Using Day One on the Mac for activity tracking

Registering internal audit activities

Good activity tracking is essential for internal audit departments, especially in a small internal audit organization with multiple concurrent responsibilities. At any one day, we are planning a mission, finalizing the reporting on another one, providing advice to management as part of our advisory capacity, and working on an administrative investigation. Add to that general management and training, and there are days where you end the day wondering what exactly you did.
Prior to my current solution, I sometimes had to go back into my email system to identify what subjects I sent emails on, just to get some idea of which projects I worked on. As that became too labor intensive, I had to find other solutions. I looked at time registration solutions, such as Billings or Harvest, but as obiquituous as they claim to be, the threshold to accurate recording of the time spent on projects was too much. I eventually went back to a very basic Excel time registration sheet, where all our projects are listed, and the team is required to enter time usage on a weekly basis. Still, the issue of accuracy of registration remained. What to do?

Mac Power Users to the rescue

Waiting for my train one fair morning, I was listening to the Mac Power Users episode with Wendy Cherwinski. The podcast was one of traditional high MPU quality. At a certain point David Sparks and Katie Floyd, the hosts, started talking to Mrs. Cherwinski about activity registration. Mrs. Cherwinski referred to an application called Day One, a journaling app for both iOS devices and Mac.
Now, I own this application, on both iOS and Mac. I purchased it one ambitious day with the full intent to start journaling. Nothing really came of it. It was one of those intentions that never really came to fruition. But, meanwhile, I had purchased the app. I decided to give it a go and use it as the podcast described.
It has been a resounding success to date. The app is an excellent work activity tracker. Let me take you through how I use it and how I configured it.

Day One configuration

Day One has a lightweight menu bar app which both invites and allows you to enter information whenever you think about it. I have a pomodoro application counting down intervals of 25 minutes with 2 minute breaks in between, which I try to keep myself to. I have Day One configured to remind me between 8 AM and 6 PM every 30 minutes to enter what I have been doing the past minutes. Granted, it does not allow for tracking what applications you used in that interval. There are other applications, such as Timing, which allow you to do that. What Day One does and does well is just put up a small window where you can quickly jot down what you have been doing. It’s there, but it is very unobtrusive and it allows you to do quick entry and go on with what you were doing.
The settings allow you to configure your reminders. If your reminder frequency is higher than once a day, the system asks you to set when reminders should start and when they should end. This does not prevent you from entering activities after hours if for example you are working late, but it will not be as intrusive as reminders can be and should be during the day.
Another excellent option is the iCloud or Dropbox synchronisation. You can configure a custom location as well, but I just have it set to iCloud sync so it syncs across my devices: my iMac at my home office, my MacBook Air at work and my iPhone and iPad for when I’m in a meeting or traveling, such as in the train. At any one place, I am always able to input my activities.
Last, but not least, Day One supports Markdown. In other words, my quick notes can have basic formatting which allows for easier copying later, if I write an overview of activities with some details. Day One supports exports in both plain text files (.txt) and markdown (.md) which proves excellent flexibility.

Uses

How do I use it? Whenever the reminder pops up on my screen, I enter what I did in the past 30 minutes. That is usually pretty easy. Whenever I have a tool change, such as switching from word processing to Excel, or from one project to another, I usually remind myself to enter some info in Day One as well.
Each night, before closing my computer and walking to my train, I export the notes and enter the information in my spreadsheet. I try to work in blocks of about 15 to 30 minutes, depending on the level of detail I record. So, I still hang on to my trusted Excel sheet, and asked my team to use this as well, but I am sure that what I enter actually is an accurate representation of time use. Day One provides me with the basis of that accurate information entry. There is certainly a nerdier way of doing this, but it works for me.

Future wants and needs

The reminder function on Mac is excellent, and I would like to see it ported to iOS. I could imagine this is not as easy done as it is said now, because you may have alarms or reminders popping up on both your iOS device and your Mac. Still, it would be nice to have a gentle reminder pop up every now and then during a meeting where I have no Mac present.

A quick thank you

First, to Mrs. Cherwinski for mentioning this in the podcast. Then, to both Mr. Sparks and Mrs. Floyd for providing such a high quality podcast. On the 5by5 network, of course.