I was in an intersting discussion the other day about time auditing since I've written a good bit about this topic (see "Related items" at the end of this post). The gist of the discussion was, "Time auditing seems like a lot of work and I end up thinking a lot about minutiae - why should I do it?" I can see why folks might feel that way. After all, time audits require an investment from you - of time, attention, and effort.
I'm a certified IT auditor, and I tried to explain the value using analogies from business audits.I'm not sure I entirely succeeded, but wanted to share some of my thinking here to get your thoughts on the concepts. They're very rough, but may be useful.
Don't audit everything equally
- In a business audit, not every control or process is equally important. You tend to start with a top-down, risk based audit to identify your most important processes and most significant risks. You then spend your audit efforts on things that have the most risk / potential to screw up the important results.
- In time audits, not all your activities are equally important. Try to think about the important activities (those most closely tied to your success), or your most risky activities (those activities most likely to chew up too much time on the clock, those most likely to sabotage your results, etc). Then, you can audit / scrutinize those areas most since they'll be where you get ROI from the time spent on your audits.
Keep records of the evidence you've gathered
- In business audits, you keep "work papers" to record what you've observed, what people have told you, what metrics are in place, what controls are in place, reports to substantiate control effectiveness, etc. These are crucial so your findings are fact-based, specific, and accurate.
- In time audits, you should keep "evidence" of what you've done and try to make the details accurate enough so your findings are based on data and not your fuzzy memory. This is also where some of the best a-ha's come from, like "Oh - if I leave at 6:55 instead of 7:15 in the morning, that cuts 40 minutes off my morning commute..."
Write up your findings
- In business audits, audit reports are your means of communicating what you've seen, what's effective, and where the organization is deficient in its controls or practices. This forms the backbone of how you communicate the issues to others and formulate an action plan. You can also review the findings from previous audits to find out if any of the old problems have improved or worsened.
- In time audits, you need not be so formal, but I have found it helpful to write up a "report" at the end of your time audit with key themes, problems, and good things you've learned from analyzing your evidence. You can keep these as a record of your progres for comparison in future time audits.
Create a follow-up plan
- In a business audit, you work with management to come up with a plan to address deficiencies, and track to that plan. This process ensures that management takes responsibility for the controls and their effectiveness and helps set explanations for the timely resolution of significant issues.
- In a time audit, you can do something similar by identifying your most significant issues and creating a written plan (with targets) to improve them. This gives you something you can track against to help drive improvements. Part of the plan should be to review your progress against the plan at some point in the future.
These are just a few ideas to help apply some of the principles of business auditing to your time audits. What do you think? Does this thinking hold up for you? Why or why not? And what other principles do you propose for more effective time audits?
- Go audit yourself (8/4/2007)
- Keeping a running tab of what you've done (5/6/2007)
- Audit time! (2/28/2006)
- Fresh Gear: Where does all the time go? (7/29/2006)
- Dusting off a classic procrastinator's toolkit (4/4/2005)