The Importance of Documenting Everything You Do

You have probably been in the situation at some point in your work life where you simply feel overwhelmed by your duties. Perhaps you’re on a team and everyone feels the same way. After speaking with your supervisor or manager about it your take-away task is to document what you do during your day to show your workload. You probably felt as though the sky was falling because on top of the crushing weight of your duties and your panicked efforts to simply keep up, you now have to take the time to write down everything you’re doing. That sinking feeling just got worse.

This is known as “the whirlwind” in 4DX (Four Disciplines of Execution) and represents all the urgent tasks that you are expected to complete throughout the day. 4DX is a complete system to help chip away at the important items you want to accomplish while dealing with the whirlwind. And there is a difference between urgent and important tasks. Dwight D. Eisenhower, the 34th President, said, “I have two kinds of problems, the urgent and the important. The urgent are not important, and the important are never urgent.” I recommend reading his thoughts in more detail as this is an important concept in prioritizing and executing work.

There are other, similar systems, like Getting Things Done by David Allen, and many books like Essentialism, by Greg McKeown or The One Thing, by Gary Keller with Jay Papasan or Eat That Frog by Brian Tracy that attack the same idea in their own ways. However, what they all have in common is increased productivity as a goal. From my own personal experience, documenting what I did during my day is one of the most important things that made more time for myself. It is counterintuitive but it really works.

The first step is to simply use a tracker of some sort. Use pen and paper, a spreadsheet, a calendar, a text document, or all of them, or anything with which you feel comfortable, and stick with it. Evernote and OneNote are both great for this type of thing. Both have the ability to create and use checkboxes, which are tremendously helpful when you have daily to do lists, or a list of tasks to complete to reach your weekly goals.

Keep in mind that this isn’t necessarily a log of each action you took during your day, written down the minute you did it. Depending on your job, you can probably fill in some things ahead of time and write in the extras as you go, or at the end of the day. I strongly recommend writing down ahead of time all the things you know you will be doing through the day just to relieve some of the pressure of documenting your chores.

Also, set goals. Start by scheduling everything you want to accomplish for the next week ahead of time. Once you have three goals written down, write down what you need to do each day of the week to reach those goals. Be detailed, but not too wordy. Brevity in this area is a plus. As you complete the daily tasks you scheduled, just check them off the list.

One of the main tenets of 4DX to combat the whirlwind is to define “X to Y by WHEN.” I like this idea very much. Break it down. If you are currently at X location in your project, you want to be at Y by the end of the week. Set a due date to keep yourself focused.

However, if the unexpected arises and something or someone interrupts your work flow don’t be afraid to adapt and evolve with the situation. Move or change the “X to Y by WHEN” to accommodate the new details. Also write down why you had to move or change the details of your goal so you can explain yourself. You probably won’t remember three days later why you did that when your boss asks about it, let alone six months later when you’re doing your self-assessment.

As you work through your week update the tasks you prepared ahead of time. Keep checking off those completed items. You should also document meetings, conversations, note significant information from emails received etc. After a few weeks or months have passed you can look back at all the notes and see the progress in your tracker at what you have accomplished. You can identify bottlenecks or repeated interruptions, and can plan ahead accordingly. If one particular person or meeting or event seems to be causing problems with your productivity you can approach your boss about it to get help finding a solution.

At the end of the year you can look back at your notes and you have a tremendous amount of material to use when writing out your self-assessment, and this is the reason you started writing down everything you do in the first place. This is the make or break moment. Rely on those notes to show your boss exactly what you did during the year with specifics. The next step is to put a dollar figure to as much of it as possible. Since you already have the time involved in most tasks, you can attach a dollar amount as well. If you made a change in one of your processes that shaved 5 minutes per day off that process, you have saved X dollars over the course of the year.

Once I started using this method to track myself I found that my actual job description took perhaps an hour of my day, while the rest of my time was spent on the “above and beyond” projects, and that is where promotions hide. There’s no need for long days! Stay focused and you can get done with everything in the eight hours provided, and then go home to enjoy your family and friends.

The Importance of Documenting Everything You Do

Book Review: The Shallows, What The Internet Is Doing To Our Brains

This is a book about the human brain and how it works. At times it’s heavy reading, deep reading, which is very much the point. The author looks at how the brains of humans have developed over the millennia, not so much from an evolutionary perspective in terms of the shape of or newly formed regions in the brain but from the perspective of intellectual evolution. In other words, the brain itself hasn’t changed physically as much as it has changed in how it works based on two human developments that are actually quite recent in human history – maps and books.

Maps gave humans the ability to think in a more abstract way about the world around them. Books gave humans the ability to amass knowledge and to think more deeply than ever before. Books evolved from the cuneiform tablets of Mesopotamia and the Hieroglyphs of Ancient Egypt, to the creation of papyrus documents, connecting papyrus documents together to make scrolls, to the invention of the actual book as we know it around 1400, and then to the evolution of the written word and how sentences are formed. As books became more available, writing styles developed and evolved and deep reading was more possible than ever before, which led to deep thinking.

At a broad level, writing and deep reading allowed humans to think about specific ideas and concepts rather than spending our time scanning our environments looking for enemies or game to feed ourselves – a very distracted state. Other inventions also contributed to human advancement, like clocks, but they didn’t have as great an impact on our cultural evolution as maps and books from the author’s perspective.

One of the more interesting things covered is neuroplasticity, or how the brain actually works. The human brain is capable of rewiring itself throughout our lives either through training or through recovery from injury. For example, when someone suddenly goes blind from injury or illness, the brain can rewire the areas devoted to processing visual stimuli and redirect those areas toward improving touch or smell or sound. There are numerous studies that support neuroplasticity.

However this flexibility can be both a strength and a weakness. While it  can rewire itself as mentioned to allow other senses to develop when one sense is damaged, neuroplasticity can also cause problems when this rewiring doesn’t go quite right leading to obsessive-compulsive disorders, bipolar depression, or others.

How does the Internet affect the development humans have achieved over the last 500 years or more? We don’t have the capacity for deep reading or deep thinking on the Internet. Corey Doctorow, writer and tech guru, is quoted as saying we are plunged into an “ecosystem of interruption technologies” when reading on the Internet limiting our ability for deep reading, and therefore deep thinking. The backlit computer monitor delivers competing rapid-fire stimuli through the numerous alerts and distractions that come along with the Internet.

Michael Merzenich, neurosurgeon and author, writes “As we multitask online we are ‘training our brains to pay attention to the crap.’

But I have to wonder if the author stopped too soon. He focused on our collective intellectual journey primarily over the last 500 years, and now that it’s changing because of the Internet it is for the worse. My first problem with that is the assumption that everything leading up to the Internet was in the right direction. Though I can point to no alternate direction humans could have taken, it’s still an assumption that how we developed was along the correct path. My second problem is that the Internet can only be a bad influence though it promises so much more.

What if our brains are being rewired in a way that is positive, but we’re not able to see the end result yet? Perhaps we’re in transition to a new state of enlightenment. If deep reading is focusing narrowly and deeply on a topic and the Internet scatters our attention shallowly and broadly, is there a point at which the breadth of the “knowledge pool” we’re wading in becomes in itself a positive thing? Maybe we haven’t yet reached that breadth of knowledge required to attain this new, different intellectual state of awareness.

Though the Internet may be making our thinking shallower, perhaps the multitude of associations that can be made through this theoretical breadth of knowledge can more than make up for the narrowness and deepness of the specialized knowledge of our recent past. In other words, the Subject Matter Expert may be replaced by the Renaissance Man, the Jack Of All Trades, the handyman…

Also, it makes the assumption that everyone was a “deep reader” and therefore a “deep thinker” prior to the Internet. Before the Internet MOST people listened to Top 40, not Mozart. They read tabloids, not The Iliad. MOST were watching Friends or Roseanne or The Nanny, not enjoying Shakespeare at the theater. At least in the USA…

Though I don’t disagree with the basic premise of this book (the Internet can be bad for us) I absolutely have to question the scale of the problem it brings to light, namely that the Internet is turning everyone into distracted neurotics…

I gave it two stars because I did learn from the book, but I have reservations that everything human society achieved prior to the Internet was in a linear direction toward positive or “correct” evolution.



Book Review: The Shallows, What The Internet Is Doing To Our Brains