What would you do with more time? Would you plan a long-awaited trip to Greece? Write a book? Be more present on your days off? Whatever your dreams and ambitions, attaining them starts with this essential step: Managing your time better. And, one of the best, most effective ways to start is with a time audit.
Here’s what you’ll find in this blog post:
- What a time audit is and how it can help you take control of your time
- A step-by-step guide for conducting your own time audit (no fancy tools necessary)
- Plus, a free time audit template to jumpstart your journey
Ready to cut procrastination and boost productivity? Let’s dive in.
What is a time audit?
A time audit is an examination of how you’re spending your time, so that you can make more intentional choices with the minutes and hours in your days. It involves documenting yourself for a period of time (ideally a week), logging your activities, and the amount of time you spend on each. After your time audit, you’ll have a clear snapshot of where you’re directing your time, energy, and effort. Are your current habits contributing to your goals? If not, let’s change that!
If you already keep timesheets for work, those are a great place to start — but only if they’re comprehensive. For example, if you’re a freelancer who only records billable hours, you’ll want to run a time audit to see where your non-billable hours are going.
Why is doing a time audit important for time management?
The purpose of a time audit is to take an honest look at your current time management habits. No guesstimates — just hard facts. In our busy modern lives, it’s so easy to get swept away in our day-to-day routines without stopping to ask how our daily actions are contributing to our values and larger goals.
Time is a non-renewable resource, and it’s so important to check in with how we’re managing it. A time audit is one of the best ways to do that, because it’s based on numbers (it’s objective) and it’s super easy.
Depending on what you discover through the time audit process, you might find yourself wanting to do a complete overhaul on your daily schedule. It’s more likely, however, that you’ll uncover a few minor areas of improvement. With just a few tweaks, you can bring your schedule back in alignment with your goals and more importantly, feel good about how you’re spending your time.
How to do a time audit in five easy steps
Running your own time audit is a straightforward process. But before we get into it, pull out your calendar. Find an upcoming week that looks like any other week — in other words, no out-of-office team members, holidays, or annual conferences. The goal is to identify a week with nothing out of the ordinary, which is the perfect time to conduct your time audit.
And, just in case you’re wondering, a single day won’t be long enough for a comprehensive look at how you’re spending your time, so be sure to dedicate an entire week to the process. To fast-track the process, we also have a great article on how to do a lightweight calendar audit.
Step One: Decide on a time tracking method.
Now that you’ve picked a week, pick a time tracking tool. There are a few ways to go about your time audit — the best method for you is one that you’ll actually use! You can track your time using a pen and paper (check out our downloadable template below). Or, you can opt for something more high-tech, like time tracking software.
If you prefer the latter, Harvest and Toggl Track are two popular time tracking apps that are definitely worth looking into. All you need to do is enter names for your activities, then click the timer to start logging your time. Using an app like Harvest and Toggl Track takes the manual work out of doing a time audit, helping you to capture every single minute of your workday. Not to mention both apps possess a freemium pricing model — always a plus in our books!
Got your tool of choice? Let’s move on to a very important step.
Step Two: Visualize your ideal day.
A time audit can’t help you unless you know what you’re aspiring for, which is why this step is key. Take inventory of your goals and core values, then ask yourself, “What would my ideal day look like, in alignment with those goals and values?” What would you do, what would you prioritize, how would you feel?
Spend a few minutes, and write it all down. Whatever you come up with will help to guide what you do with the actual results of your time audit (aka how you’ll take action!), so don’t skip this step.
Step Three: Record yourself for a week.
Now it’s time for the actual time audit. Log all of your activities, from small tasks like checking your email to bigger tasks like prepping for a presentation. Don’t forget to audit your meetings as well. There’s no rule that you can only log work-related activities, either. You might also include walking the dog, scrolling on social media, watering your plants, and other personal activities. That might be especially useful if you work from home, since your personal life and professional life may often blend together. By the end of your time audit, you should have a week’s worth of personal data to tell you where your time is going.
Step Four: Analyze your results.
Ready to dive into the data? With your time audit in front of you, go through and review all of your activities. List them out on a separate piece of paper, along with the total amount of time you spent on each.
Then, label your high-priority activities. These can include important tasks that help you gain ground on your business goals and non-negotiables like going grocery shopping, picking the kids up from school, your daily stand-up meeting, etc. High-priority activities are also the things that align with your values. For example, if family is important to you, then your weekly trip to the farmer’s market might count as a high-priority activity. It might not be “productive” in the traditional sense, but it’s meaningful to you.
Next, pinpoint the time wasters in your day. Same point as above: Your core values can help you identify what you want to spend less time on. If scrolling through social media doesn’t add any positive value to your life, then limit your time spent on social platforms — or delete the apps altogether.
This step is all about assigning priority to your tasks, so you can see if you’re spending a lot of time on low-priority tasks, and vice-versa. The Eisenhower Matrix can also be incredibly useful here. Simply create a box with four quadrants, then categorize your to-dos as such:
The Eisenhower Matrix is just one way to identify your high-priority activities, time wasters, and everything in between. For a more in-depth look at how to prioritize your work, check out our blog post here.
Step Five: Make an action plan.
Now that you have all of this valuable insight, it’s time for the fun part: Creating a game plan. This step is a matter of brushing off your time management skills (like delegation and planning) and tweaking your time allocation for all of your activities.
Think about which tasks you can move off your plate, either by automating them, or by delegating to another team member. Then, think of ways you can then re-allocate that time to your high-priority activities. Instead of saying, “I’ll dedicate more time to my health,” schedule a specific time and place you’ll work out. As the saying goes, if it’s not on your calendar, it’s not real.
Consider time management methods like time blocking, or teaming up with an accountability partner, to keep you on track with your new goals. Out of all the time management pillars that exist today, prioritizing focus is our personal favorite — that’s why we built a tool that finds and blocks off long stretches of uninterrupted Focus Time in your schedule. Pro tip: Click here to check out our vast collection of articles and brush up on your time management skills today. You can even learn how to conduct a meeting audit and spend less time in meetings.
Time audit template
Click here to download our free time audit template.
Come back to this time audit exercise every week, every quarter, or whenever you enter a new season in your life. The beauty of being human is that we’re allowed to establish new goals for ourselves and flow with big life changes, like a new job or the birth of a child! Improving your time management with an audit isn’t a one-and-done process. Revisit and repeat, in order to help you stay intentional with how you’re spending your time.
Most important of all, fight the impulse to take on more busy work once you’ve made available space on your calendar. Keep in mind that the purpose of a time audit is to free up more time for the things that are important to you. Hobbies, quality time with your loved ones, inner peace — whatever fills you up!