Logging whatever is important to you can be one of the most powerful tools in your arsenal, whether it’s logging the time you work on any project, online activities, spending, progress towards a goal, reading, exercise and food consumption, or anything really.
But developing the habit of logging can be intimidating or frustrating for many people who’ve tried it for a few days and failed.
Logging anything is a habit, and just like any other new habit, it can be a challenge to develop. But it doesn’t have to be difficult, and certainly not impossible.
The Power of Logging
The simple act of writing something down has a way of reinforcing a habit or goal, and even more powerful than that is being able to see your progress over time.
Developing the habit of logging forces us to be aware of an activity, because to log it you have to know you’re doing it. And by being aware of it, we put our focus on that activity, making it more important in our minds and allowing us to concentrate on making it happen in the way we want it to happen.
Our focus is what makes a goal become reality, makes a habit stick, and logging is a great way to keep that focus on what you want to change.
Another great benefit of logging is that ability to share it with others: whether you’re sharing a project time log with a team or client, or sharing your diet and exercise log with friends and family, the knowledge that others will see this log motivates you to do your best.
Developing the Habit
Logging isn’t a habit you’ll have right away, and just like any other habit, it takes commitment, focus and motivation. But it doesn’t have to be hard.
Follow these tips to develop the habit of logging:
- Write it down. In order for a goal to be important to you, you have to write it down. Write down what you are going to log, when you’re going to do it, and using what tool. Commit to 30 days of logging.
- Commit to it. Tell others that you will be developing the habit of logging. Whether it’s telling a co-worker that you’ll be logging your time for a month, or telling your spouse you’ll be logging your exercise, committing to others is an extremely important step to developing any habit.
- One goal. If you’re trying to develop the habit of logging, focus on that goal exclusively. If you have multiple goals, you will lose focus. You need to focus on developing the habit of logging only. For example, if you want to log your time, don’t try to change your online habits or productivity habits while developing the logging habit. For at least a week, but preferrably more, don’t change the activity you’re logging — just log it. And focus on the logging, not the activity. Once you’ve developed the logging habit, you can focus on the activity.
- Maintain focus. You need a way to keep your focus on the habit of logging. Examples might include reminders posted on your wall, or email reminders sent to you, or having a friend remind you.
- Ease of use. For the logging habit to stick, you have to make it easy. Pick a tool that’s easy to use, that doesn’t take a bunch of steps just to log a simple activity. And make it easily accessible — whether it’s a notepad right next to you, or an online tool that you can call up with a shortcut. My diet and exercise log, for example, has a two-letter keyword bookmark in Firefox. All I have to do is open a new tab and type those two letters, and my log is called up.
- No exceptions. Don’t allow yourself to “log it in later”. Do it immediately, right after the activity. For example, if you’re logging your food, you need to log it as soon as you’re done eating, not at the end of the day. Same thing for logging your time: you have to log an activity as soon as you’re done. Don’t allow exceptions, or the habit won’t stick.
- But don’t quit. However, if you do mess up, don’t give up. Keep trying, and stick with it, and the habit will develop eventually. Learn from your mistakes.
Some Tools for Logging
In reality, there are many tools you can use for logging, and what tool you use depends on what’s easiest to use, and what fits your logging needs.
Here are just a few ideas:
- Analog tools. Includes a paper and pen, index cards, a journal or log. Highly recommended, especially if the activity takes place away from the computer.
- Spreadsheet or text file. Probably the simplest of the digital tools, you can create a simple spreadsheet for logging an activity, or a text file, for ease of use. These are great solutions, especially if you use just one computer.
- Joe’s Goals. One of the coolest and simplest of the online solutions, Joe’s Goals can be used to track any goal or habit. And it’s easy to use: just put a checkmark if you completed the activity for the day, and you can graph your success over time and even share it on your webpage.
- Backpack. One of my favorite tools, the versatile Backpack is good for lists, of course, which makes it good for logging anything. You can log reading, activities, exercise, work … anything. And it’s easy to use.
- TracksLife. A slick solution that can also be used to track just about anything, creates nice graphs that you can share with others.
- FitDay. An easy-to-use and free logging system for diet and exercise.
- PeerTrainer. Similar to FitDay (but without the calorie-counting tools), but with an added bonus: you join small groups and help motivate each other to exercise or eat right.
- Google Docs. Similar to using a spreadsheet or text file, but accessible from anywhere. Good, simple solution.