3 Ways to Conduct a Time Audit So You Can Improve Your Productivity

Macgill Davis

Can you tell where your working time goes? What makes a day truly productive? And what can you do to have more of these days?

When you try to answer these questions, you may realize that it's not easy to get an accurate picture of how you spend your work hours. This makes it challenging to improve your time management skills and boost productivity at work. You need a clear, detailed, and objective view of how you currently spend time to improve your work habits and manage your workdays better.

One way to achieve this is to conduct a time audit. This article discusses all you need to know about doing one. We'll talk about what a time audit is, how to conduct one, and how to use your findings to improve productivity.

What Is a Time Audit?

A time audit is a calculated approach to observing how you spend your time. It helps you gather information on where your time goes, what you prioritize, and what you waste time on. Conducting a time audit helps you answer the following questions:

  1. How do you spend your time? When you think about your workdays, you may remember only the big things, like attending meetings, responding to emails, collaborating with team members, or reporting to your manager. The time audit process provides more detailed insights about the entirety of your day. It includes granular and extraneous activities — like eating lunch, taking breaks, and planning for the next day — so you can better understand how you spend your time.
  2. Are you making time for what's most important to you? You may have a routine that is opposite to your work goals and ideal life and yet be unaware. Conducting a time audit reveals how much time you allocate to unimportant tasks vs. the important ones. You gain insights into the tasks you spend the most time on and can use the findings to reorder and prioritize those that are most important to you.
  3. Which time-wasters and distractions can you minimize or avoid? Time audits also help you see where and how you distract yourself and waste your time. For example, you may think you spend only one hour on social media per day. But tracking your time and conducting a time audit may reveal your actual time is much higher. In contrast, you may assume that you spend 8-9 hours working, when in reality you spend 2-3 hours spread throughout the day.

Sam Corcos, co-founder and CEO of Levels, discovered he spent more than three hours per day on social media when he thought he spent only 20 minutes. Conducting a time audit helped him make changes to his schedule, improve his leadership strategy, and accomplish more in less time. 

3 Easy Ways to Conduct a Time Audit

Person writing on a notebook

A detailed time audit is an effective one. To get reliable results from your audit, you must be consistent in compiling your personal data. Below, we've listed three straightforward ways to conduct a time audit.

1. Use the Alarm Method

Set your alarm (on your phone or watch) to go off every 30-45 minutes. Every time it rings, write down what you've been doing in a document, timesheet, or notepad. Do this consistently throughout a set period, e.g., one week or one month.

This provides a data-driven picture of how you spend your time. You will gain a valuable and close-to-accurate account of your workdays, which will help you gain a better understanding of how you spend your time.

The downsides of this method are that you may miss some tasks and interactions — e.g., a quick and unplanned phone call with a client. You also have to spend time manually tracking your activities every time your alarm rings.

2. Conduct Micro-Reviews

This is similar to the alarm method. You can conduct micro-reviews in three- to six-hour chunks of a workday, daily, or weekly. It's best to work with the smallest amount of time so you can remember and include most of your tasks in your review.

This method requires you to pick a specific period of time, define your most recurring work categories — e.g., operations, strategy, team collaboration, project management, and communications — and set a reminder to stop and note what categories of tasks you’ve worked on at the end of each period.

Let's say you choose to do the three-hour micro-review. Every three hours, you’ll pause and write down the categories you’ve worked on. This time audit process helps you note what tasks you spend the most time on and determine if you're spending time on the most important task categories that move you toward your goals.

For example, you may realize you spend more time on project management and less on strategy and operations.

3. Use Time-Tracking Tools

Using time-tracking software is the best approach to conducting a time audit. An intelligent time-tracker like Rize runs in the background and provides accurate real-time data showing the amount of time you spend on different tasks and categories in a workday.

Simply set your work time and go about your daily business. Rize generates and sends you daily and weekly reports showing what websites, apps, and tasks you spent time on and how long you spent on each. The software also calculates your breaks and summarizes your tasks and activities without any manual labor on your part. 

Here's an example of a daily work time breakdown in Rize:

Time audit: screenshot of Rize's dashboard

On the Rize dashboard, under the activity and workblocks sections, you can see the amount of work done with the specific time spent on each one. At a glance, you can tell what activities took the most time, what was prioritized, and how the hours of the workday were invested. Under the time breakdown section, you can see your task categories, percentages, and amount of time spent on each.

5 Tips for Using Your Time Audit Results to Boost Productivity at Work

Time audit: happy entrepreneur using her laptop

Once you've completed your time audit, there are several things you can do to make use of the data you've gathered. Below, we've listed five practical ways you can use your time audit results to improve your productivity at work:

  1. Compare perception vs. reality: Noticing the discrepancies in perception vs. reality of how you spend your time helps you think more clearly about time. You're no longer incorrectly assuming how long (or little) you spend on specific tasks and can make better decisions to design a more productive workday.
  2. Categorize your tasks: A time audit helps you realize what kind of tasks you spend the most time on. You can separate those that are valuable and useful to attaining your goals from others that are simply administrative or of low value. This helps you decide what to work on, delegate, or eliminate from your workload. 
  3. Avoid time-wasters: Once you have your time audit results, you can easily identify time-wasters and distractions and take the necessary steps to manage them. This may mean eliminating them or scheduling them in a dedicated time block to improve your focus and make the most of your time.
  4. Improve your ability to estimate how long it takes to complete tasks: A crucial part of gaining control of your time is predicting how long tasks take to complete. This helps you avoid putting too much on your plate. It also ensures you allocate enough time for high-priority tasks while still allowing free time to rest and recharge — leading to better productivity.
  5. Prioritize the most important tasks: After categorizing your tasks, estimating how long they take to complete, and gaining time by eliminating time-wasters, you will have more time for your important and high-priority tasks. Keep these tasks prominent in your daily schedule and use time-management techniques like time-blocking to ensure you continue to make time for them.

It’s important to note that there are some non-productive tasks — things you spend time on that are not crucial to your goals or directly impactful for productivity — that help you feel and function better that you should not eliminate completely. For example, taking a walk, playing games, or chatting with colleagues. These activities add therapeutic and restorative value to your workdays and ultimately boost productivity.

Conduct Time Audits With Rize to Increase Your Productivity at Work

A time audit allows you to compile an unbiased view of where your time goes. This helps you make better decisions, avoid time-wasters and distractions, and create a productive daily schedule that moves you toward your goals.

The Rize time-tracking app automates the time audit process for you by running in the background and calculating your time spent on different websites, apps, tasks, and categories. 

It helps you compile detailed and accurate real-time data on how you spend your time without requiring manual updates and data entry. This gives you insights and a solid foundation to create an action plan to improve your routine and boost productivity. 

Are you ready to face the reality of how you spend your time and make changes that boost your productivity at work? Download the Rize app today with a free two-week trial.