Reclaim Your Day With a Time Audit


Have you ever fallen into a social media “spiral?” One minute, you’re scrolling through Facebook or Instagram; the next, an hour has passed without you even realizing it.

Often, business leaders find themselves in a similar spiral at the end of their workday.

Despite feeling like you’ve put in good, productive work, you go home with an unfulfilled to-do list that seems to grow longer, no matter how hard you try to chip away at it. You’re constantly missing deadlines or bringing work home to keep your head above water.

Are you ready to reclaim your day and build a more sustainable work-life balance?

A time audit is a way to objectively analyze how you spend your time by recording what tasks you’re actively working on at different points throughout your day. We’ll show you how to conduct one and how to use it

Why Should I Conduct My Own Time Audit?

It isn’t easy to objectively assess how you honestly spend your time without data proving you may not be as productive as you think you are.

No one wants to admit that they spend 36% of their work hours on time wasters rather than productive tasks, yet studies have revealed that Americans spend an average of 2.9 hours of an 8-hour workday engaged in non-work activities.

Only by being willing to conduct a time audit will you be able to empirically understand how much of your day is spent on work-related projects and how much is wasted on unproductive time sucks. Think of the process as a time management accountability partner that keeps you honest about your work hours.

A Step-by-Step Guide to Performing a Time Audit

If we’ve convinced you of the value of researching how you spend your time at work, let’s jump into the time audit process.

Step 1: Chart Out What You Would Like Your Work Day to Look Like

Before you conduct a time audit, you’ll need to map out what you would like an entire week of work to look like.

How much time would you spend on certain tasks if everything went your way?

Once you’ve run a time audit, you’ll use this information to help you reallocate your hours according to what you should spend longer on and what is eating up all your time.

Step 2: Decide When to Start Your Time Audit Exercise

You’ll need to gather a week’s worth of data, but which week you choose matters.

It should be as close to a “typical” week as possible to not skew the data, so try to avoid doing a time audit:

  • During the holiday season, when productivity is down across the entire business
  • During a week with an atypical scheduled activity, like an annual training or a shareholder’s meeting
  • Right before a large project or presentation is due, your time spent on that project will naturally increase compared to other activities.

Step 3: Choose a Tracking Method

How you decide to go about time tracking is a matter of personal preference:

Pen and Paper

With the pen and paper method, you’ll use a notebook to jot down your “time stamps” and activities. It’s a good choice if you know that using a digital device will tempt you into a time suck, but it also means evaluating the data manually or entering it into a program after the week is over.


Spreadsheets will let you evaluate your time audit as you go throughout your week, and if you’re already in Google Sheets or Microsoft Excel for most of your day, it would limit distracting transitions between platforms.

Clockwise has a free template that you can use or build your own!

Time Tracking Software

Plenty of time-tracking tools for computers and mobile devices integrate interval timers, activity tracking, and data analysis into one.

When you’re choosing a time-tracking tool, look for one that you find easy to use and distraction-free. Timely is an excellent choice that automatically tracks time spent on various websites, platforms, and apps, then puts your time audit data into a timeline, so it’s easy to evaluate at the end of the week.

Step 4: Record Your Tasks at a Pre-Determined Time Interval

If you’re going with the pen and paper or spreadsheet method, set timers for 15 or 30-minute intervals for your entire day. Each time the timer goes off, take a few seconds to jot down what you’re doing, then return to it.

Remember, the goal here is to get an honest assessment of your work week, so don’t try to sugarcoat your activities.

If you were catching up with a team member when you knew you should have been working on more urgent tasks, write down “socializing” and continue that activity until it reaches its natural conclusion. The more accurate you are about how you’ve been spending your time, the more value you’ll get when you run a time audit.

Continue this process for a full workweek to get plenty of rich, time-tracking data.

Using the Time Audit Process to Reach Your Business Goals

After conducting research and reviewing the time audit data, it’s time to leverage that information to boost your productivity and feel more fulfilled at the end of the work day.

Categorize Your Daily Tasks Into Productive and Time-Wasting Activities

The first step is the easiest one: sorting out the time wasters from the work tasks.

Time wasters would include anything that does not actively contribute to you achieving high-priority tasks, such as:

  • Socializing outside of break times
  • Browsing the internet
  • Checking emails, instant messages, and other notifications
  • Unnecessary or excessive meetings
  • Your personal procrastination activities could be anything from walking around the office and “checking in” to standing in the break room. These look different for everyone.

Once you know your time wasters, figure out when you’re most prone to engage in them. Is it right before lunch? After a meeting? First thing in the morning? What tasks can you assign yourself during that time instead that would help you spend your time more productively?

Identify When You’re Most Productive

Research has shown that individuals fall into different categories of “chronotypes” depending on when their natural circadian rhythm inclines them to sleep and when the human brain feels most alert, productive, and efficient.

In the past, people were either early birds or night owls. Today, there are four categories: bears, wolves, lions, and dolphins.

We’ll explore those more in-depth in a future article, but for the purpose of your time audit, it’s important that you allow, at least to some extent, for your chronotype to inform how you map out your daily schedule.

Here’s a brief explanation:

  • Bears, the most common chronotype, have a sleep and wake cycle that matches the sun. They wake up early, fall asleep easily, and are most productive before noon. However, they experience a “dip” between 2 and 4 pm as their brain starts to “wind down” for the evening.
  • Wolves are late risers and are most productive between noon and 4 pm. They often get a “second wind” after 6:00 pm, then stay up late.
  • Lions are similar to bears, but their awake cycle starts much earlier, often before dawn. By noon, their productivity is winding down for the day.
  • Dolphins, the most uncommon chronotype, don’t follow any particular sleep schedule based on day and night cycles. Instead, they sleep when they can but still experience high productivity between 10 am and 2 pm.

While it’s obviously not possible for you to completely dictate your day around your chronotype, depending on your business hours, you can aim to do your most important tasks during your peak productivity times.

If you’re a bear, for example, trying to force yourself to get through the high-priority activities on your to-do list in the late afternoon is a recipe for disaster and should instead be allocated within your morning routine.

Consolidate Tasks With Time Blocking

Switching back and forth between programs, platforms, and even types of tasks can make you lose focus in the transition.

Rather than hopping around, it’s a better idea to group specific tasks into multiple time blocks based on their similarities.

So, let’s say you spend various parts of your day making phone calls for client and team communication.

Rather than doing client calls in the morning and team communication in the afternoon, get all of your phone conversations done during the same block. Then, you don’t have to waste time transitioning between your VoIP service and your project management platform multiple times daily.

The same can be done for any similar tasks. Create two 10-minute blocks during which you check your email, then stay out of your inbox the rest of the day. Allocate one hour daily to meetings, then reclaim the other seven hours for working through your to-do list.

You can also use this method to break large projects down into smaller, more manageable chunks so you spend less time feeling overwhelmed and more time engaged in productive work.

Once you become mindful of your time usage and hold firm boundaries on how your work day is spent, you see a significant amount of improvement in your productivity.

Remember That Time Auditing Is an On-Going Process

Time audits are not a one-and-done process. It’s easy to slip back into old “time suck” habits, let work eat into our personal time, and lose our grip on time management.

We recommend you set a goal to perform a time audit once per quarter. By doing so, you can test out time management methods for a pre-determined time period, then assess whether they’re to your liking and adjust as needed, rather than wasting time and resources on methods that aren’t working for you.

Final Thoughts

Are you interested in time management methods that help you achieve high-priority activities? Are you unsure what to do with the information your time audit reveals?

Lori Moen of Catalyst Group ECR has helped countless small business owners, leaders, and executives boost productivity and develop their time management skills with her expertise as a business coach. She can help you spend your time working on your business instead of in your business by reclaiming lost hours and prioritizing the tasks that matter. 

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