Time Audit - Finding Lost Time

How many times have you said or heard:

“I just don’t have any time!”

I have said it many times in my life. In retrospect, the time has always been there, sitting right under my nose. Each day, most people waste more time than they realize.

The most effective way to understand your time utilization and efficiency is through time audits. Analyzing your time audit will help you fully understand where your time is going and how you can better manage it to give you more time for the most urgent work.

What is a Time Audit?

A time audit is a record of the activities you spent over some time to identify your attention. When you divide hours into 15-minute increments, you get enough granularity to analyze your productivity.

Time audits contain information that you cannot get from looking at a calendar. Calendars and to-do lists do not include interruptions such as phone calls, desk visitors, and emails. The time audit produces quantitative AND qualitative data you can use for your analysis that eliminates subjective biases.

The Time Audit Log

I provide a Time Audit Excel Template that will allow you to log your activities throughout the day. I designed the spreadsheet to adjust the start time when you wake up in the first cell. This simple configuration gives you flexibility if you have an earlier or later start time. When you wake up, the clock is ticking! You will even need to log your snooze time before you finally get out of bed. I recommend using 15-minute increments to record your time. Also, I recommend printing the spreadsheet to record your activities quickly. A computer can deceptively slow down your logging as you could get distracted with notifications or get tied up with the data entry process as Excel is not the best tool for entering this type of data.

Ideally, at each hour, spend less than a minute or two updating the sheet on the activities that you did in the previous hour. Additionally, perform your audits on days that are consistent in your daily patterns. Never audit your time during unexpected or unusual events that do not accurately reflect your typical day. That data will only be useful for that situation.

If you need help with the clock, use your cell phone to set up reminders every hour to ensure that you accurately record your activities promptly.

For the audit to work effectively, you must honestly and accurately assess your time. Anything short of that, the audit process will not work.

Analyzing Your Time Audit Log

First, review your short-term goals. You need to be aware of what are the most urgent tasks that need your focus. One of the main goals of this audit log verifying you are working on the goals that advance your goals.

As you go through your audit log, rank your short-term, goal-related tasks as 1.

Next, identify the tasks that are the goal-related but not high impact that you should schedule a time to complete and rank them as 2.

Now, go through the list and identify the tasks that you can outsource or delegate to others to fulfill and classify them as 3.

Classify the activities you could put off the future as 4.

Finally, identify the distractors. Review your list and mark the activities that distracted your workflow with an asterisk. These distractors usually include phone calls, instant messages, walkups, etc. For this part, it is necessary to distinguish activities that are distractors that support your short-term goals and distractors that take away from your short term goals. Negotiate with the distractors that take away from your time and schedule their completion in the future. It is OK to say no!

How to Optimize Your Activities

Your time audit should give you a clear picture of where your time is going. There are several strategies you can use to make better use of your time.

Rearranging Your Activities

It may be optimal for you to move your most important activities to earlier in the day to ensure you complete them first. The strategy works well in environments where people work in staggered start times. If you work with someone who is constantly distracting you, get your important work done before people arrive in the office.

Another strategy you can employ takes into consideration your circadian rhythm. Use your rhythm for optimal energy. For example, if your day starts at 8 AM and your best work begins at 10 AM, schedule your time for 10 AM for significant activities. I recommend blocking off time in your calendar during your most productive time to ensure that people do not set up meetings during YOUR best time of the day. On a side note, altering your circadian rhythm is difficult; therefore, honor it by working with it, not against it.

Categorizing activities

When you arrange activities, try to work on related tasks together. Changing from one task to an unrelated task is an expensive process the brain makes is called cognitive shifting. We can minimize that cost by working on related work together to reduce the context switch.

Additionally, a complete context switch can take anywhere from a few minutes to an hour, depending on the complexity. Dr. Susan Weinschenk has a great article at Psychology Today that looks at the cost of multitasking.

Delegating and Outsourcing

There are 480 minutes in the working day. Did you find there some activities that you could have offloaded to other people? If you factor in your cost of completing a task with someone else doing the work, someone else could finish the job for less. For example, mowing your yard by yourself takes 2 hours, and your time is worth 50$ an hour. The total cost of mowing the yard yourself is $100. If a lawn service can mow the yard for $50 and complete it in 30 minutes, it is advantageous to outsource the task to the service provider. The situation is a win-win for both parties: you have 2 hours of your day to other activities. The provider generates revenue instead of having idle workers draining their profits.

What Can You Skip?

When you look at the activities that were low impact their goals, did you genuinely have to complete them when you did? By doing those tasks, are you better off now because of them?

I often ask myself:

Do I need to do this now?

The answer to that fundamental question can save you countless minutes or hours.


Time audits are a great tool to help you discover where you are losing time.

Thank you for reading, and I would love to hear your success stories on how you gained more time in your day! Post your experience in the comments below!

Time Audit Excel template

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