23 Feb 2023

Leverage Your Time and Talents with a Productivity Journal

Author: Kalli Damigou  /  Categories: Uncategorized  /  Rate this article:

Productivity is what you accomplish when you spend time and energy on something. It’s tough to stay productive because urgent things crowd out the important things. We become busier, but less productive. A simple planning system can keep you on track. If it’s simple enough, you will use it consistently. The right tool can reveal where you spend your time, energy, and focus, then provide the structure to make the most important choices every time.

It’s your fast track to productivity.

A productivity journal shows where you are currently compared with where you want to end up, then allows you to craft a logical path from one to the other. You determine the tasks needed, then order by priority and check them off as you complete each one. It’s motivating because you see your progress throughout the day, providing a sense of growing accomplishment as you move forward.

Tools aren’t for collecting; they help us get a job done. Your productivity journal is your customized tool that will help you achieve the results that matter most to you.

Capture Random Ideas

Productivity requires regular focus, but it’s tough when your mind is constantly distracted by thoughts, interruptions, ideas, new things to do, and random things to remember. Keep a blank page in your journal where you’ll simply capture everything that “comes up” so you don’t have to remember them. Don’t organize them; just capture them. You can decide what to do with them later, not when you are trying to focus on other important tasks.

Don’t Multi-Task

While it seems like doing several things at once would enhance our productivity, it does just the opposite. Neuroscientists have found that our brains can only focus on one thing at a time. When we multitask, we’re switching that focus between those multiple items. Each time we switch, it takes longer to refocus on the next task. So, the entire process slows down. Pick a single task and focus on it for a predetermined time, or until the task is finished. You’ll get more done in less time.

Don’t Start Your Day with Emails

If you check your email as soon as you open your computer or phone, you’re beginning your day with other people’s priorities. Start your most important task of the day so you can focus on what matters most to you. Set a time frame (such as one hour) of how long you will work before opening your email. If your job requires you to find out immediately what has come through your email each morning, set a 10-minute timer — not to respond to anything, but to determine what needs attention. Write those on your list of tasks in your journal and prioritize them appropriately (or respond quickly with the promise of a more detailed response later). Then work from your prioritized list instead of the perceived urgency of others.

Most email programs (such as Microsoft Outlook) can be reconfigured so your calendar appears when opening the program instead of your email. It is a great way to see what you have already determined is a top priority so you can fit the email requests in as appropriate.

hallmark of successful time management

Take Control of Interruptions

The best intentions for staying productive can disappear when interruptions appear. Sometimes it’s a person who drops in and says, “got a minute?” Sometimes it’s a ringing phone, a dinging text, or a pop-up on your computer. Other times we interrupt ourselves by checking email or social media “just for a minute” when we’re trying to stay focused.

Research shows that it takes an average of 23 minutes to get back on track after any interruption, even if it’s only a 5-minutes interrupter. That’s 28 minutes per interruption. If you’re interrupted twice each hour, you’ll only get 4 minutes of focused work done, which equals 32 minutes per day.


  • Turn off phone notifications and close your email during scheduled focus time.
  • Mark your online calendar with a “not available” appointment so others know when you are free.
  • Close all windows except the one you are working on.
  • Close your door or put up a sign that says, “Doing priority work — available at (time).”

Create Time Blocks

Keep your calendar separate from your productivity journal. Work in the journal throughout your day as you negotiate tasks and priorities but use your calendar as a tool to build a structure for your day that others can see. Plan your day before it begins, determining 30–90 minute time blocks where you can do your most important work. Treat those blocks as nonnegotiable appointments, letting people know they can grab any other available time on your schedule.

journaling the night before


Start On the Hardest Task First


It’s human nature to follow the path of least resistance. We do the easy stuff on our list first so we can get a lot of checkmarks — which makes us feel like we are really getting things done. We figure we’ll focus on the hard ones later in the day — but it almost never happens. Each day becomes a template for procrastination.

Mark Twain said, “If you must swallow a frog, don’t look at it too long. If you have a number of frogs to swallow, take the big one first.” Take the most daunting task and jump into it before anything else, setting a timer for 10 minutes. That’s enough time to overcome inertia and start making progress. At the 10-minute mark, you’ll probably want to continue since you’re already in motion. If not, take a 5-minute break and set your timer again. Do it 3 times and you’ve already put in 30 minutes of work.

Focus On Outcomes, Not Activity

Activity can be the biggest enemy of productivity. When we’re busy doing many little things, we end the day feeling like we worked hard. It’s true, but we’re still in the same place we started — without any progress. We might research and read, but that’s only giving us knowledge — not results.


  1. What is the outcome I need to achieve?
  2. What is one activity that will get me closer to accomplishing that outcome?

Challenge every task with those questions to make sure you are making progress, not just being busy.

Plan Tomorrow at the End of Today

It is common for people to start their day with 15-30 minutes of planning. It is common to get your coffee, check email, look at the calendar, see what didn’t get done yesterday, and what new things have been added. At the beginning of the day, those things have a sense of urgency that might not be realistic.

Instead, end your day with a planning session for the next day. Align your priorities and tasks so you know exactly where to start the next morning. You’ll start your day with action, not speculation. 30 minutes into your day, you will have already made major progress on your priorities.

Determine Your Capacity

In your productivity journal, you will have a task list for each day. Most people overestimate the number of things they can accomplish each day, so we are discouraged when we only finish about 20% of what we hoped we would get done — and we move the leftovers to the next day.

Watch it for the first 3–4 weeks. Then go back and notice how many things you accomplished each day — and whether they were the best things to focus on. Over time, you’ll start to recognize your personal capacity for how much you can get done each day. Then, start making lists that come close to that number of tasks.

Most people find that they tend to accomplish between 3–5 important tasks per day. If your list goes over 10 items, you’re probably being unrealistic in your expectations. If your list fits your reality, you will find the satisfaction of accomplishing most of your list at the end of the day.

Take a Break

When you are “in the flow” and making progress toward an imminent deadline, it can be tempting to keep charging through until it’s done. It’s counterintuitive to stop and take a break, but it is a critical component for resetting your brain for another round of work. At the top of each hour, get up and walk away from your workspace. Go outside or climb the stairs to another floor, spending about 10 minutes getting your mind off your project. When you jump back in, you will have a fresh boost of energy and focus that can keep you energized as you keep working.

Download our productivity form


Creating Your Productivity Journal


  1. Start with a form like this or download this form to put into an electronic version.
  2. Add today’s date at the top.
  3. List the tasks you want or need to accomplish in your day. Include tasks leading to your 3 Top Priorities, as well as everything else you need to accomplish.
  4. List your 3 Top Priorities for Today. What will produce the most important results?
  5. Prioritize them by putting the list in priority order.
  6. Work on those 3 Top Priority tasks before anything else.
  7. Keep your productivity journal nearby during the day to ensure you accomplish the most important things — not just the urgent things.
  8. Check off tasks as they are completed so you can recognize your progress.
  9. If you have tasks that you can’t complete that day, forward it to the next day or a more appropriate day. If you move an item 3 times in your journal, consider whether it is worth keeping. If it is, put it on a day with the word “final.” If it doesn’t get done, it might need to be deleted.
  10. After a month, go back and average how many tasks you accomplished each day, compared to how many were on the list. “This will give you a sense of what is realistic in terms of what you can achieve each day” to “This will show you how much you can realistically achieve each day.”

Taking charge of your time is the key to your success, and your productivity is one of the key indicators. That is why it is so valuable for you to have access to business productivity training opportunities, so you learn the skills and mindset to become exponentially more productive. As you build your personal productivity, the ability for you to collaborate well impacts both the bottom line of the company and your satisfaction.

Training Options

We would love to help you accelerate your productivity with our wide variety of workshops.

To be an effective leader in today’s fast-changing world, individuals, teams, and organizations must stay current with technology, professional, and business skills.

For over 40 years, New Horizons has been the technology and business skills partner of choice.

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