When you hit the end of the working day, do you ever wonder where your time has gone? Perhaps you manage to complete a few tasks, but cumulatively, they don’t seem to justify an eight-hour workday.
It’s a common problem that we’re all facing. On top of dealing with constant and shifting priorities, we’re also coping with the fact that modern technology has supposedly shortened our attention span.
But don’t worry – while you may have heard that the average attention span is just 8 seconds long, this is a myth that was debunked several years ago. The good news is that you don’t need to fret about your brain aging or your attention span worsening. What you actually need is a time audit.
What is a Time Audit?
Exactly as the name suggests, a time audit involves analyzing your time expenditure to work out where your valuable working hours are going. This is a process that you’ll want to follow over several days so that you can get a full picture of how you spend your workdays. Once you’ve gained a good idea of where you’re spending your time, you’ll be able to increase your productivity by combining tasks, redirecting your efforts toward more important work, and generally becoming more proficient at time management.
Below, we’re going to cover how to do a time audit in a few simple steps. This activity is ideally carried out over a period of at least a week. People tend to complete different tasks on different days, with recurring meetings that might happen once weekly. So, a week should give you more than enough time to complete your time audit and start seeing productivity boosts.
How to Do a Time Audit
Don’t be tempted to put off your time audit. It won’t affect your usual productivity and output, but setting aside a few minutes to follow the steps below will very likely end up saving you time.
1. Monitoring and tracking your day-to-day tasks
The most important task involved in a time audit is an analysis of your current time expenditure. There’s no set way to achieve this, and you can monitor and record your day-to-day tasks in any way you choose, whether that’s writing them down on a Post-it or logging everything in a task-tracking app.
You also don’t need to go into too much detail here; the most important outcome here is to understand where each minute and hour of your day is going. So, by the end of this step, you might have a list that looks a little something like this:
- Replying to emails – 1 hour
- Team (internal) meetings – 1.5 hours
- Client meetings – 1 hour
- Commuting/travel – 45 minutes
- Project close report – 45 minutes
- Backlog refinement – 1 hour
- Breaks – 1 hour
For simplicity, you can group tasks together; for example, if you’re checking your inbox and replying to emails multiple times in a day, you can group these together for now.
2. Reminding yourself to track everything
You’d be surprised how hard it can be to make a habit of tracking everything you do during the workday. We all get busy and caught up in tasks at work, and remembering to write down a short, simple sentence might escape you.
That’s why we recommend figuring out a reliable way to remind yourself after each task. Since new software can take time to get to grips with, this solution can be as simple as a repeating alarm on your phone that rings every couple of hours. This will remind you to think about what you’ve been doing and write it down in your list.
Again, we recommend using your alarm for around a week so that you get a full idea of the varied tasks that you complete on each given day. Of course, if you’re working on a long project or report that’ll take several days to complete, you might not want to record every consecutive day, or you might want to consider doing a time audit on another day when things are a little more BAU (business as usual).
Above all, don’t frustrate yourself with this activity. The outcome is going to be worth the time investment, so you don’t want to frustrate yourself with constant alarms if it’s going to distract you from work or annoy you. Figure out something that works for you and run with it.
3. Reviewing your data to track time expenditure
Now that you have a full picture of where your workday is going, the next step is to figure out where your biggest time sinks are; these are the areas where you’re going to be able to get some productivity quick wins.
Let’s say that your first task of the day over coffee is to review your email inbox. Let’s also imagine that you’re reviewing and responding to customer or colleague emails again before lunch, when returning to your computer, and again in the afternoon. Cumulatively, that’s a large time sink that cuts into your workday multiple times throughout the day. It prevents you from engaging with larger, potentially more important tasks without being interrupted.
At this point, you’ll also want to assign some weight to each of your tasks. That is, decide how important each task is. Tag each activity as Critical, Important, Not Time Sensitive, and Unimportant (the labels you use are up to you). Critical activities might include responding to stakeholders on a major project, while unimportant tasks may be chatting to your colleagues about the weekend or jazzing up a PowerPoint presentation with themes.
By now, you should be generating a pretty good idea of the biggest time sinks and the most and least important tasks that are currently filling your day. You’re finally ready to start planning your time properly and seeing your productivity improve.
4. Improving your planning and prioritization
Now that you know where your time is going come up with a new plan that maximizes your available working time and combines similar tasks together. At the same time, you can cut out any activities that are an unnecessary drain on your productivity.
Start by thinking about the ideal way to structure your day. So, if you’re a Product Owner, most of your time is going to be taken up by managing a backlog, creating user personas and stories, preparing for sprint and product increment planning sessions, and so on. If you’re an IT Support Analyst, you might spend most of your day reviewing user tickets and attending to bug reports.
Really drill down into those small tasks that may appear harmless but could be destroying your productivity. For example, responding to non-work related Teams messages as soon as they pop up, replying to emails as soon as they land, or tabbing to a news website every half hour or so.
Now that you know where your efforts should be focused, you can use time blocking to plan ahead for your day and ensure that you stay on-task at all times.
5. Using Time Blocking to Plan Your Day
Time blocking involves quite literally blocking out portions of your day for specific tasks. It’s a powerful technique that harnesses software you’re already using: your calendars.
Using the data and notes on prioritization that you’ve already gathered, the idea is to plan ahead for your day – and the rest of the week or weeks ahead – by scheduling blocks of time in your calendar that will tell you what you need to focus on.
There are many benefits to using time blocking:
- You can group similar tasks together, which will help to kill any downtime resulting from constantly changing focus
- Your calendar will be accounted for, stopping your colleagues from filling it with potentially unnecessary meetings – simply ask for a summarized email instead.
- You can plan larger, more involved tasks during your natural productivity windows – the times of day when you’re most productive.
Remember, time audits are not meant to add more work to your pile. If anything, they can reduce the number of unnecessary tasks that litter your day and slow you down. It’s a means to finding these distractions and cutting them out while streamlining your other critical tasks.
Time Blocking with Akiflow
Once you carry out your own time audit and give time blocking a try, we’re sure you’ll be a convert. And if you’re looking for other ways to boost your productivity up a notch, why not integrate your productivity and work apps into a single platform?
With Akiflow, you could save up to 2 hours each day by integrating apps like Outlook, Google Calendar, and Slack, plus a library of 2,000+ other work apps. You’ll be able to do things like manage all your emails from a single inbox, create actionable tasks with drag-and-drop functionality directly from your email, and manage everything from a single toolbar.
Get started today if you’ve seen the benefits of a time audit and want to start taking back control of your time expenditure.