Time is one of the most, if not the most, important aspects of your life.
But far too many of us spend our time the wrong way.
A quote from the stoic philosopher Seneca comes to mind:
People are frugal in guarding their personal property; but as soon as it comes to squandering time they are most wasteful of the one thing in which it is right to be stingy.
Unlike money, which can be squandered and regained, time is a precious resource we can never get back.
The way you spend your time dictates the quality of your life.
You can use a “time audit” to build a better relationship with time, skyrocket your productivity, and focus on what matters—while letting go of everything else that doesn’t.
What is a time audit?
A time audit is a process that gives you a bird’s eye view of where you spend your time each day. After you use this process, you’ll discover that there are a bunch of tasks you can either:
Stop doing altogether
When people say they’re too busy to work on goals that are important to them, it means they don’t fully understand how they’re using their time.
Once you go through this process and see a clear picture of how you spend your time, you’ll get the momentum you need to level up both your personal and professional life.
Here are just a few examples of benefits you can reap from a time audit:
Extra hours each day/week to work on your side hustle.
Free time to start or maintain your exercise routine.
Time for activities that improve your life—like reading, watching educational content, or taking online programs to develop profitable skills.
Room in your life for meaningful and fun activities; the point isn’t to become a workaholic but to remove what doesn’t provide real value.
Mental clarity—you’ll no longer be bogged down by the idea that you’re busy or burned out.
Lower stress levels by decreasing the number of items on your plate.
Get the full picture of how you spend your time so you can reclaim more of it for habits, hobbies, and goals that matter.
How to do a time audit
For your time audit, you’re going to create a set period where you’re tracking everything you do.
You want to set some metrics like:
How long will you spend doing your time audit?
What increments are you going to measure each day?
How are you going to label each specific task?
Run your time audit for two weeks.
Measure your days in 15-minute increments.
Use the Eisenhower matrix to label your activities (more on that later).
For now, focus on getting the information down on paper or in a spreadsheet so you can analyze it later.
You’re going to want to track everything:
Time spent answering emails
Watching TV or streaming
Individual tasks at work
Going to the bathroom
Hanging out with friends
Individual tasks for your side hustle or business
Watching educational content
Exercise/going to the gym
When I say everything, I mean track everything.
After you track all of your time for two weeks, you can label each increment using the following system.
The Eisenhower Matrix: breaking down the four different types of tasks
According to a productivity and decision-making framework called the Eisenhower Matrix, there are four different types of tasks:
Urgent and important
Urgent and not important
Not urgent and important
Not urgent and not important
Let’s break down what each of these tasks means and how you should think of them moving forward.
Stop wasting time on pointless activities (not urgent, not important)
If you’re broke, feel stuck, and aren’t living the life you want, you have zero business spending a bunch of time on activities that don’t move the needle. I’m not your moral authority. But if you want to get ahead, you’ll have to sacrifice some things that you enjoy but don’t necessarily add much value to your life.
Watching TV or streaming
Playing video games
Partying and drinking alcohol
No one can be productive 24/7. And the above examples aren’t necessarily bad—especially when you’re doing them occasionally or in moderation. The time you enjoy isn’t wasted time. But when activities like these keep you from moving forward, then you have a problem.
Stop being a busybody (not urgent, important)
Some tasks need to be done, but not this second—like errands. Schedule time to knock out a bunch of them all at once. Don’t run little errands every single day. Have a single day in your week when you get all your errands done. If something doesn’t need to be done that second, then don’t do it.
Getting groceries, shopping, and going to convenience stores
Stop carrying everything on your shoulders (urgent, not important)
You don’t have to do everything yourself. You’re just one person, which means you can’t do everything. Either find people to help you or say no to tasks that can be done by someone else.
As soon as you can afford it, hire out certain tasks you don’t need to do yourself. If you run a business, you can’t scale it unless you have employees or contractors to help carry the load.
Day-to-day admin tasks in your business
Busywork around the home
Cooking every single meal yourself, which can take hours with cooking and cleanup
Stop running away from what moves the needle most (urgent, important)
You avoid urgent and important tasks because they’re the hardest to accomplish. For example: If you’re trying to start a side business that can help you escape your 9-to-5 job, you should make time to work on it every single day.
When I wanted to build my writing career on top of my 9 to 5 job, I woke up at 5 a.m. and wrote for an hour or two every single day for years.
If something is truly important to you, you make time for it instead of trying to find time for it.
Write down every single task you do (measure in fifteen-minute increments).
Run the full audit for two weeks.
Either daily or weekly, add one of the four labels from the Eisenhower matrix.
By the end of two weeks, you should have 336 hours of information. You’ll see exactly how much time you spend on each activity. The results might startle you when you realize how inefficient you’ve been with your time, but that’s what the audit is for—to show you there’s a better way of operating your life.
Record exactly how each of the 336 hours breaks down into each of the four buckets and measure up the totals. After that, it’s time to analyze your results.
Analyzing the results of your time audit
Now that you see where you spend your time, you need to ask yourself some tough questions and make smart decisions moving forward.
Here are a couple of recommendations for how to analyze results.
Identify the time wasters and distractions
These are the tasks you’ll focus on getting rid of altogether. Identify the time wasters and create a plan to avoid them in the future.
If you notice you spend too much time on your phone, set a goal to turn it off during the morning and working hours as well as at night after you’re done with the work day.
If you spend way too much time getting ready in the morning, create a plan to hop right out of bed and get straight to work.
If you realize you watch a tad bit more TV than you thought, then it’s time to cut down.
Recognize patterns and trends
You’ll notice different trends by looking over your time audit.
You might notice that the way you spend your time is inefficient because you:
Switch between tasks way too often
Do the wrong tasks at the wrong time of the day
Have too many pockets of time in the day getting ready to do tasks instead of just doing them
Focus too much on tasks you don’t personally need to do
Have to-do lists that are way too long
These are just a few examples, but the patterns will emerge when you analyze the results.
Understand the impact of the way you spend your time
You’ll notice a bunch of different ways that your time use is affecting your life, which will help you create ways to improve your productivity.
You’re not properly managing your energy because you’re not doing the most important tasks when you have the most energy.
If you don’t change something soon, your long-term personal and professional goals will suffer.
You’re saying “yes” to too many obligations, which can lead to resentment because you’re not spending enough time on yourself.
You need to find the right ways to have fun. More hobbies and impactful time with friends. Less time on leisure activities that don’t provide meaning.
Ask yourself these important questions:
What can you delegate?
What can you spend more time on once you eliminate the time wasters?
What tasks move the needle the most? (double down on these)
What can you “batch” by doing repetitive tasks in one fell swoop instead of random pockets each day?
What financial resources can you use to free up time by outsourcing?
The end result of your time audit should lead to this outcome: Have a brutally honest conversation with yourself about how you spend your time so you can finally become more productive.
Stop letting yourself off the hook
You can’t manage time. You can only manage your priorities. It’s up to you to rank the importance of tasks in your life. If you want to get better at prioritizing your tasks, you have to stop letting yourself off the hook.
We use many little phrases to let ourselves off the hook instead of taking responsibility for our time.
Saying you don’t have the time to do something isn’t true. If you choose to do certain tasks above others, own them.
You always have a choice.
You don’t have to do anything.
Re-framing your relationship with time starts by admitting that fact. You have to admit that you’re choosing to give importance to some tasks above others, and how you weigh that importance and make decisions will determine how your life turns out.
Check out these additional resources to hold yourself accountable and manage your time like a pro:
You’re either in the excuse-making business or the changing-your-life business
There is no in-between.
Lack of time is one of the fundamental lies that keeps you stuck in life.
The way you use your time shows the way you view yourself. It shows how important your own life is to you. It says whether or not you give a damn about making the most of your time on this earth.
The way you decide to use your time, in the long run, determines your fate.