Staying Productive with a Work Log

Life as a software engineer can sometimes feel hectic, so it's important to have processes that keep us grounded and focused on the things that matter. Recently I've adopted a habit of keeping a work log to do just that. My goal for this post is to share the benefits I've noticed since keeping a daily work log and what I hope to gain from the habit in the long term.

Aaron Bos | Thursday, June 13, 2024

As a software engineer, my day-to-day responsibilities may vary quite a bit depending on several factors like time of the year, team structure, current role, etc. These responsibilities include writing code, reviewing PRs, mentoring others, attending meetings, code spelunking to answer questions from stakeholders, and many more. With all of these varying responsibilities, it can be easy to ask yourself "What did I even do today?" when the time comes to close the laptop for the night. This feeling has become more common as I've grown in experience and tenure throughout my career.

I've recently been reading "The Software Engineering Guidebook" by Gergely Orosz who also publishes the popular Pragmatic Engineer newsletter. If this topic interests you, I'd highly recommend checking out the book and newsletter because Gergely shares a lot of great content that can benefit engineers at various points in their careers.

In the book, Gergely discusses how keeping a work log can benefit software engineers, so I figured I'd try it out. As you can venture to guess from the title of this post, it has been beneficial for me so far. To avoid stealing Gergely's thunder I'll share what has worked for me and what I expect to get out of continuing to keep a daily work log going forward.

Keep it simple

When trying to build a new habit, I've often found the biggest barrier to entry to be trying too much too soon. For this reason, I wanted to keep my work log as simple as possible. I started by using Apple's Notes app because I already used it for other work-related notes and didn't want to worry about adopting a new tool.

From there I created a weekly template to use for each week. I keep all of my work notes in the same document and the template is at the top so I can copy and paste to get started at the beginning of each week. This is what my template looks like.

2024-MM-DD - 2024-MM-DD


From there I fill in content each day throughout the week. This has worked well for me so far, but there's a good chance I adjust it going forward to continue to meet my needs. If you're also starting from scratch, I'd recommend choosing a tool and process requiring the least friction to get started.

Be consistent

Once the tool and format were decided for my work log, the only thing left for me to do was to make sure I filled it out each day. Initially, it was a bit of a challenge, but after the first couple of weeks, it became part of my normal routine. For me, the routine is to log relevant work throughout the day when possible and also to review the log to fill in any missing details at the end of the day.

I've found that no day is the same in terms of how often I add details to my work log, but being consistent about reviewing it at the end of the day is key for me. Doing this provides an opportunity to update existing or add new details before logging off. This routine also gives me a sense of accomplishment at the end of the day because I can look back and see everything I did. There are some days when I'm reviewing the log with frustration because I didn't feel I accomplished much that day. After reviewing the log I often realized that I did accomplish a lot, it just didn't feel like it because I was context-shifting often or spread a little thin for the day.

In terms of the detail that I add to each of my logs. I try to keep them simple and to the point. My work logs are similar to what you'd see in bullet points in a presentation. The goal isn't for me to be able to look back and have a detailed log for each minute of the day, but for me to see the highlights and progress that I made on different responsibilities and tasks.

Looking ahead

I've been consistent with my work log habit for several weeks now and I'm excited to carry the habit forward. I hope it continues to provide me with positive vibes and motivation at the end of the day. In Gergely's book he also mentions using the work log as a way to make work software engineers do that may not be visible to others visible. For example, I may be able to reference my work log in conversations with my manager to help them understand the progress and effort that I've put into work that may have not been initially obvious. I have not put this into practice, but I have a feeling it could definitely come in handy in the future. Overall maintaining a daily work log has been a positive experience for me and I'd definitely encourage others to give it a try!

As always thank you for taking the time to read this blog post!