How A “SPUNC” Log Will 10X Your Productivity And Bulletproof You Against Distraction
Wrestle back control of your most valuable asset
You’re about to find out how you can reclaim 730 hours of your life every year. It sounds crazy, but once you complete your first SPUNC log, you’ll discover how much time you really waste in a twenty-four hour period.
I typically do this exercise once every two months — most recently, a few days ago. The results are always dispiriting but never shocking. I had sacrificed two hours to wastefulness when I could have dedicated that time toward writing, research, or other essential work.
On the day after I logged my activity, I wrote 4,000 words. I typically write 2,000 each day. I doubled my productivity by maintaining an extreme focus on every one of my actions. The following day, I wrote 3,600 words. The benefits carried over because I maintained that acute awareness of how I parceled out my time.
Why it works
It’s not uncommon to plow through your day, checking email, social media, and phone notifications. Most of us have no conception of how much time we waste on these activities. The SPUNC log forces you to pay attention to every single action you take for an entire day. You’ll determine whether each action adds or detracts value.
The realization of your wasted efforts will spark momentary despair, but that’s a good thing. It will motivate you to prioritize what’s important.
How it works
Spend one day logging everything you do. You must carry around a notebook since using your phone will distract you. Record every task, action, drive, chore, argument, presentation, discussion, meal, meeting, and anything else you do during the day. Be specific with each action, except for personal hygiene tasks. Your log will look like this.
Type up your list of activities in a spreadsheet (you can leave out bathroom breaks), and label each action in one of the following categories.
Critical activities consist of the work that matters most to you. It could be your daily writing, art, or essential tasks at your day job like sales calls. You shouldn’t have more than two or three of these activities. If everything you do is critical, then nothing is critical. If you have too many, re-examine your priorities.
Be ruthlessly discerning about work you label as critical. If you feel the need to read for a half-hour before you begin writing, go ahead and do it, but resist the urge to label it as essential work. You will find that many of your getting-ready tasks — activities that prepare you for a more important task — waste your time.
For each activity you label as critical, ask yourself this question.
- Is it vital to achieving your goals and objectives?
If you answer no, you cannot label the activity as critical.
Preferable tasks provide some value but have no bearing on your ability to achieve your goals. I prefer to spend a half-hour a day reading fiction. It helps put me in the right mindset to write. But I would not label it as critical. I’ll skip the preferable tasks if they interfere with something more substantial.
These questions help you determine if a specific task is preferable.
- Does it provide any tangible value?
- Could you do your critical work without it?
If the answer is yes to both questions, label it as preferable.
A happy life requires more than the pursuit of meaningful work. You need time to do things for yourself. You need to enjoy the company of the people you love.
I walk alone for thirty minutes every day. It’s a sacred activity. I don’t feel whole when I skip it. I also spend time with my family; that’s a sacred activity to me. I don’t worry about what we’re doing as long as we spend time together.
These are sacred, non-negotiable pursuits you do for your health and well-being. Allow yourself two or three of these activities.
Necessary tasks are activities that enable your critical or sacred functions. Most of us need to commute to our day job. Commuting isn’t an essential activity, but it’s necessary if you must be at a physical location to perform your critical functions.
If you’re a salesperson who works for a company, you might have to attend an early morning briefing. Could you make your sales calls without that meeting? Probably, but you are required to attend, so it’s non-negotiable.
These questions will help you determine if an activity is necessary
- Is it deemed mandatory by a boss or higher authority?
- Would the absence of this activity preclude you from performing your critical work or fulfilling an obligation?
If the answer to either question is yes, then label the activity as necessary.
Label everything else on your list as unnecessary. This bucket includes things such as: browsing social media, checking the news, email, texts, organizing your desk for efficiency, and most getting ready tasks. If you’re unsure, ask yourself what valuable benefit you get out of the activity, and then label it appropriately.
- Does this activity serve any useful purpose or give you any joy?
If you answer, yes, then label the activity as preferable. If you answer, no, then move on to the next two questions.
- Does this activity distract me from more important things?
- Could I skip this and still perform my critical work?
If you answer, yes to both questions, then label as unnecessary
Time to tally up
Label your spreadsheet as I did in the screenshot below. You can group like activities into a single heading if they are not interrupted with other tasks; this will cut down on the data entry. Label each task as critical, necessary, unnecessary, sacred, or preferable. Enter the estimated elapsed time of each activity. Your spreadsheet will look like this (some lines are hidden for formatting).
For each unnecessary task, count it towards wasted time using the formula in the caption above.
How much time did you waste on unnecessary crap? Pay careful attention to mindless time fillers like browsing social media. Also, examine your “getting ready” or “warm-up” work. What activities do you engage in to put off doing essential but uncomfortable work?
You’ll notice that I wasted just under two hours. That meant I wasted even more time the previous days. Here’s why.
A funny thing happens when you do this exercise
Keeping a log like this will drive you mad if you continuously switch tasks. Task switching destroys productivity by up to to 40% because it takes time for your brain to get back in sync with the activities you want to execute.
Because it’s such a pain to log your activities, you’ll make an effort to stick to the same activity for more extended periods. This means the mere act of keeping this log will force you to avoid the prime killers of productivity, creativity, and time management: task-switching, multi-tasking, distractionary activities.
What happens next?
It would be impractical and unnecessary to log your activities every day. For several days after this exercise, you’ll maintain your highly productive state. The benefits wane as time passes, so you’ll need to repeat it every six to eight weeks.