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Uncover the Truth About Where Your Time Goes
Can you identify how you really spent the last three hours of your day? What you did yesterday? Whether you're accomplishing the tasks you set out to do this week? If not, here's how to gain more clarity.
More and more often these days I find myself expressing surprise at the fact that the year is as far along as it is. Where does the time go?!
While that question is, in some ways, a rhetorical one, it's also one that got me thinking. Where does my time go each week? At the end of the week, when I've checked countless things off my To Do list (or, sometimes, truth be told, shunted them off on the following week's list), have I really accomplished the tasks I hoped to get to? Have I spent my time well? Did one particular area of my life or my business get more focus than it deserved, leaving other areas out in the cold?
If, like me, you're curious about how you're really spending your time each week, consider doing a time audit. It's not as painful as it sounds, and it can be an eye-opening way of finding more time for what really matters. Here's how to go about it.
Choose a tracking method
Google "time audit" and you're likely to come across a wide array of charts, lists, and other ways to track your time. Some of these are fairly complex, with formulas for tracking what your time is worth (based on what you're earning each day, for example), while others are fairly basic. I've created a time audit chart that's free for download at http://organizedlife.org/uploads/Time_Audit_Chart.pdf. It's divided into seven days, and each day is split into 30-minute chunks.
You can, of course, create your own chart, use a spreadsheet, or use whatever calendar system you currently use, whether paper or digital. Just be sure the method you choose has space enough to detail what you're doing in small (say, half-hour) increments.
Check in regularly
One of the purposes of a time audit is to get you thinking more specifically about how you're spending your time. Rather than saying "9 a.m.-12 p.m.: Work," for example, aim to detail what you're doing during that time. This is easier to do when you pause regularly to record what you've been doing, rather than trying to look back at the end of a multi-hour stretch and remember what you've done.
When possible, record your tasks on your tracking form in 30-minute increments--"9-9.30: responded to client e-mail," for example. If you know you'll be spending a longer amount of time doing one particular task--an hour in a meeting, for example, or a three-hour stretch with a client--you don't need to detail every half-hour. Challenge yourself to get specific, though, when you're faced with a less structured chunk of time.
Cluster your tasks
Breaking chunks of time into 30-minute increments is one thing, but it's not realistic or efficient to try to track your tasks on a minute-by-minute basis. If you spend five minutes returning a phone call to a friend, then ten minutes composing an e-mail to a client, then 15 minutes doing some research online, it's difficult to accurately track what you're doing with your time.
This is a great argument for clustering similar tasks together: your time is easier to track--and you're likely to get things done more efficiently--if you spend 30 minutes on the same types of tasks (preparing menus for the week and a grocery list, for example) than if you swing from one kind of activity to another. It can be much easier to knock out a bunch of related tasks if you do them back-to-back than it is if you try to jump around among them.
Remember that the purpose of your time audit is to give you a realistic view of how you're spending your time over the course of a week. As such, you'll do yourself a disservice if you fudge any of the information in your audit. If you spend an hour reading The Onion online, record that in your audit; don't revise history, record only 30 minutes of Onion time, or write "Internet research" on your chart.
Inspired to undertake a time audit? You can get started at any time. Simply choose a tracking tool and commit to using it for a week. Once you have a clear sense of how you're really spending each day, you'll be in a better position to make changes that will allow you to root out time wasters and increase efficiency.
Learn more about the author, Emily Wilska.
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- time management
- time audit