As an attorney in private practice I have only one thing to sell, my time. When I worked for a large firm I was expected to keep track of literally every minute of my day and bill accordingly. My billable hours were tracked and compared to other associates and if my billable hours didn't meet a specific quota I could expect "the talk" from my boss. It was miserable.
Today I'm lucky enough to work for a smaller firm who isn't as aggressive, but as a small business we have our own bills to pay and staff that depends on us for their paychecks. I'll admit, I've never been good at keeping track of my time and my day. I'm interrupted dozens of times and it was always more important to me to get the job done than to make sure I wrote down exactly what I was doing and when. This created a problem when I had to do the monthly accounting.
I've tried various techniques from notepads to spreadsheets to automatic timers, nothing really fit into my daily routine. A couple months ago, in an edition of ScreenCastsOnline Monthly Magazine in fact, I read an article by Wendy Cherwinski about how she was using the Day One App to keep a diary of her day, including all her professional activities. I found this intriguing and discussed this idea further on her Mac Power Users Workflow episode. Although I had heard of Day One, I never paid much attention as I don't keep a journal. I've tried a few things times off and on to keep a diary, but it just never stuck. Wendy's idea of a professional journal rather than a personal one was intriguing so I decided to give it a try.
Day One is available in both the Mac and iOS App stores. It's a clean and elegant App that allows you to add multiple entries a day to journal your activities. Because it's available across multiple platforms I can add an entry from my home computer, work computer, iPhone or iPad and it uses Dropbox or iCloud to make sure everything stays in sync and accessible. While I primarily type text only notes, you can import images, add locations and weather data to your journal entries. There's a reminder feature so you can set Day One to prompt you to log your activity. Sometimes I find this prompting helpful as it will remind me I've forgotten to log what I've been doing and it's easier to catch up every few hours than to try to re-create your time at the end of the day, week, or worse yet, the month. Day One also has a search that allows me to type in a name, keyword or phrase and find entries relating to a topic.
What really made Day One work for me where other solutions failed is that it's accessible anywhere I need it. I can create entries via keyboard shortcut or menu bar icon. This means when I grab a quick phone call, I can type a few keystrokes and and jot a note about the call. The fact that I took the call and my notes from the call are logged in Day One for later review. For those of you who don't mind a little tweaking, Brett Terpstra came up with a way to journal via Day One using launchers like LaunchBar and Alfred. If I'm not at my desk, I can use the iPhone or iPad App. I've found that I'll regularly use the Drafts App on my iPhone and type or dictate a quick note or string of notes to later send to Day One when I'm out and about.
Keeping a professional diary has done so much more than just allow me to keep track of my billable time as I initially intended, it has allowed me to keep better notes for my files. Instead of scrawling notes from a phone call on a post-it note or a random legal pad, everything is in Day One as it's own separate entry. I've even created a series of TextExpander snippets to use as templates for common activities such as phone calls, new client consultations, conferences, and more. Sometimes I'll take my iPad into a meeting and the Day One App has built in support for TextExpander Touch which comes in vary handy. No more remembering to go back and enter my notes or save random pieces of paper into the file.
Capturing my activities in my journal is one thing, but that's just one part of the system. Just as important is acting on that information and sharing it with others in my office and documenting the file. Using the GTD philosophy, I've set aside specific time to review my journal entries. Sometimes I'll do a mini-review at the end of each day, but at a minimum, I review all the week's entries every Friday afternoon at 4:00 p.m, or the last thing I do before I leave for the weekend. I'll go through and enter my time on various files (which is easy because I time stamp all my entries with starting and ending time) and I'll add any lingering action items to my task management system. Day One also allows you to share entires so I'll regularly email entries to my assistant or colleagues as a memo or print or save a PDF note to document a file.
It's been a few months and I'm noticing a great difference with my professional journaling system. My desk is less cluttered because most of my notes are now stored electronically in one place and I feel like I have a little better handle on things. My billing is up because I'm doing a better job of keeping track of my activities. Lastly, my assistant has commented that she feels "more in the loop" because I'm forwarding her notes of my conversations and meetings and that allows her to do her job more effectively. I've never been one to keep a personal journal, but for whatever reason this method has worked for me. It almost makes me want to give a personal journal another try.