How and why to keep track of daily activities and habits
Last updated on: December 23, 2021
I don’t have time. We hear this sentence almost every day, from our coworkers, family, and friends. But, in most cases, people have no clear understanding of how they actually spend their work hours and leisure time.
Now, the key to becoming a master of your time is quite simple. You need to keep track of your daily activities in order to have a better grasp of everyday tasks and habits. Thus, you’ll know what actions you need to tweak to get extra hours.
In this blog post, we’ll discuss:
- benefits of tracking activities,
- two methods of tracking your daily tasks, and
- how to keep track of habits.
Benefits of tracking activities
If you often feel like you don’t have enough time for all your daily tasks, consider keeping track of what you do during work hours. We compiled a list of the major benefits of tracking activities:
- You’ll gain control of your time,
- you’ll be more realistic and organized,
- you’ll make better time estimates,
- you’ll be more accountable and productive, and
- you’ll learn how to single-task instead of multitasking.
Let’s explore each benefit with more details.
You’ll gain control of your time
Laura Vanderkam is an author of several time management and productivity books. In her speech at TEDWomen 2016, she talked about our perception of time. Vanderkam wanted to prove that you can control your time and spend it how you like.
Therefore, she did a survey involving busy women. The participants had to track their activities for one week, both their work hours and leisure time.
While looking at the data, Vanderkam noticed that one of the participants had a household emergency. This participant logged every hour she has spent on fixing this issue, which was seven hours in total (during the week).
Now, although this was an emergency, this situation shows us that there are always enough hours in a day or in a week. Furthermore, this research proves that you CAN find time for everything you wish to do, but you might not be aware of that.
How do you gain control over your time?
- Start by writing down all activities you do throughout the day. It’s likely you’ll realize that maybe you spend too much time doing particular activities, such as watching television for two hours daily. Or scrolling through your social media accounts. At the same time, you think that you don’t have enough time for having a coffee with friends or going to the movies.
- The next step is to rethink your schedule. Try to limit the time you spend doing some activities that are not so important so that you can get extra hours for that coffee with friends.
By keeping your daily diary of activities, you’ll manage your time much better. Thus, you’ll do what you enjoy doing.
Another interesting point that Vanderkam mentioned during her speech is that time is highly elastic.
“We cannot make more time, but time will stretch to accommodate what we choose to put into it,” she added.
It’s up to us what we’ll choose to put into it, and these are the priorities.
In addition, Vanderkam suggests making a list of priorities on Friday afternoon. This list should contain the activities you plan for the next week, in three categories:
- Relationships, and
Be sure to add 2-3 priorities for each category.
You’ll be more realistic and organized
In his book The Productivity Project, Chris Bailey says that being realistic about how much you can accomplish is crucial.
“Without becoming aware of how you currently spend your time, it’s hard to reflect on whether you’re acting in ways that match up with what your values and highest-impact tasks are. Keeping a time log is a great way to find your starting point, your base level.”
As you can see, tracking your time and tasks will help you realize what your baseline is. Thus, you’ll be able to make rational goals and plans for the future. For instance, if you notice that there are some time gaps on Wednesdays and Thursdays, use these periods for brainstorming ideas for the next project.
Aside from this, having accurate data on how much time you need for each assignment means being able to organize workdays better. Another practical step you can take is to create a list of tasks for tomorrow, the night before. Remember to write down time frames for each one.
Besides, once you start logging each little activity throughout the day, you’ll see how you spend your free time, too. So, those previously mentioned two hours of television can be switched with some other action, such as riding a bicycle for an hour and then having a bath the next hour.
You’ll make better time estimates
Let’s face it, you can’t always predict how long it will take to buy groceries, take your kids to school, or finish an important task at work. In fact, many studies show that we usually underestimate the time we need to complete an errand.
According to the Exploring the “Planning Fallacy” research, fewer than half of the participants managed to complete their activities at the time they predicted themselves. The results also showed that, when people make forecasts about their activities, they focus on the specific case from the past and its details. However, people should see a bigger picture – review all earlier cases with details. That way, they would remember the issues they had with earlier cases; thus, they would make more realistic predictions.
For example, last Friday, you were lucky enough to finish your grocery shopping and drive back home in less than an hour. But, usually, you need almost two hours for this chore, because of the traffic jam. Thus, you should dedicate more time to this activity, somewhere between an hour and a half and two hours.
In general, to make precise time estimates you have to keep track of your activities. This means writing down every single errand throughout the day. Then, after a few weeks, you’ll be able to make more accurate predictions about your everyday chores.
You’ll be more accountable and productive
Some days you’ll be more productive than others. As you already know, when you can’t keep your focus at work, you might turn to social media or start reading the latest news. Or, when you have to study for an important exam, but instead, you binge-watch your favorite series. This is what we call the wasted time.
But, what happens when your entire week is unproductive? You probably won’t be able to achieve your weekly goals.
Here’s what we suggest: keep track of your wasted time, the same way you log the activities you complete. That way, when you see entries such as “browsing the web” or “watching series”, this will be your wake-up call. Then, tomorrow, you’ll do your best not to repeat these actions, which will result in better performance and enhanced motivation.
In addition, tracking your activities can help you improve productivity levels, too. Pamela Ayuso is a real estate entrepreneur and developer who writes a blog about business growth. She believes that, since we all get the same 24 hours in a day, our best bet is to use it in the most productive way.
“By tracking daily activities, we are able to identify what tasks are absorbing the majority of our time. With the data in hand, we can then make the necessary changes so that we are spending our time in the best way possible.”
Thus, if you want to stay focused on your tasks and be more productive, remember to keep a record of your activities throughout the day.
You’ll learn how to single-task instead of multitasking
“Multitasking arises out of distraction itself.” – Marylin vos Savant
Although it’s not truly a distraction, multitasking is a delusion. Earl Miller, a professor of neuroscience at MIT, believes that our brain can switch the focus from one thing to the other extremely quickly. But, the brain can’t focus on both things at the same time.
So, you may think that you can cook your dinner and wash the dishes simultaneously. But, the chances are that you’ll either forget to add that important spice or accidentally break a glass.
When it comes to time tracking and logging your activities, you’ll want to have clear and precise information about what you do. That means doing each errand separately so that you can log them properly. Therefore, you’ll improve your single-tasking skills and avoid multitasking. Moreover, when you pay attention to only one activity, your results will be better, not to mention more delicious.
How do you keep track of your daily tasks?
Now that you’ve learned the main advantages of tracking your daily activities, let’s explore two ways of keeping a record of your tasks:
- Pen and paper method, and
- Tracking your activities with Clockify.
Pen and paper method
Created by Neville Medhora, this method is an ideal solution if you prefer using traditional writing tools, such as pen and paper.
So, at the beginning of your workday, take a piece of paper and start writing the following:
- The date: keep the date at the top of your list. This little detail will be important for future references.
- All the tasks for the day: be sure to include the most significant tasks for the day and be realistic about it. If you think that you’re capable of doing six complex assignments, write down only these. If you want, you can add activities that are not work-related, which you plan to do after work. Keep these at the bottom of your list.
- Meeting times: this is extremely useful info if you usually have several meetings throughout the day. Just add them at the right side of your paper, as a reminder.
- Tracked hours: keep an eye on the time when you start working on a task and once you’re finished. Then, write down the time frame for that activity on the right side of the paper, below your meeting reminder. Do the same for all other tasks. Writing down these time blocks will give you a better idea of how you spend your work hours, what tasks require more time, and you’ll see how productive you were that day.
- Daily summary: at the end of your workday, write a summary of your day – your daily accomplishments.
Here are several other practical tips that Medhora suggests:
✔️ Write your to-do list the night before. Thus, when you begin your workday in the morning, you only need to follow the list.
✔️ Break down your tasks into smaller, manageable chunks. So, instead of having one larger assignment, you’ll have several tasks to complete. Plus, you’ll feel satisfied whenever you scratch out the task you’ve just finished.
✔️ A simple trick you can use when you feel like procrastinating – use another paper with a piece of tape at its top. Then, stick that paper to your list and adjust it so that you can only see your first task. Even if you don’t feel like working at the moment, seeing only one task at the time means that you won’t be bothered with others from the list.
To learn more details about this simple technique, check out the video explaining this method.
Tracking activities with Clockify
Alternatively, if you prefer using software for keeping track of your daily activities, try Clockify as your own activity log app.
Here’s how you can log your assignments with this tool:
- Create a Clockify account.
- Download a time tracker. Be sure that you can use Clockify on your phone, on your computer, or as a browser extension.
- Track your activities. You can do that either by:
- Using a timer: start your timer when you begin working on an activity and stop it when you’re finished. Remember to write down the description of your activity.
- Entering your activities manually by writing the description of your activity and adding the time.
Let’s say that these were your morning activities before you went to work:
- You went for a run this morning from 8 am to 9 am.
- Then, you took a shower and had breakfast, which was one 30 minutes in total.
- Since your work hours are from 10 am to 6 pm, you spend the next 30 minutes commuting to work.
As you can see below, this is how your entries will look like.
Once you’ve tracked everything you’ve done during the day, you’ll get a list like this.
Thus, you’ll be able to change the duration of particular activities if needed.
Aside from these, there are other practical features of Clockify.
✔️ Categorize your entries. You can add a project name or a tag for every entry. In our example, the project names are Leisure time and Project A.
✔️ Analyze activities. In the Dashboard section, you can review all your activities and filter them by project or billability status. Besides, in the right corner, you can see how much time you spent doing each activity.
How do you keep track of your habits?
Apart from tasks and activities in general, you can also keep track of your habits. Building habits involves following a particular routine or behavior, but now and then, you need to analyze your progress. By doing so, you’ll know if that routine is giving expected results and whether you have to modify some actions.
For instance, let’s say that you’ve been learning the Finnish language. It’s been six months and you haven’t missed any class. But, for some reason, you’re not satisfied with your current knowledge of Finnish. This feedback tells you that you have to change something. Maybe you need to do your homework more diligently or work on your conversation skills.
Here’s the catch, when you establish some ground rules for a habit, you have to obey them. Moreover, you need to keep a journal of these daily/weekly actions. When it comes to our example with the Finnish language, you’ll have to mark down the time you spend learning the language.
The habit tracker and how it works
One of the most practical ways to analyze your habits is by using the habit tracker. In his book Atomic Habits, James Clear explains the main purpose of this method.
“A habit tracker is a simple way to measure whether you did a habit.”
Here’s how to use a habit tracker:
- Take a notebook with a calendar or use a Google sheet/Excel.
- Then, write down all your monthly habits. For example, for November, your habits can be Reading, Workout, Learning Finnish, and Doing yoga.
- Whenever you finish some habit, add a check mark, an X symbol, or any other sign next to the habit.
You can select the days for each habit, for instance:
- Monday, Wednesday, and Friday – workout,
- Tuesday and Thursday – learning Finnish,
- Saturday and Sunday – yoga
- Every day – reading.
Here’s an example of completing all habits during the first week of November.
As you can see, your monthly habits can be divided into identical schedules for each week of the month. In fact, this method is in line with the routines and habits of highly productive people. For instance, Jack Dorsey, the CEO of Twitter and Square, has a different routine for each day of the week. So, Mondays are for managing his companies, Tuesdays are for focusing on products, and so on.
If you stick to this standard, you’ll have an entire month filled with marked boxes. This will surely be your motivation booster. Besides, after the first month, you’ll be able to modify the frequency of some habits if needed. For example, if you enjoy doing yoga and it helps you stay relaxed, you can do it three times a week instead of two.
What habits can you measure?
In the aforementioned book, Clear recommends the Two-minute rule. This means starting with small habits first. Small habits are all those actions that you can complete in two minutes or less.
For examples, these are some small habits that you can do daily:
- Read one page of your favorite book.
- Meditate for one minute in the morning.
- Do one push-up or stretch for one minute.
- Wake up and go to bed at the determined time.
- Water your plants in the afternoon.
Other than that, you can measure habits that impact your health, such as:
- How much coffee you drink daily.
- How much water you drink per day.
- Whether you eat enough vegetables and fruits.
- For more detailed information about your nutrition, you can even track your protein, carbs, and fats intake.
Now, what about those activities that you’d like to avoid or do them less often? Clear calls them habits of avoidance. In general, these actions either have a negative impact on your health, your finances, or productivity. Here are some examples:
- Eliminating alcohol, caffeine, or sugar intake.
- Quitting smoking.
- Spending less time in front of the screen (outside your work hours).
- Spending less money on online purchases.
Therefore, just as you track the habits you want to build, you can also monitor those habits you want to avoid.
How to get used to tracking habits?
Even keeping a record of your habits is the habit you need to gain. In the case you’ve never tracked your routine, we have a few simple tips to help you get started:
✔️ Fill out the habit tracker as soon as you complete the habit. By doing so, you won’t forget to mark down your daily accomplishments.
✔️ Keep it simple. When you finish the desired habit, just mark the box with the name of the habit. You don’t have to add any further details. Plus, keep your habit tracker handy, so that you can easily find it and fill it out.
Finally, if you break a habit, try not to repeat that mistake the next day. You probably had logical reasons for skipping a routine once, but make sure to be back on track the following day.
By keeping a record of your daily activities, you’ll gain control of your time, you’ll improve your organizational skills and productivity. Plus, you’ll be able to make more accurate time estimates and learn how to single-task, instead of multitasking. If you’re unsure how to start tracking your actions, choose one of the two methods we covered in this article.
Moreover, we suggest logging your habits as well. Building a habit isn’t always easy. But, whenever you complete your daily habit and write it down, you’ll feel good about your accomplishment. Besides, the habit tracker will help you stay on course with your routine, which can be a real struggle sometimes.