Let Your Logs Become Your Plans

Years ago, wishing to avoid some of the constraints of full-blown employment, I tried my hand at some independent contracting. Under this arrangement, to get paid I had to submit logs of my work on a bi-weekly schedule. The logs had to detail what I was doing day-by-day. Prior to this arrangement, I felt I was a "TrustedEmployee" - my work was known and I was given a fair amount of leeway to do what I knew best. Upon entering into contract, I was now affronted by this logging requirement, which I silently resented.

I reluctantly began writing logs of my work. At the end of the first week, I found I had to mentally reconstruct the week's work, day by day, in order to write a credible log. I didn't like that demand on my faltering and distracted memory faculties, so the next week I decided to write the logs at the end of each day instead. This was indeed easier.

Next, I noticed some embarrassment at the end of certain days when I would be composing my log and seemed to have little to claim as progress on a given day. I would start fudging a little to even out the appearance of progress. Sometimes I would move some of Tuesday's accomplishment into Wednesday in order to hide the fact that Wednesday was a wash. That lying, although pretty minor in the scheme of things, made me uncomfortable, so I switched gears again.

The next change was to write tomorrow's "log" at the end of today. I felt that if I did that, I had a better shot at making the day fruitful. My intuition was rewarded. Writing the day's accomplishments ahead of the day in question provided me with a focus I had not known before. It became easier to accomplish a day's work in a day. In addition, it relieved me of worrying about accounting for my time. And moreover, it helped me spot errors of sequencing in my work, because as I was writing the "log", I'd realize something else had to come first. Hmmm.

I'm sure you've by now recognized that pushing the logging process into the future was my natural introduction to a little planning discipline. Probably a lot of you learned this lesson in college, but since I didn't go there I had to learn it on the job. Such is life.

Some of you may also notice the parallel between this story and the "write tests first" advice offered by Beck et al. Yes, it's the same thing. The log became my daily "test", and the day's work was reduced to making the log "run" without lying.

That's the truth.

-- WaldenMathews
I had exactly the same experience when I started to use my works wiki to track what I was doing... It ended up being a great way for people to find out what I was doing, and meant I knew exactly what I wanted to achieve tomorrow :)... I find that I forget to update it when I don't have to think about what I am doing next (like right now I am _just_ fixing bugs, and the order is pretty well set)

So I had the same trip of discovery...

-- SvenDowideit

Thanks, I was hoping to attract other stories like this. -- wm

Excellent plan, now if you could only do the same for a week, a month, a year ... hmm ... sounds a little like the much maligned "big plan up front". But seriously, this is such a good idea, it deserves serious consideration and development. Now if someone could write an Eliza type program that would query you about your plans, and check to see if you have accomplished what you planned in the past, then Eliza could organize and compose your log. In other words you could MakeYourPlansBecomeYourLog?!

I've witnessed some efforts like that, ones which tried to take the grunt work out of planning and tracking at the individual level through some form of automation. I don't think any were effective. My theory is that the minor grunt work is where the good stuff happens, and factoring the brains out of the process kills the magic of it.

As for the extension to longer time periods, I don't know the missing piece for something like "let your _____ become your mission". It just doesn't work that way, does it? -- wm

The idea is to make the "grunt work" systematic, not easier. Eliza might be programmed to go over today's list, noting completed or rescheduled items, asking for new items, enabling an easy rearrangement schema, allow the addition or deletions of questions to be asked, make the questions dependent on some occurring circumstance such as day of week, vacations, holidays, days marked off as full, days marked off as personal, etc. Eliza learns by your thought process what to ask and what to do. But this is just a thought, it might cause an opposite effect and lead to disorganization, I don't know. But I do think an interactive, organized, dynamic program could be written which would preserve the good stuff while adding a powerful and useful method to the programmer or manager's toolset. (A PDA would probably be a good residence for the list, if not the queries)

I would rather have a human Eliza to do this with. Dare I suggest PairPlanning?

The longer period extension could be for long range type goals, such as attending night school, conferences, arranging time-off, and other things requiring some advanced thought and remembrance.

Yes their purpose is easy to appreciate; it's the immediacy that's missing. I think the analogy has to go something like this, although I've never tried it. Part of the process, which I left out for brevity, is review of past logs. You review a bunch of consecutive days and then write the log for tomorrow. It feels kind of like a running start. So a review of a week's worth logs might "run" right into writing tomorrow's log PLUS a summary for the week to come. I dunno! Let's keep it a little simple. -- Walden

In a completely synchronous event, I was asked to update an off-site co-worker on my daily progress. Talk about timing ... I almost laughed out loud. Guess what I did before I left work today? I wrote the 'log' for tomorrow. Now I HaveThisPattern too! -- SeanOleary

Yee-haw, Sean. All your base are belong to us!

One of the problems with planning things out in the future is the nature of chaos and effects in time. Anyone can predict their availability, workload, etc. for tomorrow with reasonable accuracy. But as time goes by, so many variables affect your work that it's increasingly difficult to predict it. So, long-range plans become increasingly useless with increasing time (except with defined temporal events, such as an upcoming conference).

More useful (for most people) is to define long-range goals and then implement immediate steps to get there. This is not unlike two of the SevenHabitsOfHighlyEffectivePeople, BeginWithTheEndInMind and FirstThingsFirst.

Getting back to the focus of the page, I love this idea and plan to implement it. ThankYou, Walden, for this page.

-- BrentNewhall

I like this approach. The normal ToDoList model is usually a "things-I-hope-I'll-do" list, whereas this postulates it as "WhatDidYouDoTomorrow??" and gives it a more definite FuturePastTense?. I adopted this tomorrow and got lots more done next week. The likelihood that things will get completed is higher - how can you prevent an event that's already occurred? Yes. Good tool. -- GarryHamilton

This is actually a key part of Mark Forster's Do It Tomorrow (hence the title) book. You make a Will Do list for tomorrow and strive to check off everything in that list in whatever order you like. The key companion idea of that is that any new todos go on tomorrow's list and not today's unless it is truly urgent. Whenever you decide to do something, you also have to decide if it goes in today's list or tomorrow's, so you are forced to decide if it's urgent or not.

I have to admit that this style of log-taking worked for only about a month with me. After that, it just kind of fell apart. It requires excellent levels of personal discipline, which I apparently lack, because I can't stick with it. Oh well. --SamuelFalvo?

This page reminds me of the book DoItTomorrow? by MarkForster?. Excellent read; I much prefer it over GettingThingsDone. --MichaelDeardeuff?

See also LetYourDesignsBecomeYourRequirements

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