It's often said that there isn't enough time in the day, and it can feel like the minutes slip by despite your best intentions. The reassuring news is that everyone gets the same 24 hours! But quality time management (or a lack thereof) does dictate just how much of that limited time is actually working towards your goals and priorities.
If you find yourself making it to the end of the day, week, or month without accomplishing the tasks you had planned, or not finding time to prioritize the habits you care about -- read on. A calendar time audit is the process of tracking where you spend your time, and analyzing how you can better align your hours with your true priorities. An audit gives you quantitative insight into where your time is working towards your biggest goals, and where it might be misallocated.
There might only be so many hours in a day, but auditing your calendar regularly can help you maximize the time you do have by showing you exactly where your minutes go.
The problem with unregulated time management is that despite motivation, to-do lists, and 'busyness', a schedule without structure and planning ultimately results in wasted time and more stress.
Productivity research suggests that most professionals need to reevaluate how they approach scheduling their time, and regular calendar auditing is an effective practice to help ensure that you make the most of your limited hours. 59% of Americans said that they find it extremely difficult to balance their work and personal schedules, which is not surprising considering that the average person reports these time management problems:
- Wastes 40% of their workday due to a lack of organization
- Has at least 150 different tasks at a time
- Underestimates how long a task will take by 50%
- Never actually completes 41% of their to-do tasks**
- Gets interrupted every 3 minutes and 5 seconds
Switching between tasks, frequently checking inboxes, and getting distracted by unscheduled calls are just a few common examples of where you might be losing time every day. Auditing your calendar can help show you exactly where your time goes, and help you develop a stronger scheduling structure to maximize productivity while defending your priorities.
Here are the top benefits of a calendar audit:
- Eliminate unproductive meetings
- Minimize daily distractions
- Make time for your heads-down focus work
- Improve accountability on an independent and team level
- Defend time for personal priorities
- Better plan your workweek
Bringing these benefits into your own life can boost productivity and improve work-life balance, but also requires you to take a hard look at your calendar and priorities. You may be surprised to find you aren't as aligned with your schedule as you think.
Countless meetings, a never ending task list, and trying to fit in daily healthy habits like grabbing a simple lunch, can be overwhelming, especially towards the end of the week as you realize you're falling short on your plan once again. While it's easy to wake up and intend to have a productive day, the hard part is sticking to it through the unpredictability of the workday. Having a clear overview of exactly where your time was applied every week allows you to proactively realign that time to your priorities.
Let's take a look at some critical areas to investigate in a calendar time audit.
You probably found this article after sitting through yet another painful meeting that turned out to be a complete waste of your time. Meetings are definitely one of the most important things to keep in check on your calendar as they have a way of creeping into your schedule and becoming recurring obligations that siphon time away from your priorities. Before you sink any more time into another week of pointless meetings, here are the questions you need to ask yourself when auditing the meetings on your calendar:
- How many meetings do you attend each week?
- Which meetings are NOT aligned to your priorities?
- Which meetings do not have clear goals or agendas?
- Which meetings are recurring or repetitive - do they have to be?
- What are the types of meetings on your calendar - 1:1 meetings, team meetings, status meetings?
- How often are these meetings rescheduled or cancelled?
Many people consider the calendar to just be the place to log meetings and events, but why should defending time to work on a high-priority task be any less important? An evolving task list requires continual management, and the best way to ensure you're actually able to make time for what's important is to integrate your task list with your calendar. And as you well know, each task takes a unique approach and time span to complete. When inspecting your calendar during an audit, take a look whether a task requires shallow work vs. deep work, whether your time spent on that task has been productive vs. unproductive, and if your priority tasks are organized in accordance with your short-term and long-term goals.
Here are the questions to ask yourself about task organization in a calendar audit:
- How many tasks do you have planned this week, or sprint cycle?
- How much time do you need to work on each task?
- What are the due dates for each task?
- Which tasks are high priority, medium priority, or low priority?
- How much time do you actually have available to work on your tasks this week?
- How often is your task time interrupted by email, Slack, or multitasking?
Similar to your hefty to-do list of tasks, it's also important to analyze your recurring tasks, or work routines, that you need to make time for on a regular basis. With the unpredictability of rotating to-dos, it can be even more difficult to find time in your schedule for ongoing work routines like catching up on email, addressing tickets, weekly status reports, monthly reporting, or project planning. Take a broader look at your recurring routines in a calendar audit to see how they fit into your schedule:
- What are your daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly, or annual work routines?
- Are you blocking time for your recurring work routines on your calendar?
- How often are you forced to cancel or reschedule time for your work routines?
- Does your ability to make time for your routines change week-to-week?
- Are there any other recurring work activities you should make time for?
Defending your daily work-life balance is crucial for your mental health, happiness, and productivity. Though scheduling time every day for lunch, a walk, or even short decompression breaks after meetings are all too often overlooked when planning out the workweek. Reflecting on your health and wellness goals during a time audit allows you to see where you can (and should) prioritize yourself. Here are the questions you should ask yourself when evaluating the time you allocate to health and wellness:
- Are you making time to eat breakfast, lunch, and dinner every day?
- Are you able to find time to exercise throughout the week?
- Do you give yourself regular breaks throughout the day?
- Do you remind yourself to stand up, or give your eyes a break from your screen regularly?
- Are you able to make time to give your mind a rest, or meditate, throughout the week?
Last but not least -- in fact, unarguably the most important -- aspect to analyze in a calendar audit is how well you're prioritizing personal time for you and your family. Your professional life is a significant part of your week, but do your personal goals get the same level of dedication? In your audit, you might find that even though you're home every day before family dinner, you're sucked back into work at least three nights a week, missing bedtime tuck-in with your children. Or, maybe you're one of the hundreds of thousands of families that cancelled a vacation due to the pandemic, but haven't been able to prioritize an alternative (and safe) trip.
Here are the questions to ask yourself on your personal and family goals in your calendar audit:
- How much time do you spend with family every day, or every week?
- How many days do you spend on vacation every year?
- How many days were you sick in the last year? (Don't let yourself get run down!)
- Are you building barriers into your professional calendar to defend your personal time from work?
- How often are you feeling burnt out by the end of the week?
- How many hours a week do you spend on personal tasks, or hobbies?
First and foremost, make it a priority to start scheduling all your daily to-dos and recurring routines in your calendar - both personal and work. By time blocking your activities, you're compiling valuable data that will give you great insight through a calendar audit, and allow you to easily visualize where your time is going every week. From here, you can begin to analyze how your actual time allocation aligns with your personal and professional goals.
The objective is to gather as much information as possible about your current time management to identify the areas where you want to improve. Tracking even the small things, like time spent checking your inbox, catching up on Slack, or browsing your task list can show you whether you're spending more of your day on busy work, or making progress on your real priorities. Syncing your work and personal calendars is another great way to optimize your audit so you can analyze both calendars together and start defending your work calendar from encroaching on your personal life.
Like anyone with a busy calendar, all of your schedules and your priorities are constantly changing, so it's important to analyze your time on an ongoing basis -- preferably without giving yourself extra work! This is where you can take advantage of free calendar audit tools like Reclaim.ai to automatically report on the time you spent across meetings, tasks, routines, and even personal time.
So, now that you know what you should be analyzing, let's break down how to perform a successful calendar audit step-by-step:
Track exactly where your hours are going every day by time blocking tasks in your calendar to see where your time is spent (and misplaced). This includes focus time on your deep work tasks, shallow work for things like answering emails or catching up on your task list, breaks, lunch, naps, even getting ready for work (you may find you have an extra 30 minutes a day without the office-ready primping you used to do)! You can either record these activities as they're performed, or proactively plan your day using time blocks for the things you want to get done. The more information, the more accurate your calendar analysis will be. Color coding personal and work commitments can be helpful in keeping your calendar organized as you add more events.
Taking a look at your week in review and organize your events into sub-categories (meetings, tasks, personal time, etc.) to see exactly where you allocated your time:
- From your meeting analytics -- how much time did you spend in 1:1 meetings vs. project meetings vs. team meetings? How valuable were these in their objectives? Maybe excessive weekly meetings could be consolidated into fewer, more organized sessions.
- Did you have enough time to work on your top priority tasks? What didn't you have time to accomplish? Consider what your priority vs. urgent task list looks like.
- How many days in the week did you commit time for lunch, the gym, other personal health goals? Get critical about how aggressively you want to defend each of your personal habits to prevent them from getting pushed by other commitments.
This data can give you a helpful overview of where the majority of your time is going. See whether you're being proactive about planning your calendar around top priority goals, or reactively allowing unexpected daily requests for your time to continually compromise your plans.
Now that you know where your time is going, how well does your current schedule reflect what matters to you most? Get very clear on your goals and put them in priority order from day-to-day habits, to long-term projects -- so that you can start allocating your time appropriately to meet those goals.
- Make a list of your work priorities -- What do your future project timelines look like? What do you want to accomplish in the next 30, 60, 90 days?
- Make a list of your personal goals -- What daily habits are going to get you to where you want to be in one year, in five years, in ten years? Which family/relationship goals do you want to prioritize?
Of course, schedules are unpredictable and flexibility is important. That's why building in priorities and time defenses in your calendar is so important when it comes to getting the most out of your time.
After your review, it's time to design a schedule that defends time for the things that matter most, while allowing you the flexibility to accommodate unforeseen daily happenings.
A few time management changes to implement in your calendar could be:
- Adding 2-3 30-minute time blocks a day to catch up on emails and notifications.
- A 30-60 minute dedicated time block on Mondays to come up with a weekly action plan.
- Integrating your project management platform or task list with your calendar.
- Scheduling 'no-meeting' days every week.
- Syncing your work and personal calendars to defend your personal priorities.
- Blocking time for habits that are important to you like meditating, going for a walk, or eating lunch.
Keeping up with ongoing time audits manually can be challenging -- especially with the already packed calendar that likely brought you to this post! Integrating smart tools like Reclaim.ai with your calendar can be incredibly helpful in designing a system that aligns with your evolving schedule and priorities, without the added stress.
Optimizing your productivity means being proactive and defensive with your most valuable resource -- your time. Online calendars have become staples in many people's lives, but they don't necessarily work for you in offering statistical insight or implementing a better time-management system. By using a smart calendar tool, automatic weekly status reports make consistent time auditing effortless, so that you can stay on top of your calendar year round and focus on defending your time for what matters most.
By performing regular audits and building a schedule that helps you minimize distractions, get more things done, and defend important habits, you can reclaim your time and make the most of your productivity -- even with just 24 hours in a day.