How (& Why) to Conduct a Time Audit

How and why to conduct a time audit


Around here, we’re big fans of productivity and working hard to make sure you’re doing only what you are best at and nothing else. If you’re an entrepreneur who’s stuck booking your own meetings and wasting hours of your day in email, you’re losing money. That’s why we encourage everyone we talk with to take a look at their schedules and audit the tasks they’re completing (or not completing!) and the time each task costs.

So many entrepreneurs go into work each day playing defense: fielding requests as they come in, reacting to events as they unfold, and putting out fires that probably could have been prevented. They often get to the end of their day and realize they didn’t have time to eat lunch and yet never got anything accomplished.

Does that resonate with you? If so, perhaps it’s time to dive deep into your schedule and find out why you’re feeling so unproductive and depleted at the same time.

What Is a Time Audit, and Why Is It Important?

An audit simply means inspecting or examining data for accuracy or effectiveness. To audit your time, you’ll document what you did during each hour of your day (or week, or month). Then, at the end of your day (or week, or month), you’ll have a set of data points to analyze and use to determine what you need to change to get the results you want.

Your time audit will help you determine what you should keep doing and what you should stop doing to make room for more productive and fulfilling things in your life and work. This is an essential step toward taking control of your time so that you’re doing less of what isn’t helping you and more of the things that add value to your business and life.

How to Capture Your Data

1. Pen and paper is the tried and true solution. This is what we recommend for the most thorough analysis of your time. If you tend to think outside the box, feel restricted by adding additional systems, don’t always work in the digital space, or just enjoy having a pen in your hand, this is the option for you.

2. Calendar blocking is a great way to track your time consistently, so if you’re already a pro in this system, then you’re ahead of the game. Simply make detailed notes about the specific tasks you completed in each calendar block as you go through your day. Move the blocks from your “ideal” recurring schedule to match what time they actually happened.

3. Many apps exist for tracking your time. You can manually track your time in tools like Harvest, Toggl, Freshbooks, etc. However, you can also install a browser or desktop plugin (we like RescueTime) that will track your time automatically. At the end of the day, check that the data aligns with what you actually did (technology isn’t perfect!), and add any details the plugin may have missed. Be mindful that RescueTime will track all of the time you spend on your computer, tablet, or phone, so you’ll track what sites you visit even when you’re not working if you don’t toggle on and off during work hours.

4. A physical time tracker (Timeular or TimeFlip) is a die-like device that sits on your desk. Download the app and set up the device (mark each side with things that you usually do, then link that to a specific task in your app), then flip it to the appropriate side that corresponds with what you’re working on. Again, you’ll need to do some maintenance to note exactly what you were doing, but this does offer a bit more customization to the automation than apps in that regard. All you need to do is remember to flip!

Track Your Time

The structure of your data collection will depend on your schedule. Do you do the same things every single day? You may only need to track your time for one day (though we recommend at least a week).

Do your days vary but your weeks generally mirror each other? A week’s worth of data is probably what you’ll need to collect.

Are you paddling like hell each week just trying to get to the end and have no clue what your structure looks like? Then you may want to widen your scope and track your time for a month. The longer you track your time, the more likely you are to fall into the habit of being mindful of each task in your day after this process is over.

Start your tracking period, and write down everything you do in a grid according to day and time—everything from checking email and client meetings to scrolling through Facebook, deep business brainstorming, and everything in between. If you’re not using a pen-and-paper or calendar blocking method, you’ll still want to make sure your app or time tracker is installed and set up. Set a reminder to check in and update your data at the end of the day to include more detail than the technology captured automatically.

Repeat this process every day for as long as necessary.

Set Yourself Up for Success

The most difficult part of any time audit is taking the time to track the time. But without this piece, you’re just guessing. And where has guessing gotten you so far? Paddling like hell, right?

You need to know where your time goes to determine where to make changes. Here are some tips to ensure you get the data you need to make this audit successful.

1. Choose a “normal” work week. Don’t conduct an audit when you’re on vacation, during the holidays, during your biggest client’s launch week, or when you’re covering for a team member who’s out. There will be times when you need to adjust your priorities for a short period of time to accommodate “LIFE STUFF.” However, the focus of the audit is determining how you can best do your job on a day-to-day basis.

2. Set a reminder every day, multiple times a day. Setting a new habit is no easy feat. You’re likely to forget you’re doing a time audit on Monday morning. Set those reminders on your phone, in your calendar, on a sticky note stuck to your computer screen—wherever you need to! Reminders help keep you accountable and on track.

3. Take off the rose-colored glasses. Most of us, especially without an accountability partner, are prone to “padding” our schedules a bit. You might catch yourself thinking, “Sure, I looked through my Instagram feed for 15 minutes, but then I got right back to work so I’m not going to write it down.” Don’t do that—you’re only hurting yourself! Write down everything because, in the end, you might find that 15 minutes per day during your work day amounts to an hour and 15 minutes by the end of the week. Maybe you find that you need that 15-minute “brain break” to function at your best, or maybe you see that you’re procrastinating on another task that you hate doing. Either way, it’s all relevant information.

We’re launching an Interactive Operations Audit program designed to walk you through this entire process based on the principles in Jess’s book, Panic Proof. In this program, we’ll analyze your time tracking data and come up with a plan to help you determine what you’re uniquely qualified to do, and then delegate, automate, and relegate the rest. Want to get on the list to beta test this program? Sign up here!

Learn more about our Operations Audit program

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