#labrat: Are Daily Logbooks Worth the Work?

We have a whole new #labrat experiment to try, and we need your help!

There’s been a lot of buzz this year about a new productivity tactic, one that helps you recognize and fix bad habits, avoid burnout, be happier at work, and have real, tangible progress to keep you moving towards your goals. It’s called journaling, also known as keeping a diary or, our personal favorite, a “logbook.” As Austin Kleon, whose daily logbook inspired us, explains:

From the Wikipedia entry for “logbook”: A logbook was originally a book for recording readings from the log, and is used to determine the distance a ship traveled within a certain amount of time. The readings of the log have been recorded in equal times to give the distance traveled with respect to a given start position…. The distance the ship traveled. I like that.

At the end of every work day, take five minutes to jot down the main events of each day. It can be a bulleted list, have doodles, or not. But getting at least five facts of the day down is the only goal. 

The idea of having a tangible “I was here, I conquered” list sounds wonderful and all, but at the end of my work day, usually the last thing I want to do is spend even five more minutes in the office, much less trying to pull up the mental energy for reflection then. But it’s hard to ignore all of the smart people who have shown it to be a good idea.

So for the next week, Monday, April 7th through Friday, April 11th, I’ll be keeping and sharing my own logbook with you. By the end, I hope to find out if keeping one is actually feasible, and if looking back on that data is actually beneficial as well.

Monday:

Starting was a little uncomfortable. How much do I share? It was hard to decide what was a noteworthy event of the day and what was just noise. Kleon, one of my main, earlier mentioned inspirations, doesn’t include emotions in his — just events. I’d like to use my data to fix issues of stress/bad repeating patterns though, so the clear-cut emotions (this went badly, this was good, etc.) seem important to me.

Side note: feel free to keep your logbook online, on your phone, or whatever kind of medium you prefer. There’s a lot of good suggestions in the comments, and writing it out by hand is just how I remember things best.

Tuesday:

Today I updated my logbook in the little spare chunks of time that presented themselves, instead of the end of the day. This made for an end-of-day wrap up that was much more reflective and less of a scramble to get it done so I could finally leave work. Plus, it meant I added things as I finished them, which also helped to decide what was worth recording.

Wednesday:

Definitely into updating throughout the day; it gives such a sense of validation, even if the entire project itself isn’t complete yet. Also, it’s only been three days, and already it’s becoming clear that mornings are not my thing. For any #labrats who have followed along before, this shouldn’t come as a total surprise though. Have you started to notice any trends you weren’t entirely aware of yet?

Thursday:

I had a lot of juggling to do today, more reactive work, which made filling this out a lot harder. I didn’t really find time to do it until 6 p.m., which at 7:30 p.m. now, was basically the end of my day. I have the itching suspicion that I forgot a lot of smaller tasks or busy work — how many times can you really write “email” though? However, I also know that keeping a more detailed log than this would immediately make me drop it entirely. How specific or exact do you try to be?

Friday:

Last day! I was able to take some data from the other days (like how, by 6 p.m., I’m too burnt out for creative work) and restructured my day today to do all of my creative-producing work in the a.m., with the more mindless, reactive tasks later in the day. Made Friday much more enjoyable, and my work flow totally manageable! I’m thinking now of continuing on on my own, and checking back in a month to see if I can crunch some real big data to then share with everyone the next step of getting the helpful info out of this whole practice.

How did your day go? Keep your own daily logbook and share your progress + photos in the comments, on Twitter, and Instagram with #labrat. Every day I’ll pick my favorites and share it with your fellow labrats.

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Hot vs Cold: A Temperature-Based Approach to Conflict Resolution

Temperature by Kelcey Benne from The Noun Project

Temperature by Kelcey Benne from The Noun Project

Work conflicts are inevitable regardless of the size of the team. At your office, perhaps the marketers and developers can’t agree on a launch date. Or as a freelancer, perhaps an irate client is strong-arming you into another round of design revisions. But before we try to deal with a conflict, Mark Gerzon, the author of Leading Through Conflict: How Successful Leaders Transform Differences Into Opportunities, asks us to stop and consider the following question:

Is the conflict hot or cold?

Hot conflict is when one or more parties are highly emotional and doing one or more of the following: speaking loudly or shouting; being physically aggressive, wild or threatening; using language that is incendiary; appearing out of control and potentially explosive.

Cold conflict is when one or more parties seem to be suppressing emotions, or actually appear “unemotional,” and are doing one or more of the following: muttering under their breath or pursing their lips; being physically withdrawn or controlled; turning away or otherwise deflecting contact; remaining silent or speaking in a tone that is passively aggressive; appearing shut down or somehow frozen.

Gauging the temperature of the conflict allows us to deal with the particular situation’s needs. Gerzon suggests that cold conflicts need to be warmed up and that hot conflicts need to be cooled down:

If the conflict is hot: You don’t want to bring participants in a hot conflict together in the same room without settings ground rules that are strong enough to contain the potentially explosive energy. For example, if you are dealing with a conflict between two board members who have already attacked each other verbally, you would set clear ground rules — and obtain agreement to them — at the outset of your board meeting before anyone has a chance to speak.

If the conflict is cold: You can usually go ahead and bring the participants or stakeholders in the conflict together, engaging them in constructive communication. That dialogue, if properly facilitated, should “warm up” the conflict enough so that it can begin to thaw out and start the process of transformation. But you will still need to be vigilant and prepared. Conflict is often cold precisely because so much feeling is being repressed. So you need to skillfully know how to warm it up without the temperature unexpectedly skyrocketing.

As our teams grow, so do the opportunities for conflict. “Conflict resolution, like cooking, works best at the optimal temperatures,” Gerzon says. “You want to bring conflict into a temperature zone where it can become useful and productive.”

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3M: Don’t Let Efficiency Ruin Your Creativity

Anxiety designed by Kelcey Benne for the Noun Project

Anxiety designed by Kelcey Benne for the Noun Project

For an innovative company like 3M, who invented masking tape, Thinsulate, and the Post-it note, stifling creativity was a major concern after a series of “efficiency boosting” techniques were implemented. On BusinessWeek, Brian Hindo discusses how they’ve struggled since with balancing creativity and productivity. As 3M’s past CEO George Buckley elaborates:

Invention is by its very nature a disorderly process. You can’t put a Six Sigma process into that area and say, well, I’m getting behind on invention, so I’m going to schedule myself for three good ideas on Wednesday and two on Friday. That’s not how creativity works.

Ideas need room to breathe. Researcher Steven Boyd found innovation hard to find when asked to analyze everything from commercial application to manufacturing concerns on his projects. This was a huge departure from 3M’s traditional method of allowing the research department to pursue a wide avenue of topics, engage in long testing periods and provide funding for personal projects. Remember to standardize your process, not your innovation.

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Michael Bierut: Make the Best of What You’ve Got

Instead of just going through the motions on your next project, look for the hidden opportunities you already have. On The Creative Influence, graphic designer Michael Bierut challenges us to look for opportunities in even the most dull assignments. He speaks about his mentor, designer Massimo Vignelli, when he was asked to sort through the chaos of the New York subway signage during the 1960s. He remembers thinking:

Does that sound like an exciting job to you? I wanted to design record covers for rock bands and this is signs for the subway, what the heck? But Massimo understood that every assignment like that had within it the opportunity to do something of consequence. So imagine that, for many people when you sort of say, “what is New York to you?” Sometimes what they picture is standing on a subway platform under a sign that says ‘Uptown 456.’

As Bierut learned, “every single opportunity has the potential to be something that might have some impact on peoples’ daily lives for years to come.”

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Related: 5 Secrets from 86 Notebooks

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To Create Your Best Work, Finish Your Worst

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Scribble designed by Michael Chanover from the Noun Project

At Entrepreneur, social behavior expert James Clear states that in any creative endeavor you have to give yourself permission to “create junk.” Don’t fall under the impression that great minds are able to produce compelling work on their first attempt. As Steven Pressfield, author of The Legend of Bagger Vance, affirms:

It was ten years before I got the first check for something I had written and ten more before a novel, The Legend of Bagger Vance, was actually published. But that moment when I first hit the keys to spell out THE END was so epochal. I remember rolling the last page out and adding it to the stack that was the finished manuscript. Nobody knew I was done. Nobody cared. But I knew. I felt like a dragon I’d been fighting all my life had just dropped dead at my feet and gasped out its last sulfuric breath.

The catch? You have to finish it. Even if it is the worst thing you have ever created – get it done. Once you have a finished product, you can go back and find what needs revising. Producing something to completion will provide you with the confidence to continue creating — and eventually, something just might stick.

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Jim Carrey: Why You Shouldn’t Be Afraid To Fail

Actor and comedian Jim Carrey delivered a powerful commencement address at Maharishi University on having the courage to make the leap:

So many of us chose our path out of fear disguised as practicality. What we really want seems impossibly out of reach and ridiculous to expect so we never dare to ask the universe for it. I’m saying: I’m the proof that you can ask the universe for it.

My father could have been a great comedian but he didn’t believe that was possible for him. So he made a conservative choice. Instead, he got a safe job as an accountant and when I was 12 years old, he was let go from that safe job and our family had to do whatever we could to survive.

I learned many great lessons from my father. Not the least of which was that you can fail at what you don’t want, so you might as well take a chance on doing what you love.

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Stop Multitasking, Start Monotasking

Arrows by Juan Pablo Bravo from The Noun Project

Arrows by Juan Pablo Bravo from The Noun Project

Multitasking causes a greater decrease in IQ than smoking pot or losing a night’s sleep, found a recent study by the Institute of Psychiatry at the University of London. 

We need to stop overloading our systems with simultaneous inputs (fortunately, music doesn’t count) and revert to focusing on one thing at a time. Sandra Chapman, author of Make Your Brain Smarter: Increase Your Brain’s Creativity, Energy and Focus, shares three tips for monotasking:

Give your brain some down time. You will be more productive if, several times a day, you step away from mentally challenging tasks for three to five minutes. Get some fresh air, for example, or just look out the window. Taking a break will help make room for your next inspired idea because a halt in constant thinking slows the mind’s rhythms to allow more innovative “aha” moments.

Focus deeply, without distraction. Silence your phone, turn off your email and try to perform just one task at a time. Think it’s impossible to break away? Start with 15-minute intervals and work your way up to longer time periods. Giving your full attention to the project at hand will increase accuracy, innovation and speed.

Make a to-do list. Then identify your top two priorities for the day and make sure they are accomplished above all else. Giving the most important tasks your brain’s prime time will make you feel more productive. Or, as Boone Pickens said, “When you are hunting elephants, don’t get distracted chasing rabbits.”

Our best work deserves our full attention. Besides, most people can’t effectively multitask to begin with. 

Read Chapman’s full post on why monotasking is the way to go, over at Forbes.

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