Genuine Curiosity

Author Dwayne Melancon is always on the lookout for new things to learn. An ecclectic collection of postings on personal productivity, travel, good books, gadgets, leadership & management, and many other things.


Learn a 5-Step Weekly Review: You’ll love it.

I mentioned time auditing in my last post and in the past I've written about unplanned work's dastardly effects on productivity, and the power of time auditing (see "Related items" at the end of this post for links) . As I do from time to time, I have recently caught myself wondering, "Where does the time go?" The time is upon me again, so I'm starting another "time audit" using a traditional approach to time auditing described in Neil Fiore's classic "The Now Habit," (reviewed here).

If you're interested in time auditing, here are some thoughts that may help.

Time Auditing basics

Time auditing is a very simple thing to do, but it requires some discipline. Here are some tips:

  • Plan to stick with the time audit for at least a week. Two weeks is ideal.
  • Decide whether you want to track your time only at work, or all the time (i.e. work and personal). The "whole life" time audit is very powerful, but is a lot more work.
  • Decide how you will record your time - you can keep a written list, or record your activities electronically.

    • For best results, pick a method that allows you to record your activities all the time. The more complicated your method, the less likely you are to do it - so make it fast and simple.

      • I suggest paper for the "whole life" audit, since you can carry a small notebook around with you all the time and record your whole day's activities. Obviously, the paper approach is also good for "work only" audits.
      • You can record things on your computer, if that enables you to track everything you do.

        • If you spend all your time at your computer, you might try this free, web-based time tracking tool. Or, just keep a Word doc open and create a running list of activities in a document.

      • A PDA can work, if you find an easy way to track your time. I tried this method once and abandoned it - I found it to be difficult due to the time required to note times, write out.

  • Find a way to remind yourself to record your tasks, particularly in the beginning. I sometimes use the countdown timer on my watch by setting it to go off every 20 minutes to I can write down what I've been doing since the last time it beeped. After a couple of days, I don't really need the timer any more.
  • Be fairly detailed in recording your activities, particularly about recording when you change tasks - the amount of time you spend on a particular task will be important when you review the log, as will tracking how often you change from one activity to another. Track things like email, reading blogs and feeds, web surfing, making phone calls, daydreaming, goofing off, eating, going to the bathroom, getting coffee, etc.

For businesses, auditing is easy if they have merchant accounts set up to accept credit cards as a form of payment from their customers. Our credit card services keep a log of all your transactions and make auditing easier than ever!

Analyze your logs

  • At the end of a week, go through and tally up how much time you spent on specific categories of activities. When you review your logs, the categories will "suggest" themselves, but try to lump activities into as few buckets as possible. For example, you might have categories like:

    • AccountingbookProcrastinating / goofing off
    • Phone calls
    • Eating
    • Project work
    • Meetings
    • Commuting
    • etc.

  • Figure out which categories take up the largest percentage of your time, then do more detailed analysis of those categories. This is particularly useful for categories that are "time wasters" or unproductive for you.

Learn stuff

  • How does what you actually did compare to what you intended to do (or what you thought you did)?
  • What bad habits are wasting your time?
  • What interruptions are making you unproductive?
  • What habits are working well?
  • What changes can you make to get rid of your unproductive aspects, while increasing or nurturing your productive activities?
  • What negative-energy activities can you eliminate?
  • Are you spending enough time on important activities like:

    • important tasks & projects
    • managing up
    • managing down
    • time with your family
    • time with your boss
    • time learning and developing your skills
    • exercising

You may learn some very useful things during a personal time audit - I highly recommend it. By the way - if you have personal time audit tips of your own, please share them!

Related links: