Whenever you feel like your personal productivity is slipping, you should conduct a time audit. I do these myself about twice a year, or whenever I feel like my consistency has taken a hit.
Time audits are good to jolt you back into a productive mode if you’ve been feeling unmotivated, lazy, or unfocused. They take time to do, but they’re very effective. Sometimes they can be a little fun.
A time audit is when you track 100% of your time usage for 72 hours. They’re best when you begin in the morning. Starting on a Monday morning and ending when you go to sleep on Wednesday seems to work well, but it can be any contiguous three days you like, preferably not over a weekend.
For 72 hours, you record, in real time, exactly everything you do and when you do it. Use any medium you like; a piece of paper, smartphone, or computer. (I usually use paper.) You track everything down to the minute and write it as you do it. You don’t have to write down every task, but you do have to notate whenever the way you spend your time changes.
Here’s an example to give you an idea of how you would track a typical morning:
7:42am: Woke up
7:47am: Exercise bike
8:07am: Shower, dress
8:47am: Client project – Janson account
10:04: Phone call from girlfriend
10:12: Client project – Janson account
10:21: Break – went for walk
10:39: Screwed around – watched YouTube videos
11:02: Web site work
You get the idea. You write down any task you start doing, and as soon as you switch to a different task, you glance at the clock and write down the exact time and the new task. You do this for three days straight.
At the end of three days, go back through your tasks and assign basic categories to them. Examples could be client work, busy work, exercise, social time, eating time, screwing around, etc.
Using a calculator or spreadsheet, determine exactly how much time you spent in each category. If you want to get very fancy, you could come up with percentages, but that’s not required.
With this information, you will see very clearly where you are wasting time, areas you need to spend more time in, and areas you need to spend less time in. Sometimes the results will make you feel guilty, and that’s good. After doing this audit, you’ll suddenly be more productive over the next few days/weeks, because you’ll be acutely aware of where you waste time.
Obviously, a time audit only works if you are 100% honest with yourself. If you really spend two hours screwing around when you should be working, put that down. Don’t fudge the numbers. Also force yourself to put down exact times, to the minute, and to not guess.
Like I said, I do this semi-regularly myself, and it always really helps me. It will help you too.