Though we all do our best to maximize our time, occasionally, we find ourselves wishing for more hours in the day in order to increase our productivity at work and at home. And while there’s no shortage of apps and software available to help you boost productivity, you may want to consider another solution: The time audit.
Read on to learn the ins and outs of conducting your own time audit and what to do with your findings.
What is the time audit?
A time audit is meant to help you see how you’re actually spending your time. By tracking your activities throughout the day for three, five, or seven days, you can see what consumes the bulk of your time, as well as identify opportunities for increased efficiency and impact.
How to get started
- Create a table—either longhand on paper or in your preferred spreadsheet software—prior to kicking off your time audit. You should plan to begin your audit when you know you’ll have a consistent number of days that are typical of your schedule (not during holidays or other special occasions when your schedule may be more or less relaxed than usual).
- The number of columns on your table will depend on how many days you want to include in your audit. It’s most effective to do this exercise for five to seven days, but you can do it for as few as three days. Label each column with the relevant weekday.
- Label each row with time stamps at thirty-minute intervals, starting with the time you wake up and ending with the time you go to bed.
- On the first day of your audit, jot down what you’re doing every thirty minutes. It may help to set an alarm on your phone for every half hour so you remember to enter your updates.
- You don’t need to write a lengthy description for each item. For instance, if you’re checking your inbox, jot down “email,” or if you’re working on a project, write down the name of the project. Don’t concern yourself with the details; just take note of what it is.
Where’s your time going?
After you’ve completed your audit, dig deeper into exactly how your time was spent.
Review your table and circle or highlight the three activities that occur the most each day, then in a different color, circle or highlight activities that occur every day.
In analyzing where your time is going, you’ll see two categories emerge:
- Activities you engage in multiple times per day that are “time-suckers.” These are activities like checking your inbox or browsing the internet.
- High-priority activities you engage in throughout the week that take up a substantial portion of your time. These are activities like research or work-related projects.
Turning your findings into opportunities
With this new illustration of your time, try reallocating or consolidating tasks and activities to improve your productivity.
- Rather than engaging in your “time-suck” activities multiple times a day, ask yourself if you can consolidate this activity into one or two designated times per day. For example, if your time audit reveals that you’re checking your inbox several times throughout the day, you could settle on two specific times when you’ll tackle your email. This will free up precious time that can be allocated to something else.
- For high-priority activities that take up a lot of your time, it may be more productive to designate specific times to work on them and to also break down these activities into smaller steps. For example, if you’re spending hours on a project, schedule a regular time throughout the week when you’ll work on that project. Then, break it down into clear steps so that you know what you will work on during each designated time slot.
- Finding new opportunities for efficiency doesn’t apply only to your work life; it’s helpful at home, too. If you find that you’re waiting on long lines at the grocery store several nights a week, try to pick one or two days per week when you’ll pick up groceries, freeing up your other evenings to spend more time with loved ones instead.
Committing to change
Once you know exactly where your time is going, the next step (and perhaps the hardest) is committing to the changes you’d like to make. Be careful not to overwhelm yourself by committing to too many changes at once; select just one to start, and track your progress in implementing that change over the next month or two.
You may also find it useful to do your time audit with an accountability partner—a family member, friend, or colleague—so that you can discuss your findings and progress. And to make sure you’re on the right track, do another time audit one or two months down the road to see if your improvements are sticking.
Just remember, the time audit isn’t about cramming more into your days. It’s about doing less of what isn’t helping you and doing more of what adds value to your life.
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Nisha Kumar Kulkarni is a writer and creative coach in New York City. She helps women living with chronic illness and mental health challenges to pursue their passion projects without compromising their health.