How do you spend the 24 hours you have in a day?
I mean, how do you really spend them?
By performing a time audit, you can find out. And with a realistic perspective on how your time is actually spent, you have the information to find areas of improvement.
In fact, this audit has been one of the tools that has helped me the most over the past few years.
Lessons from Financial Tracking
When setting a budget, common advice is to just track your spending for a month to see how you’re actually spending your money.
It’s an revealing exercise the first time you do it.
Many are surprised with how much they spend eating out. How much they spend on shopping. How much they spend on Starbucks.
I heard a story of one lady who did the math and figured out that she spent roughly $1,000 a year on Dr. Pepper. Needless to say, she was shocked.
The Same with Time
A time audit works the same. Track your time. Find out how you are actually using your day.
Many claim that they work 80-hour weeks, run around frantically, juggle way too many balls, and are loaded down with enough activities to put someone in the hospital.
Until they track their time usage and discover that their reality is very different.
The Audit Mindset
The golden rule of time audits is that you want to understand on the front end what information you want and what you want to do with it. Do you just want a general overview of tendencies or do you want a specific play by play?
Then track only the information that will help you reach that goal.
Doing this audit will slow down your productivity. It will draw you out of your groove. That’s fine – look at the loss of productivity as an investment in the future. (Although tracking your time can often make you more productive because it provides instant accountability).
And track the ugly reality of your time usage. Don’t try to sugarcoat things. No one will see this but you – so you can be honest.
How to Do a Time Audit
You can perform an audit of any time period you’re curious about. It could be a single work-day, a single 24-hour day, a few days, or a week.
Just get a sheet of paper and a pen. Write down the time that you start working on something and write down what you’re working on. Pretty simple.
When you move on to the next activity or project, even if that’s five minutes later, write that down.
I’ve found it’s helpful to also make notes if you want to get into some really great details. For instance, I’ll write down that I started checking email at 1:35. But let’s say that I got distracted and wasted about 5 minutes clicking around on the internet. When I move on to the next activity, I’ll make a note to the side of my email entry saying something like “5 minutes derailed on internet.”
In this manner, you could track a wide variety of great information – such as your level of focus, your energy levels, or even spiritual elements such as your dependence on God.
Some people recommend using time tracking software, but I don’t think that’s the best option. Time tracking software only tells you what’s on your screen – not whether you’re working or staring at the ceiling for an hour straight.
And often instead of a full sheet of paper, I’ll track everything on a notecard. That makes for easy transport if I’m out and about a lot during the day.
Afterward, take some time to analyze your audit. Do the math for some real insight.
You can break your activities down by category and see how many hours you spent on each.
How many hours did you waste?
What percentage of your time was spent on truly important things?
What impact would it have to shift your schedule around and spend a little more time on particular areas?
Did your actual time usage line up with your intended time goals?
Are you neglecting any particular area of your life? Are you spending too much time in any one area of your life?
I would have told you I was a hard worker. But the first time I did this, I found out that I only had about 30 hours of real work in my week – along with several hours lost to what was essentially procrastination and several more hours lost to oversleeping.
I was able to notice several areas of improvement that were really simple to implement once I saw how I was actually spending my time.
Keeping the Point in Mind
The point of this exercise is not to beat yourself up. It’s not about guilt tripping yourself into working 80 hour weeks.
The goal of a time audit is to open your eyes and then find ways to improve.
You may be surprised (as I was) about the reality of how your time is spent.
Photo Credit: woodleywonderworks (Creative Commons)
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