There are never enough hours in each day. Add to this the burgeoning world of emails on the move, smartphones, twitter and simply being able to answer your phone anywhere, at any time, and your already limited time becomes full of distractions. To work efficiently, you need to be able to manage your time effectively, which is more difficult than it sounds. A time audit can help you determine what you are doing each day, and when you are doing it.
Keeping a log
One form of time audit is to keep a log of what you spend time on each day. While this works to a certain extent, however, it can also become a record of what you would like to be doing rather than what you are actually doing. For a time audit to be successful, it needs to document your actual work history.
Working in real time
Before you can manage your time, you need to understand how you are using your time. Follow these simple steps to develop a time-use chart, which can be used to develop a summary of events, and finally a plan to better manage your time.
Set a timer to go off at a specific interval.This can be 15, 30 or 60 minutes. Do not set the timer on the hour, as this is generally when you are switching contexts, such as starting a meeting or going to lunch.
2. Keep track
Each time the alarm goes off, write down what you are doing at that exact moment and then go back to work.
3. Time audit
Once you have all the data from your time audit, go through it and analyse it. Develop a summary of activities that categorise what you were doing at each interruption point and how important the task was. You can group these according to three levels:
- Very important. The type of task that you should be doing all the time.
- Not particularly important. Something that may need to be done, but doesn’t add significant value and should be minimised as much as possible.
- Worthless. Activities that you shouldn’t be doing at all.
If 75% of your time audit shows you working on very important tasks, you are doing extremely well. Many people will find that they are spending a lot of time on unimportant tasks. This is at least partly because work days aren’t designed around being productive.
Using your audit
Once your time audit shows how you are spending your time, you need to ask yourself important questions:
- Can you modify the order of tasks or your schedule to make better use of your time?
- Are there distractions you can avoid?
- Can you stop low-value activities?
- Can you shift to more high-value activities?
If you are a manager, you might be thinking, “I should have my staff do this.” Maybe, but keep in mind the time audit is only useful if people are honest. You will probably get better results if you have them do a time audit and then discuss ways you can be more efficient as a team instead of trying to get each person to share their individual results.