Mundane to Insane! How I Turned an Agonizingly Boring Task into Career Jet FuelFeatured

Like many others, my career journey hasn’t been a straight path.

After a few years doing data work at some interesting jobs, I landed a position at a tech startup. It was one of those “help anywhere you can” kind of places, so I did whatever was asked and learned a lot in the process. I had only been there a couple of years, but life had other plans for me, and I needed to make a change. I resigned, moved out of state, and helped manage a significant health issue in my family.

Fortunately, the company valued my work and asked me to continue as a remote contractor instead of accepting my resignation. I didn’t exactly know what that would mean, but of course, I said yes, and it changed my life in ways I couldn’t even imagine at the time.

Now, let’s be clear, this was at a time when remote work was not the norm. The internet lagged, the flip phone was the newest tech, and forget about video conferencing…there wasn’t bandwidth for that.

It was a huge change for me and to top it off, this company determined I needed to account for my time in 15-minute increments when submitting invoices. The requirement didn’t worry me because I always did what I said I would, but ugh, just what I “needed”…another mundane, time-consuming, (frankly asinine) task, to be added on top of the real work that needed to be done. Be that as it may, my excel tracking file was born. And so began my self-tracking voyage to bigger and better things…even if I didn’t know it yet.

A decade later, when my employment ended with an unexpected layoff, I suddenly needed to update my resume and remember all the things I’d done over the years. Given where I started, it was a lot and felt like a daunting endeavor. As it turned out, what I had dreaded doing all those years, suddenly felt like a spark of genius! In fact, having all those invoices with written lists of my contributions thoroughly documented was a blessing, no longer in disguise. That’s right! I literally had the information I needed at my fingertips. Not only did I have the results in writing, but it gave me the confidence boost I needed to present myself with real-world examples of what I had achieved.

Ultimately, this experience turned habit, led to one of the most fulfilling positions of my career! And, I believe, in part because I was able to unlock the hidden potential of this mundane task and confidently articulate my capabilities and significant impacts.

Sometimes, I think we may all underestimate or under remember what we do, and the impact our work has. For me, seeing it all in writing was eye-opening. I thought "wow, I did a lot. I learned a lot, and honestly…I’m a great catch for a new employer".

Since then, I’ve made it a personal policy to continue to track myself, expanding my original excel file, adding any kudos I’ve received, awards, nominations, special projects with significant outcomes, and so on. Being the data junkie I am, I’ve even automated the file with a one-click time button and some formulas to make this mundane task as insanely easy as possible.

Just like my flip phone evolved to an iPhone, more tools designed specifically for time tracking have become available, allowing me to easily track myself and build reports to see exactly what I’ve done and how long it takes. I’m notoriously bad at estimating time in the moment (just ask my husband, lol), so this once unloved task has been a godsend for me to understand my own time and value through quantifiable facts.

Let’s face it, you can’t predict the future, but you sure can prepare for it, which at this moment is ironic, because…

I recently found myself “restructured out” and on the hunt for a new opportunity once again. This time, fully armed! My “mundane” tracking data and reports are just the jet fuel I need to propel me to my next endeavor.

Granted, this journey still has many years to go, but I know for sure that I will continue to make time to embrace the mundane task of tracking and documenting my experiences, especially considering the proven results I’ve seen and the impact it has as I navigate the current job market.

Update: I just accepted an exciting offer where I can tell you with certainty, my value is WELL understood.

No matter what happens in the future, all we can do is be prepared. Make the time for the “mundane,” and you too can turn it into “jet fuel” for your career! Trust me, you won’t regret it!

I love this! I frequently have job seekers come to me saying, "I have no idea what my accomplishments are..." and they have to spend several hours scouring their old performance reviews, finding old projects, looking back through their calendar. Making it a habit would make the process so so much easier :)
Ironically, I use this data to create my self assessments during performance review time.
This is awesome Laine, and congrats on the new role! I've read about excel work-tracking templates in several places as a kind of time-blocking tool as well. Did you find that doing this regularly helped you understand what to do, when?
Thank you. The new position is working out great. I landed at a great place. Regaring what to do and when, one of the biggest take aways from this tracking is more about how long things take. I value estimating, and one of the best ways to be good at that is knowing how long tasks really take. They always take longer than you think. One of the things I did in the past several years was to export the data from my excel tracker, import it into Power BI so I could do charts for a fast reference on what I was actually doing over the month, quarter and year. I actually sent a couple of those charts to my boss every month. Communicating well with management is another whole topic I feel strongly about, and I won't get into that, but everyone being on the same page is always good.
Yes, yes, yes!!! I was just thinking to myself, that the next job I get I'm going to write down what I did, how long it took, and the results from it - because like you before, I'm TERRIBLE at remembering what the hell I did at my last job and/or underselling the impact it had on the company. Do you have a copy of the spreadsheet you use? Or suggest any apps you like to track your time with?
Good afternoon, so sorry for the delay in responding. I promised myself I would sit at my desk more than I needed to. I think it’s important to get outside and live life as much as possible. This is especially true after having spent months job hunting, when you feel a relatively urgent need to stay connected all the time to not miss any opportunities. I am more than happy to share the excel file. I'll see what options there are for sharing or posting as I have not done that here before. Regarding other tools, the one I use now is Toggl Track (, the free version. I love it. It's customizable, and the free version allows you to export the data in csv format, which I then paste into my excel file (with a macro to format it quickly of course). The excel tracker is my data source for my Power BI reports. And if Toggl happens to be down, which happens occasionally, I can track directly in the file temporarily.
I cannot agree more, @lainelewis! I discussed the same issue in the post below, where I talk about how I keep a "wins" folder
@lainelewis - great post! Sounds like you may even have a product in the making that many would be interested in! So many of us have some form of excel versions of this, but sounds like you might have a most highly efficient one (-:
I am happy to share the file. I'm looking at how to do that in here so hopefully I'll have that shared shortly. Regarding other tools, I do use Toggl Track and Power BI for some advance analytics that I use, but for many years I just used the excel file so I tweaked it to be as fast as possible over the years.
@lainelewis I would love and appreciate the file, also. Thank you so much.
@lainelewis - thanks re: file, if you are able! And also good to know re: Toggl Track & Power BI.
I love your story and would like to talk with you if you’re open to it. I feature stories like yours in an interview series. Please let me know! -Lisa
Absolutely, I will reach out directly. Thanks! :0)
Thank you for sharing this. It's helping to shift my perspective. Congrats
Glad to help and thank you!
Just a quick follow-up. I wrote this article while I was looking at new job opportunities. I think one additional, and very important point on this topic is worth noting. The better you are at communicating your impact in previous positions and the specific skills that you have that can help impact the next place, the better luck you will have in finding a place where you can do what it is you actually want to be doing. After just two weeks in my new position, it is very clear that it was not just luck, but good communication about my skills and impact that landed me at a place I am well suited to and am excited for the day to day work that I am being asked to do. It's what I like to do, and that validates all effort I've put into it over the years.
This sounds like a phenomenal process, @lainelewis. I'm going to figure out how to better incorporate this into the next year. My team seems to really struggle with quantifying our results and tracking our projects. I would love to incorporate something like this for my direct reports to better showcase our results but I don't want it to seem like I'm coming across as micromanaging. Do you have any recommendations on how to balance that fine line?
It's a great process if you really want to track yourself. I have found many people don't have the time (really don't make the time) or are afraid of the impact of being completely honest about how long things take. I've tried over the year to install the idea that the tracking is not meant to judge someones abilities, but to actually know how long things take because we are always wrong. We always underestimate. I've found that unless it's required, most won't do it, and it's not as easy as it sounds to write down what you are doing because we live in this place of "respond now," which means you're always multi-tasking. With that, another approach is to focus more on focused work and not multi-tasking which makes it easier to track. I wish I had some great piece of advice, but a lot of it depends on the people you are working with and the relationship you have with them. You do have to stay on top of it. Try maybe focusing on the end goal, not the unexciting task itself.
Hi Laine! Thank you for sharing - I'm going to start doing the same! Can you share more about the automations and formulas that you used? Were these in Toggl or Google Sheets/Excel?
Because I have been using this for so long, the automation changed over the years. The first thing I did was a formatting macro beause I was using Toggl, exporting the data to a csv file. In Excel, I created a macro to reformat the exported data to be ablet to paste it into my exisitng excel file format. The was the most frequent and useful one or two click things. From there it gets a bit more complicated because I created macros to format for specific reports that I exported from other tools with the ultimate goal of importing into Power BI. Those required a bit more maintenace and I wasn't always great with the upkeep as they were more of interest to me versus anything I shared. The other big automation I used was a button I created in Excel to enter the date/time value without having to type it in. I stopped using that when I migrated over to Toggl.