Have you ever finished a project at work and realized no one, least of all your manager, will ever know how much time you put in and the ways in which you went above and beyond?
Have you ever left the office after a long day and needed a third hand to count how many items you tackled on your to-do list?
Have you ever feared not knowing where to start or how to capture it all when your boss asks what you’ve been working on?
Have you ever sifted through a pile of papers on your desk with notes outlining what you have to do before Friday?
Have you ever wanted to share with your company just how awesome you are at your job?
If you answered yes to even one of the above questions, it’s time you keep track of how you’re spending your time at work. I learned the importance of this very quickly when I switched careers recently. Before, I pretty much managed myself and a team of writers at a newspaper. I very seldom had to demonstrate to my superiors what I was working on – my editors could see I was putting out a newspaper every week, and that’s all they cared about.
When I took my new job at a bigger company, filling a brand new position, and being the only one in the office in that role, I discovered that new tasks landed on my plate each day that weren’t even on my radar the day before. I learned that my colleagues and managers were looking to me to learn new areas of the business and wanted me to be the resident expert. I needed to have my shit together, my ducks in a row. I needed a system to keep track of (for me) what was coming in, and more importantly (for them), what I was putting out.
If you find yourself in a similar boat, look no further than your desktop. Here’s the strategy that works for me.
1. First, create a Microsoft Excel file called “Master Task List.” Name the tab on one sheet “to-do” and name the tab on another sheet “completed.” At the top of both sheets, you need three columns: Date, Task, Notes.
2. Open this document every morning when you arrive at work and keep it open all day. As you’re assigned tasks, pull up your document right away and under the “to-do” tab fill in what’s expected of you, one row for each task: “Edit and republish e-store pages”; “Sign Jane and myself up for Google Analytics training”; “Populate Campaign Tactics report for John”. Whether someone is standing at my desk or calls me on the phone to ask me to do something, I am able to fill the notes directly into my computer rather than scratching them on a paper that will end up being tossed. If my boss calls me into her office, I bring a notebook to write down my new project. As soon as I’m back at my desk I fill the sheet in. This becomes the most important document I have at work.
3. Under the notes category, be sure to fill in as much detail as you need. “Edits to be made in the e-store are: broken links, contact information”; “Jane will send me her availability for training”. Again, this helps eliminate a cluster of sticky notes on your desk!
4. The last thing you’ll need to know is when the work is expected to be completed. Type the deadline right into the document before it escapes you. If you have seven other items on your to-do list, you can conveniently see all of them at once and reorganize by deadline so you know where your priorities should be that day.
5. Now the fun part! Once you’ve accomplished a task, no matter how big or small, simply cut the information from the “to-do” tab into the “completed” tab. Replace the deadline date with the date it was completed. If you completed the task before it was due, make note of that in the date column – where else will you keep track of the fact that you get something done ahead of time? If you did anything extraordinary, like saved the company money by doing your job a certain way, then jot it down under Notes on this tab, along with anything else like “done, just waiting for sign-off”. Every week during our up-to-speed, I print this document for my manager so she can see what I’m working on and what I completed.
And there you have it. You’ve just created a list of to-do’s and accomplishments in one spot. A living, breathing master document that you use for your own reference, and for when your boss asks what you’ve been working on.
Now, just be sure to press “save.”