To Accomplish What You Want, Write Down More Than Just Your Goals

A dirt road disappears into a tree line under a blue sky

Tracking time is one of the most universally disliked aspects of private law practice.  I don’t think I’ve ever met an attorney who liked having to log every client-related task in six- or fifteen- minute increments.  Tracking and recording your time is a pain.  But it does have its benefits, aside from being able to bill your clients for the work you’ve performed.

When I first left private practice and no longer had to keep daily time sheets, I noticed that I became less productive.  I chatted with coworkers more and took longer lunches.  I spent more time on projects.  These things are not all bad, but I realized at some point that I wasn’t checking items off my to-do list as often as I’d like, and I felt like I was losing momentum.

One way to combat this is by doing some planning at the beginning of the day or week, setting goals for what you’d like to accomplish in a given amount of time, and creating self-imposed deadlines for projects.  Those are helpful tools that I’ve employed, but they comprise only one piece of the puzzle.  To really improve your productivity and use your time wisely, you have to know how you are spending your minutes and hours.

Last year, for a period of two weeks, I kept track of everything I did, all day long — not just at work, but after hours as well.  (I got this idea from Laura Vanderkam’s book I Know How She Does it, which I recommend for anyone struggling to achieve better balance and be more productive.)  I tracked how much time I spent getting ready for work, commuting, exercising, socializing, etc.  I didn’t set any rules for myself, but the simple act of writing down what I did made me more conscious of how I was spending my time.  Just as keeping a food journal makes you less likely to indulge in junk food, keeping a time log made me less likely to waste time on things like social media.  Knowing I’d have to write it down made me think twice about doing it.

At the end of the two weeks, I added up all the time I’d spent in different categories.  This gave me a bird’s-eye view of my life and allowed me to reprioritize and rebalance.  Much like periodically reviewing credit card and bank statements allows you to tweak your budget, occasionally tracking and reviewing how you spend your time helps you to analyze where your minutes and hours are going so you can ask yourself if you could be using them more effectively.

I don’t do that sort of intense time-tracking all the time; that would get old very fast.  I suspect that I’ll do it again from time to time, though, when I feel like I need it.  I’ve adopted a more relaxed approach to tracking what I do at work lately.  I keep a running list of everything I work on each day.  At the end of the day, I’m not asking myself where the day went.  Instead, I have a daily report of what I did, and as with the more detailed log, knowing that I’m keeping this list provides some extra accountability.  This practice could be useful for annual or semiannual reviews as well.  You can look back over your daily activities, reflect on what you’ve done during the review period, create a breakdown of how your working hours are allocated among different kinds of projects and tasks, and do a better job of highlighting your accomplishments.

Have you tried tracking your daily activities and analyzing how you spend your time?  What did you learn from the exercise?  Tell us your thoughts in the comments.

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One thought on “To Accomplish What You Want, Write Down More Than Just Your Goals

  1. I have written down tasks completed at work and life events in my desk calendar for years. The information is handy when performing the self evaluation portion of work reviews and reflecting on the year.

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