More time is on just about everybody’s wish list no matter who you are or what you do. While we can’t add more hours to the day, it is absolutely possible to get more out of the hours that are already there. One of the most effective ways of doing this is what’s known as a time audit. Just as you might audit your finances and spending habits in an effort to find ways to save money, you can audit your time use to discover ways to save time. To help, we’ve put together five steps you can follow to track your time for a thorough three day time audit. This will show you everything you need to know to cut out waste and inefficiency, and start getting more out of each and every day.
Step 1: Choose your equipment
There are a variety of ways to perform a time audit, from pen, pad, and stopwatch all the way to sophisticated time tracking apps. The simplest tool is likely to be your smartphone, as it contains all the functions necessary for a rigorous time audit. All you really need is a timer that can alert you every 15, 30, or 60 minutes, and a method of taking notes.
Step 2: Select a timeframe
There are a number of ways to perform a time audit and choose an audit timeframe. The method we’ll describe here is based on the Productivity501 process and adapted to focus on a business context. In this method, you will set a timer for 15, 30, or 60 minutes, depending on your schedule and the kind of work you do. If your work day is dynamic, and work tasks at work change frequently then it makes sense to choose a shorter period of time. If you tend to work on longer projects more intensively throughout the day, a period of 60 minutes would be more appropriate.
At each time interval, you will take a note about whatever you happen to be doing at that moment. The notes should take you 20 – 30 seconds to record, and be descriptive enough to refer to later, but not so long and detailed that they really interfere with the rhythm of your day.
The next choice is whether to audit three consecutive days, or three days in separate weeks. The question to ask yourself is whether the audit will cause you to change your behavior if done over three consecutive days. If this happens, then your data will not be truly accurate or useful. The alternative is to the audit on, say, a Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday of three separate weeks. The keeps you from modifying time management behavior during the audit (but also significantly delays analysis and results).
Step 3: Conduct the audit
Begin your timer at an irregular time like 7:42. This will make it more likely that you take notes during tasks rather than between tasks, since many work events start or finish on the hour. Again, avoid letting the audit change your typical time management behavior.
Step 4: Categorize the results
Go through all your results and put them into the following three categories, where value means useful and productive outcomes for your company or job role:
- High Value
- Moderate Value
- No value
Step 5: Analyze the results
In which category are you spending most of your day? Wherever you land, consider the following strategies for prioritizing, rationalizing, and improving the productivity of your day:
Set aside a blocks of time in which you will be alone and uninterrupted as you work on a specific task. Considering sharing your blocked schedule with others to reduce interruptions.
Turn off email, notifications, mobile alerts, and anything else that may distract you from giving total focus to high value tasks.
Some people save you time (through advice, encouragement, assistance, or sharing resources), and some waste your time (through idle chatting, complaints, etc). Find ways to increase time with the former and decrease time with the latter.
Smart breaks make you more productive. Are you taking breaks that improve your energy and efficiency, that harm it, or not at all?