If you don’t know how you spend your time, you can’t know if you’re spending it well or poorly.
Time is our most precious resource. Audit how you spend yours and you’ll know where it goes.
Once you know where your time goes you’re in a position to manage your time, as we discuss on our time management course.
From there the action plan is simple:
1. No value activities: STOP
2. Low-value activities: DELEGATE / REDUCE / AUTOMATE
3. High-value activities: INCREASE
Life changes and priorities change so this isn’t a once and done process.
We would recommend doing and reviewing your time data regularly until you get a good grip on your time. Once you feel that you have yours under control move to a quarterly cycle.
Although the process sounds labour intensive it’s really not once you get used to it.
I’ll explain below in the notes, but the process of auditing your time is likely to actually improve your management of it substantially, even before you get the results.
This is a three-step process:
1. Gathering The Data
Choose what you think is a relatively typical week to audit.
Get a new pad of paper and a pen and after you finish each task write down what it was, when you started and when you finished.
For tasks that fall into an obvious category, for example replying to email, you don’t need to note each email, just the time that you spend working on that activity (replying to emails).
If one or a number of your emails are particularly time-consuming you should note them separately as that time doesn’t really fall into the category of ’email’.
That’s it. Keep doing this for a week and you have your data.
Some people try to do this using an app or spreadsheet, as opposed to pen and paper, but generally, forget to keep notes as the spreadsheet is minimised. Having the pen and paper (which should be separate from your normal notepad, if you use one) on your desk reminds you each time you look away from your screen.
2. Analysing The Data
This is simple.
Create a spreadsheet with your tasks down the left and the days of your audit across the top.
Insert your data, sum it by category, transform the totals into percentages and you’re done. See below an example for a fictional junior salesperson.
3. Reviewing The Data
Remember to live in the real work when reviewing your data. Spending anything above 75% on your high-value tasks is doing extremely well.
Admin is part of life.
Our salesperson is spending 44% of their time on their core selling tasks, which is poor.
The issue is that they are spending 12% of their time on tasks that add no value and 44% on low-value tasks.
The 12% on ‘No Value’ tasks isn’t great but not too bad. Realistically getting this below 10% is very good.
The big issue is the amount of time spent on low-value tasks. It is as much time as the time spent on high-value tasks.
Living in the real world getting this below 20% is exceptionally good, and below 25% is still very good. 44%, however, tells them that they need to look at this carefully to see how they can streamline tasks.
– What happened on Thursday when 75% of their day was consumed by these activities? Did they need to spend almost 50% of the day working on emails?
– Is there some way to minimise the time spent on ‘Other Admin’?
– Was there a way for them to have left the budget meeting sooner? For further tips on ensuring that the meetings that you attend run promptly and effectively see this article on improving meetings.
Obviously, the possible solutions are endless but until you see how you spend your time clearly in black and white you don’t know where you need to focus.
This is all in context. In this example, I’ve put the ‘Marketing Meeting’ in the no value category as it wasn’t a meeting that they needed to attend or could particularly contribute to.
Contrast that with the budget meeting which they did have to attend as part of their role in the sales team. They didn’t lead or contribute substantially as a junior member so it is an orange task.
The category a task goes into has to be looked at in the context of the individual’s role. The marketing meeting would be a high-value activity for members of the marketing team.
Similarly ‘Monthly Expenses’ and ‘Travel Planning‘ are in the no value category as this is something that the team has an assistant to deal with and book for them.
2. Why You’ll Be More Efficient During the Audit
If you’re honest when recording your time the time when you ‘lose focus’ is going to drastically diminish.
We’ve all needed to look something up on the web for work and thought oh I’ll just check Facebook while I’m here, to find ourselves looking at something completely different 15 minutes later.
The act of having to record your time will make you conscious of how you spend it. You’re not going to want to admit that the ‘checking supplier details on the web’ task that should have taken 5 minutes either:
– Actually took 25 minutes
– Took 5 minutes but then add another line saying “9.28 – 9.48 – Facebook”
Being forced to be mindful of how you spend your day will more than make up for the time that you spend recording how you spend your time.
You will also probably find that your energy levels rise as well. Knowing that you are focusing on and progressing your key targets is a great form of motivation.