Up to a third of work, time goes to waste every week. Even though this number may seem unrealistic, studies show that the problems of unregulated time and distractions take a great toll on many businesses.
We need to be clear – you cannot expect your employees to work for full eight hours. Breaks and low-volume periods are necessary throughout the day for your team to remain productive and happy. Otherwise, you will cause resentment and a great degree of turnover.
However, some individuals will abuse your goodwill and become too unproductive if you allow them to manage their time at work without any supervision.
Managers and higher-ups are also included in this statistic. It is easy to get overwhelmed by low-priority tasks. You need to remember your team relies on you for guidance. Additionally, you will be held accountable if project profitability is lower than expected.
No matter how you view it, wasting time can hurt a business. Fortunately, there is a way to reduce time-wasting and obtain a balance within your team. That means removing distractions and unproductive behaviors while still allowing your team some space to breathe and recharge.
The secret lies within one of the best time tracking practices – regular time audits.
The Basics of a Time Management Audit
Even though the name may seem intimidating, the practice of time auditing is quite simple. It requires employees to track their time down to the detail for a period.
Once a person sees exactly how they spend their workdays, they can identify their priorities. Then they can organize their time during the day more efficiently. For example, they can match their biggest priorities with the intervals when they’re being most productive. In other words, every person has their own work rhythm. Thus, imposing a detailed work schedule can prevent an employee from fulfilling their potential.
Unfortunately, many people don’t discover their work rhythms throughout their education, as they can’t choose the time of their classes. In other words, you will be able to help them learn how to be more productive and learn where their strengths lie.
The Reasons for a Time Audit for Employees
Many people don’t want to waste time at work. Whether it’s coming from an intrinsic desire to accomplish more or because they start comparing themselves to their coworkers, most employees don’t have anything against being more productive.
However, many of them cannot manage to actually increase their billable hours. There are many signs that a time audit is necessary, including, but not limited to
- Not being able to finish your tasks without help
- Procrastination until the last moment
- Being constantly overwhelmed with work with low results
- The feeling of being unable to manage your time and priorities
- Running out of time on your projects
The truth is that most people aren’t mindful of the flow of their workday. Of course, having a set plan that doesn’t allow any flexibility is not the perfect solution. It can be stressful and discourage the employee, as some days will be less productive and demand a change of plans. However, high productivity requires a certain level of routine and an understanding of how you work.
The Benefits of Time Audits
Time tracking in and of itself has a plethora of benefits. Some of the biggest ones include the results of time audits – understanding your own and your team’s work habits and applying that knowledge to make the most out of your time. The lack of this understanding leads to the following consequences:
- Inadequate time distribution
- Your targets remain out of your reach
- Low productivity
An hours tracker that helps you conduct a time audit successfully can resolve these issues.
Whether on a personal or team level, knowing how to manage your time and use the most productive periods to tackle the most difficult issues is a crucial component of success.
A time audit will help each employee identify these productivity spikes. Then you can use this knowledge and dedicate them to completing high-priority tasks. On the other hand, you can use the lulls to take a break, reenergize and complete less demanding tasks.
Allocating time and resources realistically is the best way to reach your goals in time. Knowing how much time you actually have during each day will help you prevent burnout. Don’t forget – you should also set the goals more favorably.
A time audit will enable you to account for breaks and lower productivity periods when making estimates. This, in turn, will reduce the stress on your team and yourself, which also has a positive impact.
Distractions can be very insidious, in the sense that you need to identify them as such before you realize just how big of an impact they have on your work. Eliminating or reducing these elements will help you boost your productivity and reduce the need to shift from one activity to the other.
When to Audit Time?
Secondly, you need to decide when to do the audit. You shouldn’t conduct it during a period with an unusually high or low volume of tasks – before you go on vacation while working on a crucial part of a large project, there’s a lull in tasks for different reasons, etc.
Otherwise, your results won’t be realistic, since they won’t reflect the usual amount of work, and, thus, your average work rhythm. You want to audit a period with average working hours, at least for the first time, so you can set a benchmark for yourself.
How to Conduct a Time Audit?
Creating a Worksheet
Creating a time audit worksheet is the first step of conducting an efficient time audit. This is how you’ll log which activities you spend your time on during the day. The chart can be as simple as an Excel sheet, and as detailed as you need it to be.
The worksheet should contain different categories of tasks and activities you do during the day. This is a way to filter through your total activities and see how much time each of them takes. The categories should include breaks (mandated lunch breaks and otherwise) as well.
Be aware of the fact that the categories shouldn’t be set in stone. In fact, they will probably change over time as you discover different types of activities you encounter on your average day.
You need to decide whether you’ll be using an automatic timer, time tracking software, or a manual (i.e. phone) alarm. Accurately measuring the time each task takes is the basis of a time audit. You need to be aware that you probably won’t measure time perfectly, and should allow yourself a small margin for error.
However, if you want to be as accurate as possible, it would be good to start measuring the time a week before you conduct the audit. This way you’ll create a habit of switching your timers as you go from one task to another, which can be a learning curve if you start practicing it at the same time as the audit commences.
Automate the Audit (Optional)
You can make the audit a little easier for yourself by setting up periodical reminders on your device. You can set up the alarms in 15-minute intervals at least, but their frequency heavily depends on the type of work you do.
Once your alarm rings, you can either log your current activity into the time audit worksheet or reset the task timer, depending on your situation.
This method is especially convenient for remote time tracking, as remote employees don’t have their coworkers around to remind them to track their activity.
Take as Little Time as Possible
The audit shouldn’t take much time. That is why the practice run is important. When the alarm rings you should only take the time to note your activity and continue with your work.
It is important to be as accurate as possible. This honesty doesn’t always feel good. For example, you may find yourself logging ”Social media” one too many times in a row. However, this honesty serves as a wake-up call.
Distractors are just that – distracting, and they make most people lose track of time. Identifying the problem leads to solving it.
A single day of detailed tracking can give you a lot of information. Yet, you won’t be able to recognize the unproductive patterns that bring your company’s key performance indicators down if you aren’t consistent.
A larger amount of data is surely going to give you a more accurate insight into your habits. That is why it is important to do the audit for at least a week before drawing conclusions.
What to Do Once You’ve Collected the Data?
After you gather the data you’ll have a representation of the time different tasks take to complete. However, having the data isn’t enough. You need to plan actionable steps to start resolving the problematic behaviors you’ve discovered.
Differentiate High and Low Priority Activities
This is the first step you should take. All the tasks you’ve listed can be characterized as either high or low priority. Low priority tasks encompass unproductive behaviors, like
- Scrolling social media
- Playing games on your computer or phone
- Taking unnecessary breaks
On the other hand, there are necessary activities that take too much time, like discussions with coworkers and checking emails.
The difference between these two groups is that you should strive to eliminate the first category and appoint a certain period to the other.
On the other hand, there are high-priority activities, which directly contribute to task completion. They also include research and meetings, as these activities are necessary for the company to function.
Adjust to Your Work Rhythm
Now you have accurate information about how you spend your time and about your top priority tasks. It is time to combine these two and create a working schedule for yourself. Time your more demanding and high-priority tasks at the times when you’re usually more productive. In contrast, you should leave the low-priority activities for the times when your productivity decreases.
This way you won’t be forcing yourself to power through the unproductive patches. Instead, you can take this time to answer emails and catch up with your coworkers.
These schedules should allow for some flexibility, as many factors can disrupt your daily obligations. Their primary purpose is to provide a guideline for an average day.
Limit time-wasting activities
Once you identify your most common distractors, it’s time to get them under control. Completely eliminating social media or phone use is probably not going to work, as you probably partake in these activities spontaneously throughout the day. Some companies will prevent accessing social media and work-unrelated sites. Others will let their employees browse the web as long as the work gets done in time.
Regulating your online time is difficult, and you should first start with being more mindful about the time you spend on your phone. This awareness, as well as the attempt to get a stronger hold on your work hours, should help you reduce the time you spend on unproductive behaviors.
Delegate and Rearrange Tasks
An honest time audit is a great way to discover whether everyone is pulling their own weight. If the results show that some employees are working on tasks that aren’t in their job descriptions, while others slack on theirs. In this case, the management should take the time to delegate these activities or start compensating the employees accordingly.
On a personal level, anyone can benefit from either breaking up long blocks of time dedicated to a single task or adding up multiple similar smaller tasks if the situation allows it. This way you won’t get overwhelmed or lose your focus multiple times a day.
Divide and Conquer
Large projects that take a lot of time to complete often seem very frightening. This is normal and can be managed. We suggest dividing the bigger tasks into smaller ones and resolving them part by part.
This way you will know exactly where you are and how long it’ll take you to complete the full task. Additionally, the smaller parts will make the project seem more manageable. You will be able to cross them off your to-do list relatively quickly, which will give you a sense of accomplishment.
Understand the Time Your Projects Take
Unfortunately, most people have the habit of underestimating the time needed for their tasks. It is important to account for everything that goes into a project before making a time estimation.
It would be good to assess the time you will need for a certain task or project. Once the activity is completed, compare your expectations to reality.
Then you can realistically allocate your time to different projects by priority. Go into as much detail as necessary, and remember that fluctuations in productivity are a normal part of work.
Additionally, restructuring your workday isn’t a simple task, and may take some time to get used to. However, once the results start coming in, and you become more productive, that will be a great incentive to continue using the system.
You can ease the growing pains by setting up reminders or teaming up with a colleague to make sure you are keeping up with the schedule you’ve set up for yourself.
A time audit is obsolete if you cannot reap its benefits. This, however, is possible only if you keep using the knowledge you’ve gained and building upon it.
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