Well, it’s been a week since I decided to audit where my time was going and work to optimize my use of resources. Did I get the results I was expecting? Yes and no. First, I have a better idea of how I’m spending my time and which things I need to specifically focus on while other things I can either Trim, Eliminate, Automate, or Outsource. I also figured out how to effectively audit time without the auditing process itself taking much time.
First, I optimized the Time Audit spreadsheet. Thanks to Hilarycat for some good contributions. I’ve attached it below:
- I tried to use Brick’s Life Management Matrix(“Essential & Unforgetable”), but it simply did not work for me. I found that focusing each task on a Dreamline tasks, or if not, realizing that the task does not contribute to dreamline activity, was sufficient to realize that goal. However, Covey’s quadrants were still very helpful. Indeed, one should organize one’s day to do Important, Urgent tasks first (without distraction) and then move to Important, Not-Urgent tasks as quickly as possible skipping unimportant, non-urgent tasks and outsourcing or automating unimportant, urgent tasks
- Metrics and measurement. Simply recording tasks doesn’t accomplish the task of the time audit. What’s required is to look at trends. One week is probably enough to see beginning of trends, but probably it takes two weeks to really and fully see the trends. So, I have now another worksheet in the spreadsheet that tracks the ongoing tasks and allows you to pinpoint the time wasters and your 80/20 important tasks
- After listening to the wonderful YouTube videos shown on Brick’s Life Sutra blog, I realized that tasks should not only be listed, but you need to determine WHY you are doing those tasks and what happens if you don’t do that. If you can’t answer those questions, then don’t do them!
- Also, I added some columns to evaluate whether the task was an 80/20 task (that is, it occupied 20% of the time, but had 80% of the results), as well as added “Trim” to the set of next steps. This means that I should do this task if it appears again, but focus on reducing the time allocation.
The first thing to realize is that there’s three parts to effecitve Time Auditing:
- Determining the tasks to be accomplished and planned time allotment
- Faithfully recording actual execution time and noting any interruptions.
- Recording the history of all such tasks for later analysis
It’s really the second bullet that we’re after for this audit. Spending time on time recording is just a means to an end, so it should be done as effectively and efficiently as possible. But simply recording time is not enough. One has to first have a plan for how that time will be spent, and then, an audit of how the actuals vs. the planned result. Think of it like a budget. First, plan your budget, then measure your spending, then determine the variances, using that to determine how to alter your actual spending or the planned budget.
So, what were the lessons learned? In my case:
- Time auditing really doesn’t take that much time. I spend 4 minutes in the morning setting my list of tasks and defining when I would like to accomplish them. I then spend less than 20 seconds after each task indicating how much it actually took and then moving it to the Cumulative Time spreadsheet.
- I spend too much time task switching. Focus, focus, focus on one task and one task only and do it to completion without being interrupted. Which leads me to…
- Too many interruptions! Phone, email, and high-urgency task seem to be time distractors. When something is urgent, switching from one task to another simply invites more urgent tasks, distracting you from big-picture tasks.
- I must have ADD, because I can’t seem to be able to effectively focus on something without something else popping into my head demanding my attention or I get mentally exhausted and need a break. I think the 10-2*5 approach might work to combat that. Take tasks 10 minutes at a time. Then, take a 2 minute break at the end of each period, repeating 5 times and then taking a longer break afterwards. I use an egg timer now to time my tasks. We’ll see if this helps.
- Eat the frog! There’s always a task (or two or three) that seem to appear on the to-do list, but never get done. Why? Because they keep being postponed. The only way to counteract that is to do those tasks FIRST. That’s called “eating the frog” because when confronted with a bunch of things to eat, one of which is a frog, that just keeps getting put off. But if you eat the frog first, everything else can only be that much better. So eat the frog!
- Be more specific with your tasks! A vague task never seems to get done or even be done at all. Be specific to the point of micromanagement. If you want to make sales, don’t just have a task called “Make Sales” cause it will never get done and always appear. Instead, you should have a task called “Email the first 50 contacts on A spreadsheet and pitch B service”. Then, this can get done. Indeed, “Make Sales” is not a task, but a category. The more specific activity is the task in this category.
- Keep your email clean!!! Shoot for the Zero Inbox. You should not use your inbox as a to-do list. You should keep it clean at the end of the day since that will indicate tasks accomplished. If you need a task to be done, move the email to a to-do inbox, but then list the to-do in your daily tasks for that day or the next. Don’t create more frogs! This does force you to read and respond to email in batches. But you already know that if you read the Four-Hour Work Week.
Hilarycat had some other differences of thought on this spreadsheet, as follows:
Your Task and my Account are not actually the same. Account is what account you’re working on (literally). “The Jefferson account” vs. “Send out promos.” One’s a verb, the other’s a proper noun You can easily aggregate what you did for a given Account if you’re listing Account… and that way draw conclusions like “Wow, the Jefferson account is a huge time sink and makes little money – I should quit working with them” that you can’t do with entries like “send out promos” or “register domain name.”
Likewise, your Category is not the same as my Functions. Yours are vague – Core Business, Personal, Muse… Mine are highly specific business functions – Marketing, Coding, Writing, Research, Communications. Again… how does it serve you to analyze time spent on Core Business vs. Muse when you’re really trying to figure out what you can eliminate and outsource? Whereas if you’re tracking by function, you can realize, “Oh, I spend 4 hours a day writing emails… I guess it really is time to implement Tim’s communications obstacle course.”
I’m going to try to transition now from my do-it-yourself spreadsheet to the Personal Time Manager utility suggested by Brick and Hilarycat. If I can get the auditing part done without interfering with planning (you still have to define your daily to-do list), then I think this can work. I’ll get back to you with my results on that shortly.