It’s your only completely non-renewable resource. You can get more energy by resting. And you can always earn more money. But once time is gone… that’s it.
If you’re serious about using your time well, it’s important to start by analyzing how you’re currently using your time. In this article, I’ll lay out a simple time audit exercise to do just that.
(For maximum impact, considering pairing this exercise with the Quick and Dirty System for Goal Setting.)
Step 1) Make A List of EVERYTHING You Do In An Average Week
The first step is to make a completely comprehensive list of everything you do in an average week.
- Answering Emails
- Planning Your Day
- Working On Projects
- Playing Piano
- Watching TV
- Hanging Out With Your Friends
- Paying Bills
- Doing Errands
- Hiding From The Paparazzi
- Playing Video Games
- Reconciling Receipts
- Doing Laundry
- Washing Dishes
- Managing Social Media
- Walking Your Dog
- Tripping on Acid
Step 2) Determine How Long You Spend In A Given Week On Each Item
You can use quarter hour increments. Guesstimating will be fine for our purposes.
NOTE: If you’re bad at guesstimating, consider tracking a week of activity in real time. Keep a diary of how long you’re spending on various activities over the course of a week. You can look up a fancy tracking app for your smartphone, or simply record by hand. Humans are consistently poor at self-reported data, so for some people this version will prove vastly more accurate.
Step 3) Review Your Data, Analyze Your Choices, and Feel Your Feelings
Take a moment and look over your list. Does it seem that you’re prioritizing your time well? Is the amount of time spent on each task reflective of consciously chosen goals and your personal values?
If so, fantastic. High five yourself. Carry on with your awesome life.
Step 4) Make More “Room On Your Plate”
Before you can spend more time doing the vital things that meaningfully contribute to your life goals, we must honest about what tasks receive a “poor return” on time invested. These are tasks that are either unnecessary to begin with, or tasks that don’t need to be done by you personally.
When we identify these items, we have four choices:
- Eliminate it
- Automate it
- Delegate it
- Reducibate* it by
- Doing it less
- Doing it more efficiently
*I know, I know… but it rhymes this way.
In order to decide what items to address, let’s place the various items into two buckets, professional tasks and personal tasks.
BUCKET 1) – Professional Tasks
Consider all the activities that are work-related. Now ask yourself; “If I could only do ONE THING to make the maximum positive impact on my professional pursuits, what would that be?”
Now look back at your time audit to see how much time you’ve spent on the MOST IMPORTANT thing you can do to move the ball forward.
Now take a shot of whiskey and let out a single child-like sob.
Now let me hug you.
(“There, there… shh… it’s going to be alright… shh…” *Mark holds you firmly but kindly*)
Now go back to your list and look at your professional tasks. Consider what items you can eliminate, automate, delegate, or reducibate.
If you run your own business, this is totally in your power to fix. Your mission is to figure out how to do less of the not-as-important-stuff so you can spend more time on the MOST IMPORTANT task (or tasks).
But guess what? If you work for someone else and you’re spending a lot of time on low-value activity, this is still something you can address. After all, no boss wants their team members focusing on unimportant items with minimal impact on results. No matter what you do, by definition, the MOST IMPORTANT thing you could be doing is… the MOST IMPORTANT thing you could be doing.
You may not be able to make a unilateral decision and hire an assistant. But at the least you can have conversation with your boss to make sure you’re on the same page about priorities. From there, you can work together to make this situation better.
BUCKET 2) – Personal Tasks
I’m a huge fan of what Ramit Sethi calls “buying back your time.”
Time is NOT money. That’s just a crazy thing people say. Time is time. It’s way more valuable. Unfortunately, many people have a real resistance towards other people doing “personal” errands for them.
After all… “Who do you think you are??”
“Are you too good to mop your own kitchen floor??”
“Oooooh, you’re soooo important you can’t even make a post office run to return that flowery suit jacket that didn’t quite fit???”
Alas. Not a great attitude.
Remember, the only way to “make more time” is to eliminate, automate, delegate, or reducibate. Examples of personal tasks that can easily be automated or delegated include grocery shopping, cooking, cleaning, laundry, and errands.
The MOST IMPORTANT thing you can do with your personal time generally falls under “renewal” activities
- Time with loved ones
- Visioning activities
- Service activities
- Spending time in nature
- Going to Burning Man
You can’t outsource going to Burning Man. Nor can you outsource calling your mom or playing with your kids.
Now perhaps you genuinely find cleaning your toilet bowl to be psycho-spiritually renewing. If so, by all means, scrub away. But odds are, you may have activities you want to prioritize more highly.
Mom > Toilet
Step 5) Take ACTION
Only you can decide how much time to spend on the various activities that make up your day. Even with “important” activities, the poison is in the dose. After all, sleeping 7- 8 hours a night is probably a great time investment. Sleeping 10 hours a night with an additional hour long nap may be a bit overkill.
You’ll have to base your choices on your goals, your values, and your current available resources. But the point of this exercise is making this a conscious choice.
Furthermore, you don’t have to worry about being perfect, as there’s no such thing. Our goal here isn’t perfection, it’s better.
Ultimately, auditing your time isn’t really different than auditing where you’re spending your money.
It’s very different.
Because it’s time.
And time is closer to “life” than “money.”