Keep a Daily Business Journal as a Management Tool

I have found, as a consultant (and owner/manager) for over fifteen years, that the habitual practice of recording all my business tasks, my short/long term TODOs, and any other business related fact (e.g., city/client location, mileage markers, etc.) is an indispensible management tool.

Why keep a detailed business journal?

Whether you are an office work whose personality tends toward minute detail or you are a sole proprietor who multitasks clients and tasks, a centralized uncomplicated data store that remembers every daily activity can be a critical tool in your business life. Before there was a QuickBooks, a Project, and even the original VisiCalc spreadsheets, there was the simple handwritten business journal. The journal forces me in a constructive way to filter all my business activities through one central processor by maintaining a handwritten, daily record in a standardize format. Time/date stamped, terse, information-loaded entries, written in a linear order, bring both control and order to the multitasking in my business life.

Accurate time/date stamping of a task provides a historical context that often supports speedy resolution of even the thorniest customer support problems. Such data can be critical when running a small or home-based business. During follow-up days or weeks later, accurate reference information such as account numbers and contact names recorded in the actual historical context is oftentimes a more persuasive tool than just the facts themselves. This simple device however rests totally upon and derives its significance from its habitual use. The linear organization of short/long term tasks, objectives, goals can readily be transformed into an accurate record of corporate milestones useful in the keeping of corporate records. The power of the non-computerized daily journal is awesome for project planning, performance assessment and even disaster recovery once one commits to its habitual use.

How do I keep a journal?

Select a bound, ledger-style book with numbered pages to cover your business? calendar or fiscal year. Use only the right page to record daily entries. Avoid use of left page except for occasional notes. Do not remove pages from the bound book. Do not erase entries; draw a single strikeout line through discarded entries. Use the first 2-5 pages to record common references and facts such as personal phone numbers, account numbers, etc.

  • 1. Tear off the right corner tip of pages used rather than use a bookmark. The stacked torn corners are permanent and help you locate your current page quickly.  Standardize the daily format of your entry date, exact time, contact person, action taken. Maintain a single time zone regardless of where you travel to standardize your time/date stamps.
  • 2. Maintain linear continuity by providing space between items on any one page. Try keeping notes and entries on a single page. Dedicate one page to one day. Record the location of your daily business activities (the city, or where appropriate, state/country) in upper right corner of the daily entry. Include start/end odometer counts if travelling by car.
  • 3. Write your current TODOs on top of entry page at a diagonal angle; check off completed  tasks, carry forward uncompleted tasks to future days. These TODOs should lead to one  or more detailed line items in the body of the daily entry page. No further reference or  carry forward of the completed TODO is necessary. Otherwise, record why TODOs are  re-prioritized or deleted before they are stricken from the top of your daily entry.   Record and circle the dollar amount of all outflows; payouts, deposits; record and draw a  box around inflows; cash receipts, withdrawals, etc. Use a different shape to help  highlight actual dollar-related transactions on a journal page. I DO NOT recommend  using a color highlighter; keep your practice of recording daily tasks as simple and as  portable as possible.
  • 4. Record full telephone numbers/extensions and full contact names/id numbers in your  entries. Include personal notes especially if the entry is sales related. Repeating the names of spouses, children in your entry and making an updated note can be used as a reference in the current and future calls. Similarly, before you initiate the task, reference  the most recent previous contact call you have journalized using the actual page number.  Cross reference previous contacts/calls by page number as you plan your daily agenda.  You will thus build historical continuity into your daily journal entries and oftentimes,  goodwill in your business interactions. For example, Gee, Steve, I haven’t spoken with  you since the middle of February. How are Elaine and your son, Robert?  You mentioned at the time, she was not doing well?
  • 5. Use the left column of the entry to mark a check or X for completed tasks, open circles for initiated but uncompleted tasks, and checked or crossed circles for followed-up and now completed tasks as you work through your day. Use the open circle when you must leave a message or follow-up a task to reach completion. This notation provides you with a distinguishable ?tickler? marker for tasks that have been started but require a future follow-up.
  • In summary – Recording your daily activities and TODOs, rain or shine, can be an indispensible management tool when running a home-based business. You not only build a centralize data store of critical information, but compile a management/accounting tool that clarifies business activities in an historical written document. If you take it with you wherever you go, critical information will never be more than an arms-length away.
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