One of the best things to do in order to really turn your productivity around is to perform a Time Audit on yourself. A lot of the time, we believe we’re being productive, but the reality of how we’re using our time is vastly different from our perception of it.
I had this perception that I was getting a lot of work done last year. In my mind I had this notion of going to the coffee shop and using it as my office all day, but when I went back and took a serious look at the time, I was there for 3 hours max every day. Sure, I got a lot of work done, but there was a whole lot of other bullshit activities I was doing that weren’t getting me closer to my goals.
How this works
To perform a time audit, you have to write down what you are doing during the day. The problem with this is that when just getting a pad of paper out and writing what you are doing before doing it, you tend to write what you should be doing.
Instead, we have to sort of randomize the process a bit and make the data a little more useful. The trick here is to set a timer for an hour and start it at some random time during the day. Let’s say for example you start your day and are ready to get to work around 9:00 am. Set the timer to start around 9:22 am. The reason for this is because people are more apt to change their directives on the turn of the hour, so it could skew results by setting your timer to go off at this time.
Now, just go about your work every day. Try and get in the habit of not looking at the clock expecting the alarm to go off. Doing this may result in you deciding to stop fucking around right before the alarm goes off which would also skew the results. Just try and forget the alarm exists.
When the alarm goes off, mark down what exactly you are doing at that moment. After you write down what you were doing, reset the alarm, and return to work.
This process should take as little of your mental energy as possible. Don’t sit there thinking about what you should or shouldn’t be doing, just write down what you got, reset, and return. Don’t make this into a huge distraction. It should take around 5 seconds to do this.
As with any data set, the more data you have, the clearer the picture becomes. Make sure to gather as much data as possible in this experiment to get a true picture of what you spend your time doing.
It’s your choice how long you collect data before you analyze results, but I like to get a week’s worth of data before making any conclusions for myself. Vary the days you do this on as what you do on a Saturday could be vastly different than what you are doing on a Monday.
Once you have collected enough data for yourself it’s time to sit down and look over your results. The way I like to break down my behavior is into 3 categories:
- Real Work: This is the stuff I need to do in order to achieve my goals. (Writing, Editing, Lifting)
- Busy Work: This is the stuff I need to do, but isn’t a pressing matter. I use this stuff usually to convince myself that I am getting work done instead of doing Real Work. (Design, E-Mail, Forums, Twitter)
- Everything Else: This is what I’m doing when I get bored of doing work. (Youtube, Facebook, reddit, watching Predator, drinking, etc.)
Ideally you want to be using a significant portion of your day doing Real Work. Back when I was working a 9-5, I was working hard on Real Work for most of that period. The reason for this was that we had to have a certain level of productivity each day. I had to have 26 weighted cases a day and it usually took 8 hours to perform this. When working at home with our own business, we need to hold ourselves to the same standard.
If you are finding that you are mostly doing Busy Work and Everything Else, you have to come up with a game plan to change it. There’s a couple different strategies to go forth:
- Perform your hardest, most important, and scariest work for the day first. Doing this first allows you to get it out of the way and builds momentum. After getting your most important work for the day done first you’ll feel much better and have a feeling of accomplishment for the day. Use this feeling to keep doing Real Work.
- Limit distractions. If you are finding yourself doing Everything else a lot of the time, limit your exposure to those activities as much as you can. This is easier said than done when a distraction is as easy as opening another tab. There’s software available to limit your access to sites, or you could just be a true savage and refuse to entertain the idea. Either way, your ability to refrain from Everything Else will be helped by not being exposed to it in any way.
- Think of abstaining from Everything Else as a challenge. As I mentioned in my 2015 post, I have decided to abstain from alcohol consumption for the year. I’m treating it as a challenge and for some reason that holds more weight in my mind than just something I’m doing for health.
Understand that the time audit only works with people who are honest with themselves. If you aren’t honest, this exercise will be a huge waste of time. However if you are able to honestly assess your time like this, it’s a huge game changer in terms of productivity. If you actually see a true breakdown of your time it may be just the thing you need to kick start your focus.
All that’s needed now after you have done this exercise is to go out and apply the data to your week. If you found that you were doing relatively little Real Work, make an effort to change. Try to shoot for around a third of your day doing Real Work. Then, once you reach that milestone, shoot for longer.
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