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Published on January 18, 2021

How To Log Your Daily Activities And Manage Your Time Better

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How To Log Your Daily Activities And Manage Your Time Better

Go to business school, and you’ll hear it over and over again: What gets measured gets managed. Often attributed to Peter Drucker, this maxim also applies to time management.[1] The best way to improve your time management is to log your daily activities. Simply seeing how your time is spent empowers you to be more productive.

Before you begin recording your daily activities, you have two choices to make—where to do it and how to do it. Let’s discuss them both.

Where to Log Your Daily Activities

Generally speaking, you have two options for logging your daily activities: physically or digitally. Although there’s no “right” answer, there are reasons why people choose one over the other.

Digital Logging

For a few reasons, many people prefer to log their tasks in a calendar or productivity software:

1. Accessibility

Who wants to carry a planner everywhere they go? Digital tracking tools can be accessed from your phone, which is probably in your pocket from when you wake up to when you hit the hay. They can also be pulled up on your computer, where you’ll analyze the data.

2. Customizability

Do you like to view your tasks as a calendar or a list? Do you like to categorize them by type, participant, timeline, or something else? Do you color-code them? Digital activity logging tools put you in the driver’s seat. If you change your mind about a layout or color choice, you can always adjust it later.

3. Cost

Have you priced planners recently? A nice, hardback one can cost you a pretty penny. If you go this route, don’t buy online.

“One of the best things you can do is go out to a store and touch the planner, feel it and really look at it,” explains Jackie Reeve, who writes for The New York Times’ Wirecutter project. Most digital tracking tools are free. Some offer paid versions with more features, but even these are competitive with bound paper planners.

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Still, not everyone uses software to log their daily activities. So, what do the paper-planner folks like about them?

Physical Logging

Just as some people prefer print books to e-books, some would rather log their daily activities on paper. This option has a few advantages.

1. Memorization

Research suggests that writing things down helps us commit them to memory. If you’re trying to memorize a new routine, a paper activity planner might be your best bet.

2. Privacy

Although software companies spend a lot on data security, the reality is that breaches happen. If you worry about your schedule or activities leaking out to the wrong person, a paper planner could be the right choice.

Remember that paper logging puts more of the responsibility on your shoulders. Nobody is going to read your activity log if you keep it in a safe deposit box. But at the same time, how are you going to access it?

3. Visibility

To access your digital activity tracker, you need to think about it, pull up the app on your phone or computer, and log in. If you post a paper log in the right place, all you need to do is take a glance at it.

This is why many business professionals still keep a paper calendar on their desk, despite also maintaining a digital one. Nothing jogs the mind like a visual reminder.

Once you’ve decided where to put your activity data, you need to actually log and analyze it. Practice by clocking how long it takes you to review my six tips for doing so.

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How to Track Your Daily Activities

Some activities are easier to log than others. Digital ones, like videoconferences, might already be on your calendar by virtue of the invite you sent out. Others, like that wilderness hike you took on a whim, may require some planning and estimation.

Here’s where to start:

1. Check Your Calendar

Does what’s on your calendar match how you actually spend your time and how you want to be spending your time? It should, says Breakout Blueprint author Doug Foley—“If you learn to own your calendar instead of letting it own you, that’s the first step to building the life you want.”[2]

If it doesn’t, clean up your calendar. Remove activities and events that are no longer relevant. Say “no” to things you don’t want or can’t do. Fill those slots with activities that get you closer to your goals.

2. Use a Time Tracker

To track digital activities, use activity tracking tools like Toggl or Harvest. They can pull event details from your calendar and prompt you to log the amount of time you actually spent on each activity.

These tools are easiest to use with a widget, a miniaturized version of a program that displays only its essential tools. Time-tracking widgets let you start, pause, and stop the activity timer as you work.

If you’d prefer to use a physical activity log, get a stopwatch. Your phone has one built-in, or you can carry one on in your pocket if you prefer the track-coach experience. Either way, remembering to press “start” and “stop” after each activity takes practice. Expect to spend about two weeks building the habit.

3. Get Time Bounds Down to the Minute

When tracking your time, it’s easy to round. Perhaps you forget to click “start” on the timer, so you call it 3:25 p.m. instead of 3:23 p.m. Maybe your log from yesterday has a gap at 4 p.m., so you assume that you started the next task listed then.

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While that might not seem like a big deal, think about how it skews your activity log. Not only is your time for that task now inaccurate, but it may also cause you to shift the start or end times for tasks adjacent to it.

Sloppy logging becomes an even bigger issue when you need to analyze how you’re spending your time. If every five-minute “review email” task is off by two minutes, your analysis may lead you to believe that you’re spending barely half as much time in your email as you actually are.

4. Take Notes

Was your son or daughter distracting you while you were finishing up that proposal email? No wonder it took twice as long as the previous ones. Make note of the reason why in your activity log.

If you go the paper route, don’t do this in pen. Rarely does a day go by that I don’t make some sort of correction to my planner (more on that in a moment). Digital trackers allow you to not just attach notes to each activity, but update them as you wish.

When it comes to logging your time, the “why” matters just as much as the “when” and “how long.” You need to know why certain tasks took more or less time than expected if you want to become a better time manager.

5. Ask for Corrections

No matter how meticulous you are, everyone makes mistakes. If you’re logging a group activity—whether it’s a marketing campaign at work or cooking dinner at home—ask others in the group to periodically check your activity log.

Chances are good your time log will differ slightly from that of your partners. What’s important isn’t whose time is right, but identifying the types of tasks where discrepancies are common. Tasks that aren’t being logged correctly can’t be analyzed or acted on with confidence.

6. Back It Up

How good is your memory? Could you recite the last month of your activity log if it were lost or stolen? Probably not.

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If you use a paper activity tracker, take a photo of it each week. Upload the photos to a cloud storage solution like Google Drive. If you use a digital one, back up your activity log on a local storage device. You never know when the company behind your tracker is going to go bust.

7. Dig Into the Data

Once you have a month or more of activity data—and are confident it’s logged correctly—the fun begins. You can make better use of your time by analyzing how you’ve been spending it.

How you slice the data depends on what you want to do with it. Maybe all you need is a billable hours figure at the end of each month. That’s easy—just add up all the activities you did on behalf of your clients in the past four weeks.

Using your activity log to improve your personal life requires you to think about your interests and ideals. Does your morning routine consistently leave you enough time to eat breakfast? If not, you might need to start waking up earlier. Is your salaried job forcing you to work well beyond 40 hours per week? Then, it might be time to start looking for a new one.

Do More, Do Better

Your routine might not seem like anything special. But if you log your daily activities, you’ll see that you do a lot each day.

To better manage your time—either by cutting out unnecessary tasks or completing your existing ones more efficiently—you need to track your time. Opportunities for optimization are there—you just have to get started in identifying them.

More Tips on How to Manage Your Time Better

Featured photo credit: Paico Oficial via unsplash.com

Reference

[1] Harvard Business Review: What Can’t Be Measured
[2] Author Hour: Breakout Blueprint: Doug Foley

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John Hall

John Hall is the co-founder and president of Calendar, a leading scheduling and productivity app that will change how we manage and invest our time.

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Last Updated on September 9, 2021

The Ultimate List of Deep Focus Music for Productive Work

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The Ultimate List of Deep Focus Music for Productive Work

Everyone has their favorite habits for boosting productivity. Your desk setup, morning routine, and diet all play a role. But there’s one thing that everyone agrees can make a difference: focus music.

Soothing beats can keep distractions at bay, wherever you are and whatever you’re doing. Whether you’re trying to drown out mowers or simply get into a groove, put on a pair of headphones. Music can make all the difference in your focus.

With that said, not all music is equally conducive to productivity. You need to be careful about what you listen to. Getting work done calls for very different sounds than getting a workout in.

If you need a little more help to get rid of distractions, check out Lifehack’s free guide End Distraction And Find Your Focus. In this guide you’ll learn the simple techniques to stay focused and boost productivity. Grab your free guide here.

This article will walk you through selecting the best music for productivity, as well as a list of tunes to help you get started.

How to Pick the Best Focus Music For Yourself

With so many genres and artists out there, there’s a lot of music to choose from. Before you press play, keep the following guidelines in mind:

1. Stick With Instrumental

Songs without words in them make it easier to focus. Lyrics can distract you from what you’re trying to accomplish because you might get the words mixed up with what you’re trying to read. If you’re writing something, you might find yourself typing the lyrics instead.

Intelligence and instrumental music are correlated, perhaps because instrumental music is less intrusive.[1] Instrumental music tends to fade into the background, giving you a rhythm without pulling your mind away from the task at hand.

Stay away from instrumental versions of songs you recognize. It’s easy to fill in the blanks with the lyrics if you’ve already committed them to memory.

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However, some exceptions can be made. Creatives who produce videos or audio might prefer tracks that get their creative juices going, lyrics and all. However, if you find lyrics to be distracting, switch back to instrumental tunes.

2. Take It Easy

Not all instrumental music is calm and relaxing. Focus music should be, however. So, beware of instrumental songs that are too loud and stimulating. High volumes and tempos can work you up when you need to stay calm.

Again, some roles can make exceptions. Physical laborers can use more rambunctious tunes to keep them energized. While calm tunes work best for those in desk-based roles, don’t go too extreme. Something that’s too soothing might make you feel tired, and yawning all day isn’t exactly the path to productivity.

3. Pick Music You Enjoy

At the end of the day, the best focus music is what you enjoy. If you hate classical music, don’t put together a classical playlist just because you stumbled on a study about its benefits.[2] Your dislike of the music will take away the productivity you’d otherwise get out of listening to it.

Don’t be afraid to try something new. If you’ve never worked while listening to jazz before, why not? Save songs you like for later listening. Over time, you’ll build a playlist of tried-and-true focus music.

4. Update Your Setup

Before jamming out to your productivity tunes, make sure you have the right equipment. Invest in a music streaming service so you don’t have to listen to ads. Purchase noise-canceling headphones to avoid distracting your co-workers.

Focus music is all about ambience. Anything that interrupts your flow—whether that’s poor sound quality or glitchy streaming—needs to go.

Expect to spend at least $100 on headphones or speakers. For the streaming service itself, Spotify Premium is the standard at $9.99 per month. Slacker, Apple Music, and YouTube Music are also popular.

Building Your Perfect Playlist of Focus Music (With Recommendations)

Now that you know what to look for in focus music and how to listen, it’s time to build your playlist. Get started with these smooth, instrumental genres, artists, and songs.

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1. Chillhop Music

This YouTube channel has almost 3 million subscribers. Its music videos run 24/7 and feature driving yet relaxing beats.

Most songs on this channel fall into a category called “lofi hip hop,” a type of electronic R&B. Unlike traditional hip hop, lofi hip hop songs follow a slow, steady pattern that induces focus and relaxation.

Chillhop playlists can also be streamed on Spotify, Soundcloud, and Bandcamp. Popular artists include nymano, No Signal, and Sleepy Fish.

2. Andy McKee

Andy McKee is an acoustic guitarist who became famous after “Drifting,” one of his early songs, went viral on YouTube. “Drifting” exemplifies the creative, quiet guitar techniques found in the rest of McKee’s music.

Today, McKee has six albums of primarily acoustic guitar. One of McKee’s most popular pieces, “Rylynn,” is a perfect example of his soothing yet upbeat sound.

3. John Butler Trio

The band John Butler Trio became popular after releasing “Ocean,” a 2012 hit with more than 50 million listens on YouTube.[3] Heavy on acoustic guitar, “Ocean” is an intricate ballad that ebbs and flows like the ocean itself.

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Known for flowing changes in key and mood, the John Butler Trio proves that fast songs can stand in as great focus music. The group’s long songs—“Ocean” is 12 minutes long—are less disruptive for long projects. Two other favorites by John Butler Trio are “Betterman” and “Spring to Come.”

4. Classical Radio on Pandora

Classical music has long been a staple for music lovers looking to get work done. Pandora’s classical station features a great mix, from Beethoven to modern artists like Maria Callas and Jorge Bolet.

Pandora has radio stations for every genre imaginable. You can generate playlists based on genre, artist, or even a specific song.

Other music apps offer similar playlists and radio stations you can turn to for your classical music fix. From piano-heavy tunes to violin concertos, you’ll find plenty to perk up your ears.

5. Pirates of the Caribbean Soundtrack

Movie soundtracks are full of amazing focus music. One of my favorites is the Pirates of the Caribbean series, which is lively and adventurous but not in your face.

If you like what you hear, Hans Zimmer, the mastermind behind the Pirates of the Caribbean soundtrack, has worked on a huge array of films. Zimmer also put together the soundtracks for The Dark Knight, Interstellar, and Inception.

One thing to watch out for with cinematic music is associations. As iconic as the Pirates of the Caribbean soundtrack is, if you’re thinking about Jack Sparrow instead of balancing spreadsheets, you should probably switch to a new song.

6. Legend of Zelda Soundtrack

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Another hotspot for instrumental music is video games. If you’re not sure where to start, check out selections from The Legend of Zelda.

Anyone who’s played The Legend of Zelda games will immediately recognize what they hear. The soundtrack is light, airy, and full of awe. Keyboards, harps, and flutes feature prominently.

Although you could spend hours listening to The Legend of Zelda music, don’t forget about fan-produced songs in this genre. The video-gaming community is robust, and instrumental re-creations of your favorite games’ soundtracks can be found all over the internet.

7. Nature Sounds and White Noise

This genre may be too relaxing for some, but others prefer less structured focus music. Sounds like thunder, wind, and rushing water can transport you to a quiet, idyllic place to get work done.

One type of white noise to avoid is city-related sounds. Even without lyrics, honking horns or chattering crowds can be distracting.

An advantage of this type of focus music is that it can be set on a loop. If you find a track you like, go ahead and put it on repeat. When it starts over, you won’t even notice.

Ready, Set, Play

The best part about focus music is that nothing is off-limits. Some people work better listening to Tom Petty tunes than instrumental music, and that’s okay. What’s important is that it’s motivating without being distracting.

To unlock your next tier of productivity, spend a couple of hours clicking around on your favorite streaming music site. You’ll get more done, and best of all, you’ll enjoy every minute of it.

More Tips to Improve Your Focus

Featured photo credit: Lala Azizli via unsplash.com

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Reference

[1] New York Post: Smarter people listen to instrumental music: study
[2] Forbes: Does Classical Music Help Our Productivity?
[3] YouTube: Ocean – John Butler – 2012 Studio Version

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