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The 4HWW Time Audit Spreadsheet

Category : Getting Started, productivity, time management

I’m starting to be convinced, after spending another set of 16 hour days, that the only way to make progress on the 4HWW goals is to become ruthless about how I spend my time. Just like grazing throughout the day is not an effective way to lose weight, aimlessly working through the day is not an effective way to maximize use of time.

While Tim Ferriss talks about Elimination and Automation as two of the 4 cornerstones to making the Four-Hour a Week lifestyle happen, he provides no real techniques for going from a 40+ hour workweek to a 4 hour workweek other than starting to outsource things and manage your email and phone habits. What first needs to happen is an effective observation of how time is being spent and how to wrangle it.

My 4HWW blogging buddies (BTW, welcome new buddy id_bob at Four-Hour Work Week and Customer Support!) have all talked about doing a time audit and focusing on time management, but I can’t stress its importance enough. Rather than going cold turkey from 60 hours to 4, I think anyone serious about reducing their ineffective time needs to do a proper running analysis of how they spend their work day.

On that note, I’ve created a spreadsheet that I use every day to figure out where my time is going, plan what I hope to accomplish that day, determine if my time estimates are right or wrong, and then make a decision how I will handle future such tasks. I want to share that timesheet with you and get your opinions of it. Here it is below, with an example of how it is filled in:

Download 4HWW Time Tracking Worksheet

Let me explain the columns in this time management spreadsheet:

  • Task — A quick description of the task to be done. Most Important Tasks (of which there should never be more than 3 in a day) should be identified by bold, italics, and red-colored font.
  • Category — Some tasks might be work related, some might be muse related, others personal, some in pursuit of a dreamline activity, or what have you.
  • Planned Start and Planned End — When are you planning to start and end this task? Be specific and get ‘r done.
  • Time Allotted — A calculated field that tells you the obvious… how much time you were planning for this task
  • Actual Start and Actual End — When you managed to start this task and end it
  • Actual Time — How long did it really take?
  • Actual Cost — If you noticed, this spreadsheet also tries to calculate your hourly cost. It takes into account your salary (what you want to be making on a yearly basis), divides it by 50 weeks and then by 5 working days in a year to determine your daily rate (2 weeks of non-work and 2 days of non-work per week are normal). Your hourly rate is calculated by dividing this by eight. Now, of course, we aren’t going to work eight-hour days, but neither are we working 24 hour days. Your cost should be a cost that can be easily compared with outsourcers. So, this is a good way to do it. Anyways, based on that hourly cost, the cost of performing this particular task is calculated. “My goodness! It really cost me that much to do that??” Now, you might not care about all the costs. Personal tasks, in particular, don’t have costs because you want to spend time on those. However, it’s worth seeing how much you’re “investing” in those personal activities and thus make sure you are deriving some benefit from that time investment.
  • Interrupted? — Was this task interrupted by something else (especially something not on your planned to-do list)? If so, it’s possible it took longer than it should. Next time around, what can you do to eliminate unplanned, unproductive, unnecessary interruptions?
  • Dreamline Goal — Does this task fulfill any 4HWW Dreamline goal? If so, indicate which dreamline it addresses (6, 12, or 18 month), and which activity. For example: “6mo – Doing – Become a Great Cook
  • LM Quadrant – My buddy Brick at Life Sutra wrote recently about the idea of the Life Management Quadrant — focusing tasks on the Essential, Unessential, Forgettable, and Unforgettable. For me, this is a vital column in any time management spreadsheet. By itself, it’s not enough to manage tasks, but used in combination with everything else, I think it’s quite potent (thanks, Brick)! For this exercise, I’d like to use the classification EF, EU, UF, and UU to denote Essential / Forgettable, Essential / Unforgettable, Unessential / Forgettable, and Unessential / Unforgettable tasks. The idea is that core 4HWW tasks should be Essential and probably Unforgettable. Those Essential tasks that are Forgettable should probably be Eliminated, Outsourced, or Automated. Essential tasks that are Unforgettable should be focused on and optimized / repeated. Unessential Forgettable tasks should definitely be eliminated. Unessential, Unforgettable tasks should probably be part of your long-term dreamline activities. Not to be eliminated, but something to get better focus on.
  • Next Action — What should you do next time around if this task creeps up on your schedule? There should really be only four possible answers: Eliminate it, Automate it, Outsource it, Repeat it.

Also, remember to include breaks, scheduled phone calls and appointments, and lunch. These are all tasks…hopefully you’ll have more time for those and less for those needless UF tasks!

I’m going to be using this spreadsheet on a daily basis… religiously. I want to see how with careful time auditing, I can get to more effective use of time and closer to my 4 Hour goals. I will also be continuously tweaking this spreadsheet since I’m sure there will be things to add or change. I hope you will also put this to use and suggest ways to make it better.

As Peter Drucker says, “that which is measured is managed”, and that means time management just as much as anything else. Be ruthless in your use of time and the rewards, hopefully, should multiply.

Download 4HWW Time Tracking Worksheet

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This blog is a personal blog written and edited by me. For questions about this blog, please contact Rex at info [at] fourhourworkweekdiary [dot] com. This blog accepts forms of cash advertising, sponsorship, paid insertions or other forms of compensation. The compensation received may influence the advertising content, topics or posts made in this blog, including the article written above. That content, advertising space or post may not always be identified as paid or sponsored content. The owner(s) of this blog is compensated to provide opinion on products, services, websites and various other topics. Even though the owner(s) of this blog receives compensation for our posts or advertisements, we often give our honest opinions, findings, beliefs, or experiences on those topics or products. The views and opinions expressed on this blog are purely the bloggers' own. Any product claim, statistic, quote or other representation about a product or service should be verified with the manufacturer, provider or party in question. This blog may contain content which might present a conflict of interest. This content may not always be identified.

Comments (5)

I have enjoyed reading your posts, though admittedly I haven’t read them all. I fully intend to though, and I also intend on commenting on them, so beware ;)

I love the spirit of your post and the drive behind what you’re wanting to do. My beef with it though is that I’m wondering how much time you’ll spend on the spreadsheet? Won’t it be counter productive? Knowing it’s always waiting, being obligated to put your info into it, and God forbid, you get behind a day or two and you don’t have accurate data any longer. Kind of reminds me of a Dilbert cartoon where they had to have a pre-meeting to the meeting! You may want to put “work on spreadsheet” in your spreadsheet ;)

I’ve faced this dilemma myself recently, but only because my customer wanted to know how many hours I had been working on each case on a weekly basis. So I tracked it in a spreadsheet. I searched far and wide for time tracking tools that met my requirements, and I even have a few ideas of my own in that area, but I came to one conclusion: tracking my time became a task that consumed the time.

If what Tim says is right, about losing time when task switching (up to 45 minutes in some cases), then task switching to record your task also seems counter productive to the “big 3″ tasks of the day that several folks have commented on (including Tim).

I haven’t thought very deeply yet on how I will go about it in the future, but right now I’ve just been estimating my time on a weekly basis. But if I was tracking it for myself, my measurement wouldn’t necessarily be time, my measurement would be progress.

We have to get out of this mode of thinking that time is the important factor here. Well, it is in the sense that we have so little of it left in our lives and must use it wisely; but I don’t think it’s a good measurement. I’d say that rather than having an hour by hour spreadsheet, I’d have a progress spreadsheet (if you’re going to use a spreadsheet at all)

My previous boss was a total jerk (that’s just an aside, by the way). He was a project management guy that came from a big consulting firm and he was a political mastermind, but he used his powers for evil instead of good. He could create work for work’s sake and make us look extremely busy while being utterly unproductive. He said “You can’t manage what you don’t measure”. I don’t completely go along with that.

When things matter, like how much revenue you’re bringing in and from what sources, that’s a good time to measure and manage so you can refocus when necessary.

But what are you really measuring with time tracking tools? Do we think that because we spent X hours on something that it has a direct link to how much progress we’ve made? If that’s true, then the whole concept of the four hour work week crumbles.

Now of course completing something takes time, and it can be argued whether or not setting false deadlines can reduce the actual completion time, but -measuring- time for the sake of -managing- it seems, well, a waste of time.

I mean no disrespect to those who do track their time and have great success managing their tasks. I’m sure they’re very productive. But I just want to make sure we all keep focused on the fact that doing more things is not the goal: doing the right things is.

I also agree with your last statement: Be ruthless in your use of time and the rewards, hopefully should multiply.

Dave Ramsey, a financial power house in the consumer market (and featured on Fox Business frequently) has a saying: “Live like no one else, so that later, you can live like no one else” He’s talking about hunkering down and saving money, paying off debt, living within your means, etc. so that when the time comes (not necessarily retirement – the goal is still to have cash as quickly as possible) you can then live like no one else.

That applies here, I think, in the use of time. If you’re ruthless with your focus and time and don’t waste it, I agree, you’ll reap the rewards later, possibly exponentially.

And don’t forget what “the book” quotes of Herbert Bayard Swope: “I can’t give you a surefire formula for success, but I can give you a formula for failure: try to please everybody all the time”

Based on Swope’s statement, then if you’re frugal with who you’re trying to please, success is a more likely outcome.

Hey, are there any stairs off this soap box?

Hi Id_Bob –

Good response, but I think you’re missing the point about why I’m doing this. I’m trying to find out where I’m losing my time. This is not meant to be something to be used if you are already time efficient. The point is that I’m still working 12+ hour days and not getting any closer to my 4HWW goal. Part of the problem is that I’m already doing too much… I’m already task switching, so I’m not making the problem any worse by doing some analysis.

This is an analysis tool, not a management tool. If you already know where your time is going, then don’t use this sheet! This sheet won’t help you, and in fact, as you mention, it will be a hindrance.

The point here is for those who are already cramming a hundred tasks into a single day, is to find out what tasks are the time-wasters, which tasks are the ones to accentuate. This is purely an analysis tool, not a tool for running something once you’ve already achieved the efficiency point.

In any case, I spend (no joke) 2 minutes on this spreadsheet first thing in the morning assigning tasks and allocating time, and then 30 seconds on this spreadsheet after each task recording how much time it took. No more time than that. No need to put “work on the spreadsheet” in the spreadsheet.

Make sense?

Definitely makes sense. I need to go read your latest post for more in-depth analysis :)

I think id_bob’s comments were great, but with the understanding that rexreed is doing this only short-term, I think it makes sense.

rexreed, by reading your post, I’d suspect that you are halfway forgetting about two of Tim’s key Elimination points – 80/20 and Parkinson’s Law. If I’m reading it right, those went further to reducing his workload than outsourcing or interrupting interruption.

Of course, Tim gave us great info on the 80/20 and Parkinson’s law stuff, but he didn’t tell us *how* he figured out what the key 20% was – for example, he came to the conclusion that only 5 of his clients gave him most of his money… so he must have already had those figures tracked for easy analysis OR he must have spent days calculating it all up in order to figure this out. I wonder which? So, I’m assuming your spreadsheet is intended to tell you that.

So, here’s the thing about 80/20, in my mind – you have to group your activities so you can evaluate and compare them in sum. Otherwise you’re just lost in the details.

And the key questions are:
- how much of your time and/or money did it cost you?
- what did you get out of it?
- was it the key 20% or can you eliminate it?
- could you outsouce or automate it?
- what’s your overall conclusion?

So I’d have a spreadsheet (and now I’m thinking about doing this myself) that lists Functions (Accounting, Marketing, Communications, Coding, etc.), and then Accounts (Davidson Account, Texas Monthly Promotion, Muse #1, etc.) with “Activity,” “Time cost”, “Financial cost,” “Why did you do this? (payoff)” “Outsource/Automate/Eliminate?”

I would list each thing I did under the appropriate Function and then duplicate each entry for the relevant Account. Forget about -when- you did them, don’t list in order or by day – that is extraneous data.

So, “Phone call / 20 minutes / $0 / Davidson Account / n/a” goes under Communications AND “Phone call / 20 minutes / $0 / $3,000 account / n/a” goes under Davidson Account.

Do you see? (Hard to imagine without drawing it out.) This means you can now scan each Function and Account to draw conclusions based on the big picture. You can see which Accounts take more time and compare to their payoff. You can see which Functions take time but could be Outsourced… which ones could be Eliminated… etc. You can see that you’ve spent 13 hours on the phone so far.. and half of that on one client… You can note the date you started keeping the log and count days & divide to get averages (such as 3 hours a day on the phone). This should be much easier to look at than the itemized listing.

Finally, how to handle efficiency issues. I would say track only actual time worked in the above system. On a separate page or in a separate chart, track time lost due to inefficiencies. List cause, number of times it’s happened so far (running tally), time lost to it so far (running total), and what you’re going to do about it.

So, I might list, “Wrote blog post instead of working / 1 time / 2.5 hours / Put sticky note on monitor – SAVE PERSONAL BLOG POSTS TILL VACATION”

:)

Guilty as charged, and now going back to work… -laugh-

I have written up a sample spreadsheet as described above while writing this post – let me know if you want me to email it to you.

Hilary –

Great response. Sure, I’d love to see your spreadsheet. Can you email it to me and I’ll post to share with others?

In the meantime, I have done what you have asked in my spreadsheet — each task has a column that requires you to specify whether it should be Eliminated, Automated, Outsourced, or Repeated. Does this not serve the purpose you describe above?

I like your classification system, tho. It might be easier to see trends that way. I have a Category column in my spreadsheet, but I guess that doesn’t serve that purpose?

Send me what you got, I’ll merge with what I have and post a result!

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