How I Stay Focused with Work Logs

At any moment, I tend to have quite a few things that need my attention. I’ve found that I’ll need to context switch several times during the day - from answering a question to attending a meeting or checking in on a long-running process.

Jumping in and out of contexts can be pretty difficult and will really cost a lot of time.

In an effort to be as available as possible for the occasional interruption without spending a ton of time getting back into whatever I’m working on, I’ve been using timestamped work logs. I’ve found it helpful for quite a few different reasons that I’ll outline later.

Method

Every time I come up with a new immediate goal - usually once or twice an hour - I write it out in a notebook after the current time. I use a small moleskin to keep each line relatively short.

Some examples:

So, definitely a brain-dump sort of stream of consciousness thing. I use them to set way-points throughout my day that I can go back to in order to figure out where I was and how I got there, quickly. Most of the time, I’ll jot one of these down before I hop on a call or something so I can get right back to what I was doing. Just having that small note makes a big difference - coming back to an open code editor and little else hours later is a bit daunting.

Results

I’ve been writing logs like this for a little over a year now, and it’s been a huge help for a couple of reasons:

  1. With very little effort, I’ve got something to refer to when I need to log hours.
  2. Further, I am hyper aware of the passage of time and my estimates are way more accurate.
  3. The act of writing something out - even just figuring out what to write - helps me focus and keep things in perspective.

Most of us likely have a notepad handy. Writing down your problem or a solution you’ve come up with is incredibly helpful. I think augmenting your note taking with a work log is huge. Let me know if you do something like this!