
    Saravanan
  • Midgie wrote Over a month ago
    Hi Ray_Harvey,
    Welcome to the Club and thanks for sharing your experience related to your smoking and the time away from being productive.

    I do believe that when we actually do something like the Activity Logs and quantify all the time we do 'stuff', we actually can see where there are gaps or areas where we could improve.

    Whether it's for smoke breaks, surfing the interest and responding to non-essential / critical emails, we can actually save ourselves lots of time. Or rather, gain alot of time!

    It will be interesting to hear what other habits you can make some savings! Please do share what insights and any new strategies you will be implementing.

    Hope to see you around some more and if you have any questions, just let me know. I'll be happy to help.

    Midgie
  • Ray_Harvey wrote Over a month ago
    I used to smoke and would go for a cigarette about very hour. One day it occurred to me that it took about 10 minutes to leave my desk, take the elevator downstairs, smoke then return. 10 min out of 6 hours of the work day was a whole hour! I was losing an hour of productivity every day to smoking! When I realized that, I restricted smoking to lunch. Not only was it better for my health but I effectively found an extra hour every day. I'm looking forward to this activity tracker to see what other unproductive habits are eating my day!
  • Midgie wrote Over a month ago
    Hi Jessica,
    I'll pass on your request to our techie team to see if they either have something like this in development, or can put into the pipeline for development.

    Will let you know what they say.
    Midgie
  • soledad wrote Over a month ago
    Dear MindTools staff,

    I am the person who try to make only electronic records.

    So I wonder whether there are some smarphone (android) apps to help make Activity log? I have tried several times, but they are not what Im looking for.

    Best
    Jessica
  • James wrote Over a month ago
    Hi Everyone

    We’ve given this popular article a review, and the updated version is now at:
    http://www.mindtools.com/community/pages/article/newHTE_03.php

    Discuss the article by replying to this post!

    Thanks

    James
Show all comments

Where to go from here:

Join the Mind Tools Club

Click to join Mind Tools
Printer-friendly version
Return to the top of the page

Create a Login to Save Your Learning Plan

This ensures that you don’t lose your plan.


Connect with…

Or create a Mind Tools login. Existing user? Log in here.
Log in with your existing Mind Tools details
Lost Username or Password
You are now logged in…

Lost username or password?

Please enter your username or email address and we'll send you a reminder.

Thank You!

Your log in details have been sent to the email account you registered with. Please check your email to reset your login details.

Create a Mind Tools Login
Your plan has been created.

While you're here, subscribe to our FREE newsletter?

Learn a new career skill every week, and get our Personal Development Plan workbook (worth $19.99) when you subscribe.


Thank You!

Please check your Inbox, and click on the link in the email from us. We can then send you the newsletter.