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Author Topic: Something I want to try this Year.. Daily After-action Reports  (Read 8521 times)
mouser
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« on: May 17, 2009, 11:09:05 AM »

I was thinking that one thing i would really like to start doing this year is to prepare a kind of one page "after-action" report form that i would fill out after each day, to record what i did each day.
I think it would help ensure I am making good use of my time.

Somewhat counter-intuitively, one thing i suspect might be important is to set aside some time at the end of each day to fill it out, rather than writing it as the day goes on.  I think filling it out at the end of the day would make it more useful as a contemplative experience -- rather than a mindless log of minutia.

Thoughts? Anyone already do this? Any suggestions for what the form would look like?
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mnemonic
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« Reply #1 on: May 17, 2009, 11:37:26 AM »

I do a very similar thing at work on a weekly basis.

Although I work within a team, the majority of my work is fairly autonomous and I'm left alone to do whatever I need to do (I'm a functional analyst within a software development team).  As a result, I can often go for several days without needing to talk to my boss about work.

All I have is a very loose template that I use inside an email, based around RAID (risks, actions, issues and dependencies):

Project name
  • Progress this week
  • Risks that have arisen during the week and what needs to be done to mitigate them
  • Issues split into two - ones that I'm progressing and those that need escalating or need work requests for other teams
  • Work that I've passed on to developers and any responses that they have come back with
  • Actions that I need to take over the next week or in the future
  • Actions that I'm waiting for other people to complete

This works really well for a number of reasons:
  • Allows me to review everything I've done
  • Acts as a motivator, as the report is effectively a contract describing the work I need to do
  • Allows other people to go to one place to see the actions, issues and risks of a certain project
  • Is an effective way of preparing for six-monthly appraisals

During the week, I keep a mammoth, fairly free-format todo.txt file that helps me to remember everything:

***************
DD/MM/YYYY
[] Todo
() Waiting for
[x ] Todo completed
* Information
** Related information
* M: MEETING NAME (Participants)
** meeting text
** meeting text
* M: ---
* D: DOCUMENT REVIEW (document name)
** document details
* D: ---
* P: MULTI-ACTION TODO NAME
** [] Todo that needs doing
** [na] Todo that cannot be done until another todo is completed
* P: ---
****************

Each day, I review all my notes from the previous day, from the day a week before, one month ago, three months ago and 6 months ago.  This helps me to review my actions to add to the report and also allows me to review any important information.

The system does have a few issues though:
  • If I have no motivation to do them, todos can hang around for ages
  • It takes time to review each day
  • Complex notes can take ages to type
  • This type of system means that everything has to go into the todo.txt, otherwise I can never trust it
  • Things go out-of-date and where a decision has been made and then changed, it's difficult to work out what's correct.  This could be fixed by tags and the search function, but consistently tagging is hard as I can never remember the tags that I've used
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mouser
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« Reply #2 on: May 17, 2009, 11:53:59 AM »

Nice.

One thing that needs to be said for what i am interested in -- i'm not actually very interested in ever looking at these reports after i write them -- they aren't meant to document something or serve as a lasting record.

Basically i'm thinking of this more as a way of forcing myself to take each day more seriously, and force myself to spend a bit of time at the end of each day asking myself how well i spent the day.
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mnemonic
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« Reply #3 on: May 17, 2009, 12:10:09 PM »

I guess it's the same kind of thing.  The difference is that you're looking for accountability to yourself.

The issue with all of these kind of things is that you have a bad day and you suddenly fall-off the documentation.  I've tried so many different systems and fallen-off of them over time...every time a new one comes out (GTD, Mark Forster's Do It Tomorrow and Autofocus etc.), I'm proclaiming that they're the bees-knees and I've fallen-off a week later (just like text editors, where I've loved them for a week and then unceremoniously dumped them).

When I wrote up my PhD years ago I could go for days without even looking at it, but these kinds of contracts with yourself could come in useful.

Out of all the tips I've seen, one thing has stood out.  It's based on Mark Forster's Do It Tomorrow.  Basically, write a list of actions each evening that creates a contract with yourself for the next day.  The idea is that you work on each and every todo on the list, even if you only do 5 minutes on each one (you can set a timer) and then cross it off and enter it on to the next day's list.  Sometimes that will last 5 minutes, but often you'll spend an hour doing the todo, as the hard part is often getting started.
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app103
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« Reply #4 on: May 17, 2009, 08:24:07 PM »

You know, this was one of the original purposes of Twitter. And there was an application that would pop up on your screen once an hour asking you "what are you doing?" in which you would quickly type it in, in 140 chars or less, what you were doing at that moment.

Maybe a more private text file based version of this would be a good idea. I think rather than the actual log being useful, it would serve as a tool making you more aware of how you are spending your time, as you are doing whatever it is that you are doing.

Of course the logs could serve as a sort of daily diary, too.

The main difference with Twitter would be that it would be 100% private, on your own pc, and not subject to their "fail whale" periods of down time.

Where it would fall short, would be that we aren't always at our PC's and you wouldn't be able to answer the beep while out shopping or doing other things.

I know you stated that you didn't want to do it as the day progressed, but having that log to review at the end of the day when you started to think about how you spent your time might be a powerful thing. And since it's only once an hour reports, and they are very short, it wouldn't be all that time consuming to review it.
« Last Edit: May 17, 2009, 08:29:50 PM by app103 » Logged

J-Mac
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« Reply #5 on: May 18, 2009, 12:07:50 AM »

I keep a journal - actually two: a physical notebook which I use throughout the day to jot notes, and The Journal, a program for journaling in which I create a daily entry at night. It's not structured in any way other than date. But it does exactly what you said, mouser. I get a chance to read through my notes and then enter it all in my own words after the fact. It is also a nice record to search when you are trying to remember when or how or why you did something or another.

Jim
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« Reply #6 on: May 25, 2009, 05:44:37 AM »

Mouser, something I find that works for me is to set aside a little time (half an hour or so) to plan your day for tomorrow, this helps me go over the things i've achieved today and organise my schedule for anything I didn't get time todo today.

I also find it best if it's the second last thing you do that day.  So for me, I finish work at 4pm, so at 3:30 I plan my day for tomorrow and then finish off anything I need to for that day.  This way you don't get to the end of your day and skip you're planning for the next day.
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DocSavage
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« Reply #7 on: May 29, 2009, 06:57:46 AM »

Journaling is such a great mind-alignment tool. It enhances learning tremendously. My most recent use was in a creative writing class.
I recently visited an exemplary elementary school where all the students, down to kinder, were journaling! Look out world, the geniuses are coming!
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thomthowolf
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« Reply #8 on: May 30, 2009, 12:51:50 PM »

Mouser: I do this every day.  I set aside the last half hour of my day at work and then the last half hour before bed and write an assessment, and a plan for the next day.  Lately I have been using Wikidpad as the tool for this, mainly because of the strength of its todo function.  Basically, I write stream of consciousness, and when I get an idea for a task I just type todo: and the idea.  I have added Christian Ziemski's GTD patch, which basically created a page that collects all the todo statements I have made anywhere in the Wiki and allows me to add filters and date assignments.  All very text feeling, and simple, but I create tomorrow's todo list as I go.  Take a look and see what you think.
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cianoc
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« Reply #9 on: June 03, 2009, 04:10:34 AM »

org-mode in Emacs is very good for this kind of stuff (as for GTD stuff), so long as you're the kind of person who doesn't mind doing a bit of hacking/customisation.
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Padlock6
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« Reply #10 on: June 09, 2009, 06:12:09 AM »

Something kinda related, that I have done since 1988.  I used to keep a yellow legal pad (now .doc) at my desk by my phone.  Every phone call starts withdate, Company-name, then any notes about the call.  It has saved my bacon on numerous occasions when I couldn't remember a quoted price, or who said exactly what.
On the PC, I can highlight in red my action items, and reformat when completed.  Every 6 months I start a new .doc and store the old one for history. 

Now back to the original post...
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SKesselman
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« Reply #11 on: June 09, 2009, 07:43:11 PM »

Somewhat counter-intuitively, one thing i suspect might be important is to set aside some time at the end of each day to fill it out, rather than writing it as the day goes on.  I think filling it out at the end of the day would make it more useful as a contemplative experience -- rather than a mindless log of minutia.

Hi mouser,
have you tried keeping an as-you-go log? If not, you might want to.

I keep one when I start to worry about how I'm spending my time & it's always pretty informative. I've found that the end of the day summary never gets completed before bed. It just makes roll my eyes, like when I have to take my vitamins or something...it almost seems faster to keep a log as I go, AND I don't miss anything, like I sometimes do if I have to recall it several hours later.

One nice thing about a log is that, as we know, once you write something down, it's easier to remember.
But it's also easy to remember when you wrote it, as you flip through your daily logs, looking for something.

I do use a spreadsheet-like card for Y/N things I have to do every single day, things that are easy to forget (like taking my vitamins) and it's very helpful. It's taped to the inside of my cupboard. It's 31 down, 10 across. Without that, I'd never know what I didn't do, or when I didn't do it Wink

Sorry if this has already been mentioned in a GTD book or whatever - I'm not familiar with the latest systems, tricks, etc., just suggesting something that works for me  smiley

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-Sarah
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« Reply #12 on: August 28, 2009, 02:05:41 PM »

this all reminds me of the saying about 'taking so many photographs while you are on holiday that you... '
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SKesselman
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« Reply #13 on: September 23, 2009, 02:17:40 PM »

I was thinking that one thing i would really like to start doing this year is to prepare a kind of one page "after-action" report form that i would fill out after each day, to record what i did each day.
I think it would help ensure I am making good use of my time.

Thoughts? Anyone already do this? Any suggestions for what the form would look like?

Sorry I missed the middle of your original post, where you say you don't want to log throughout the day  embarassed.
(Kind of makes my first reply irrelevant.)

But if at the end of the day, the time of day happens to be relevant to your activities, here's what I'm using, starting in 2010.
I wish I could start today, but I love the pre-printed times and dates  smiley.



It's roughly 8" x 6", but they also come in full size.
I think it helps to continue your logs, in case you get lazy or tend to forget to do it...
For myself, I like the times so I can use it as a tracker. If every day at 3PM I'm supposed to do something, I can flip through it and see the days I didn't follow through. Although my goal is to eventually have none of these entries to find  cheesy. We'll see...
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-Sarah
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« Reply #14 on: November 05, 2009, 06:40:30 PM »

IMO reports are too much of a hassle. I just create an after-action goal/GTD context and put anything on it when an event occurs.
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