(Also known as Activity Diaries or Job Activity Logs.)
Uncover more time in your day.
How much time do you spend at work doing things that don't contribute to your success? At first, you may say "not much." But – especially if you haven't used Activity Logs before – you may be surprised by how much more time you can find.
When you properly understand how you use your time at work, you can minimize or eliminate low value activities. This means that you can do more high value work, while still being able to leave the office at a sensible time.
So, how can you understand this? One useful way is to keep an Activity Log, and that's what we're looking at in this article.
About Activity Logs
An Activity Log (also known as an Activity Diary or a Job Activity Log) is a written record of how you spend your time.
By keeping an Activity Log for a few days, you can build up an accurate picture of what you do during the day, and how you invest your time. You'll find that memory is quite a poor guide, and that keeping the Log is an eye-opening experience!
Your Activity Log will also help you understand whether or not you're doing your most important work during the right time of day. For instance, if you're more energetic and creative in the morning, you'd be better off doing your most important work during this time. You can then focus on lower energy tasks, such as responding to emails or returning calls, in the afternoon.
Activity Logs are also useful for helping you identify non-core activities that don't help you meet important objectives. For example, you might spend far more time than you think surfing the Internet, or getting coffee each afternoon. When you see how much time you're wasting on such activities, you can then change the way that you work to eliminate them.
Don't confuse Activity Logs with timesheets – these are used for reporting on your use of time, and for tracking the time you spend on a task or job.
How to Keep an Activity Log
To keep an Activity Log, download this template, or open up a new spreadsheet and set up the following column headers:
- Activity description.
- How I feel.
- Value (high, medium, low, none).
Then, without changing your behavior any more than you have to, note down everything that you do at work, as you do it.
Every time you change activities, whether replying to email, working on a report, making coffee, or gossiping with colleagues, note down what the activity is, the time of the change, and how you feel (alert, flat, tired, energetic, and so on).
Then, at a convenient time, go back through your Activity Log and write down the duration of each activity, and whether it was a high, medium, low, or no value task. (Evaluate this based on how far it contributed to achieving your job goals.)
Learning From Your Activity Log
Once you've logged your time for a few days, analyze your Activity Log. You may be alarmed to see how much time you spend doing low value jobs!
You may also see that you are energetic in some parts of the day, and flat in other parts. A lot of this can depend on how you are, the rest breaks you take, when and what you eat, and the work that you're doing.
Once you've analyzed your Activity Log, you should be able to boost your productivity by applying one of the following actions to various activities:
- Eliminate or delegate jobs that aren't part of your role, or that don't help you meet your objectives. These may include tasks that someone else in the organization should be doing (possibly at a lower pay rate) or personal activities such as sending non-work e-mails or surfing the Internet.
- Schedule your most challenging tasks for the times of day when your energy levels are highest. That way, your work will be of better quality, and it should take you less time to do. (Our article, Is This a Morning Task?, has more on how to discover your peak time of day.)
- Minimize the number of times you switch between types of task. For example, could you check and reply to e-mails at only a few times of the day, or process all of your invoices at the same time each week?
- Reduce the amount of time you spend on legitimate personal activities such as making drinks. (Take turns in your team to do this – it saves time and strengthens team spirit!)
Sometimes, spending too much time on low-value or low-priority tasks can be a symptom of procrastination. Find out how to deal with this here.
Activity Logs are useful tools for analyzing how you use your time. They help you track changes in your energy, alertness and effectiveness throughout the day, and they help you eliminate time wasting activities, so that you can be more productive.
Once you've analyzed your Activity Log, you should be able to boost your productivity by eliminating or delegating low-value activities, scheduling challenging tasks for the time of the day when you feel your best, minimizing the number of times that you switch between types of tasks, and reducing the time you spend on personal activities.
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What is a Reflective Log or Reflective Diary?
A Reflective Log (or Reflective Diary, as it is sometimes called) is a common requirement in UK university assessments. For many courses, it is essential for students to be able to effectively analyse their own progress and apply theoretical knowledge to practical situations. This will enable them to become strong, independent practitioners.
A Reflective Log is the perfect way to encourage this approach alongside with reflective reports. It is essentially a log or diary that contains regular entries by the student, detailing their experiences and emotions with regard to their learning process. It also includes references to relevant theories to connect the student’s academic knowledge with their practical work. The log can be used to verify a student’s intellectual engagement with the course material or practical assignments, as well as their independent work outside of lectures and seminars.
How to Write a Reflective Log
It is normally expected that students will maintain a Reflective Log or Diary throughout the duration of a module or module component, with entries made at regular intervals. Some courses will require students to hand in their entries periodically throughout the course, while other will simply set a final deadline for submission of the log as a whole.
Students often have the option of entering their reflective notes in online format, which many find quicker and easier than a traditional hand-written diary. For others, the physical process of writing something by hand can help stimulate their reflective mindset. Furthermore, some courses provide structured log entry forms that students must use.
Regardless of which format is chosen, the Reflective log should be kept diligently and students should aim to include as much critical reflective material as possible, often supported with reference to academic resources and lecture materials.
What to Include in your Reflective Log or Diary
The specific content requirements of a reflective log vary depending on the course and subject matter, but the overall approach is always the same. Typically, students are asked to note down their personal responses to lectures or training sessions. This involves a brief summary of the activity and a serious and detailed account of the student’s exploration of it. Unlike other forms of academic assignment, in Reflective Logs students are encouraged to express their thoughts and emotions. In many ways, a Reflective Log provides a self-analysis of the student and their skill development.
You should also be sure to provide some kind of evidence to support your claims, such as references to particular achievements or mentions of theoretical course material. This will ensure that your log or diary is not too informal or casual, but meets the academic standards expected at a higher level of study.
In addition, special attention should be paid to any activities where the student was particularly challenged, or struggled to complete tasks effectively. This is an essential part of the learning process and examiners want to see that a student was resourceful enough to apply their acquired knowledge to eventually overcome any initial failings.
Keys to Success
Be Critical – Although a Reflective Log requires a slightly less formal approach than essays or exams, you should still be sure that it is a serious and critical piece of scholarly work. The best way to do this is to focus more on the analysis of events than their description. Although you need to state what actions were undertaken, this should be brief and to the point. Save the extended descriptions for your analysis of those descriptions.
Be Specific – Also make sure that you are very specific in your language use. For example, it is not sufficient to write that you felt anxious or worried during a particular task. Instead be very clear about which aspects of the task concerned you and why, and how you dealt with that anxiety. Similarly, if a found a task very easy, be sure to consider why you felt that way, and how you could improve even more. Also be sure to write about the ways that specific elements of tasks were useful to your skill development, or in helping you to understand the theoretical content of the module.
Be Thorough – A Reflective Log normally requires students to write about all the processes surrounding their practical experience. You are expected to include thorough discussions of the planning stages, the tasks themselves, the outcome of tasks, your critical reflection on them, and a subsequent plan for your future development.
Use Evidence – The log or diary should also include a good amount of supporting evidence to back up your reflective claims. Most obviously you can refer to concrete examples of your actions or experiences. In other words, rather than simply stating that you became confident using a certain method during a session, instead describe precisely what actions you undertook and what elements of that action helped you to become practised at specific skills. You can also use evidence from established sources, such as scholarly journals, theoretical texts, and industry publications. These can be used to support your assertions of your own development, both through reference to relevant theories and to common approaches to practice within your field.
Develop a Structure – Writing a Reflective Log will be much easier if you develop a consistent structure that can be used for all the entries. Some students find it helpful to divide each entry into the stages of the task (planning, action, reflection, etc) and write about them separately. Others prefer to divide the entries according to the thematic content of the writing (description, reflection, evidence, analysis). Having a consistent approach like this makes the actual task of writing much quicker, and it also ensures a clear format for readers and examiners.
What to Do if you Fall Behind with your Reflective Log or Diary
While students are expected to maintain the log as an ongoing activity throughout a course, sometimes circumstances prohibit this. Although neglecting to maintain a Reflective Log is not something that should be encouraged, it is possible to catch up if you’ve failed to make entries on a regular basis. In actuality this makes the task of writing a Reflective Log much more difficult, but it IS possible.
If you fall behind, the easiest way to catch up on Log entries is to review your notes for each date and try to remember the experiences and emotions you felt at that time. If you are writing several log entries all at once, it is important to try to recollect your feelings about the subject matter at the date of the entry. Part of the expectation for Reflective Logs is to track a student’s learning process over the course of a module, so when writing overdue log entries it is very important to demonstrate an evolution of knowledge and confidence. You can do this by remembering your feelings at various stages of the course, and expressing some concerns about your abilities early on. In later entries you can use a more confident and self-assured tone.
Writing a Reflective Log is a very useful experience for most UK students because it helps them understand their own strengths and weaknesses. It is a relatively simple assignment and a good opportunity to improve your course marks overall!
Matin Hampton, University of Portsmouth, 2013. Reflective Writing: A Basic Introduction. Available: http://www.port.ac.uk/departments/studentsupport/ask/resources/handouts/writtenassignments/filetodownload,73259,en.pdf Last Accessed 08 May, 2013.
Ursula Lucas and Leng Tan, 2007. Developing a Reflective Capacity Within Undergraduate
Education: the role of work-based placement learning. York: Higher Education Academy.
Pete Watton, Jane Collings and Jenny Moon, 2001. Reflective Writing: Guidance Notes for Students. Available: http://www.exeter.ac.uk/fch/work-experience/reflective-writing-guidance.pdf Last Accessed 08 May, 2013.
University of Reading, 2013. Study Advice : Reflective Writing. Available: http://www.reading.ac.uk/internal/studyadvice/StudyResources/Practicebasedlearning/sta-reflectivewriting.aspx Last Accessed 08 May, 2013.