Updated: Feb 27
“You should document everything.” – Alicia Wojciuch
Alicia is always telling people to document everything. It’s a great way to advocate for yourself and your staff. It can also protect you. If you’re trying to get a new position approved or prevent budget cuts, having data on how many students you’ve served, effective programs, etc., can be powerful. If a student says you didn’t do XYZ, having emails or meeting notes show what actually happened.
We’d like to suggest an additional way to use documentation – to help you better use your talents, time, and energy. Most of the day, we’re running on autopilot. We know there are things we love doing, hate doing, distractions, moments we’re energized, and times we’re exhausted. The problem is, we rarely pay attention to how it fits together. How much time and energy do interruptions take from your day? Does all your thinking help you or waste your time and energy? Unless you’re keeping track, you really have no way of knowing.
Just like a food log helps you understand what and when you’re really eating, tracking your activities helps you understand where you’re using your time, talents, and energy well, and where you need to make changes. The important thing is to find out where you’re maximizing your talents, time, and energy, and where you’re wasting them. We strongly suggest debriefing your log with a Strengths coach, a peer, or a supervisor after you track your time to make sure you’re getting an objective perspective.
What should you track? You want to include the following, but add any other information you think might be helpful (#adaptability):
Start with the TASK or ACTIVITY – answering emails, meeting with ______ about ______, taught class, set up for afternoon program, etc. You want as much detail as is useful to accurately gage the rest of the information.
As accurately as possible note the START TIME and STOP TIME, you worked on that particular item. You could just put how long you worked on something, but there may be valuable information related to what times of day you’re most energized or tired.
What’s your ENERGY LEVEL during the activity? Use a 1 – 5 scale, assuming 1 is the lowest energy level – aka “meh” – and 5 the highest “woohoo!” If your energy level is being impacted by something other the activity, like you have a cold or were up all night with the kids, note that in the distractions column (below).
How’s your FOCUS LEVEL? Does time just fly by or are you constantly checking the clock and looking for distractions? Again, use a 1-5 scale, assuming 1 is “look a squirrel!” – and 5 “laser vision.” Again, if your focus is off because of any distractions rather than the activity itself, be sure to note that.
What are your TRIGGERS? By trigger, I mean you have some sort of visceral reaction to a person or situation – even if you’re not exactly sure why – that causes you to get pissed, annoyed, or upset in some deep way.
Finally, record any DISTRACTIONS that happen during the task/activity. Some distractions will be external – someone has a question, an emergency situation, getting called into a meeting at the last minute, etc. Other distractions are self-induced – overthinking, checking Facebook, pain, turning an interruption into a 30-minute conversation, etc.
Once you have your log complete, you want to look for peaks, patterns, and problems. Now, if you’re like me and data analysis isn’t really your jam, feel free to enlist the help of a trusted individual who’s into that sort of thing. Even if you do like analyzing data, we again recommend discussing with a Strengths Coach, your supervisor, or a trusted colleague to help you see any patterns or blind spots you miss.
As you go through your log, look for the following things:
1. What are the activities that give you the most energy and focus? Star those activities. Sometimes your energy level may be related to the time of day – or whether you’ve been up all night with your children – but generally when people are working in their Strengths Zone, they use less time to complete the task and are energized by it. When you’re in your Strengths Zone, you can usually focus on things for long periods of time. Activities in your Strengths Zone are the best use of your talents, time, and energy.
2. What are things that are low energy and focus for you? Underline those. These most likely fall outside your Strengths Zone. That means it will take you much more time and energy to complete it than someone whose talents are more compatible with that task. When you’re working on something outside of your Strengths Zone, you welcome any opportunity to stop working on “this @!#%$& thing!!!” Sometimes you can reframe an activity so it falls within your Strengths Zone, but if you can’t do that the best thing for you – and your team – to do is to delegate it or find a complementary partner to help you through it.
3. Next, look at your triggers and circle the ones that come up most frequently. Triggers usually indicate that one or more of your talents aren’t’ getting their needs met. The good news is, as annoying as these people or situations may be, these triggers really indicate your greatest areas for growth. How can you reframe the situation so you’re not triggered in the future? If it’s a person, think about how their talents are colliding with yours. Use a Strengths mindset to find the value in what that person brings to the table? How can you make your interactions more productive? The better you understand your triggers, the more you can adjust how your talents show up and devote that time and energy to other things. After all, our strengths grow in the context of relationships.
4. Finally, distractions. Put a box around the ones that happen most frequently. Calculate how much time are the distractions taking away other important tasks. If these are external distractions, identify repeat offenders and find ways to minimize them. If they are internal distractions – overthinking, worrying, possible undiagnosed ADD – do some additional reflection to figure out what’s at the root of the problem and develop habits to keep yourself on track.
The easy part of this project is recording how you’re spending your time. The more difficult task is deconstructing it. Some things you discover will be fairly obvious. The challenge, of course, is deciding what to do to resolve the problems and how to best implement those changes. All of your solutions need to keep in mind your individual talents and how you use them – both in productive and non-productive ways. If you realize your main problem is that you can’t say no to people, telling yourself to say no more often isn’t going to work without discovering why you have problems saying no and developing skills and habits to overcome it. Discuss what you’ve found with your supervisor, a Strengths coach, or a trusted peer to support you on your journey to becoming more productive with your talents, time, and energy.