Organizing Your Time, Part 1 : Time Audit

organizing your time

For most people, “time” is a stressful subject. We don’t have enough of it. Even though we seem to be constantly busy, the to-do list never shrinks, and it feels like we’re treading water. The “cult of busy” is a reality for us in modern times. Not only is everyone expected to be always “on” and busy (which is different from productive), it has almost become a status symbol: the busier you are, the more successful and important you must be. This has led to increasing stress, exhaustion, burnout, anxiety, and depression.

How do you feel about time? Take a few minutes to gauge your emotional gut reaction. What are your time-related “pain points”? Are you often late? Do you take on too much? Do you find you’re more “busy” than productive? On the flip side...when does time feel expansive to you? What activities make you “lose track of time” in a good way?

Conceptualizing Time

Since the beginning of wage labor, we have conceptualized our day in three equal parts: 8 hours for work, 8 for leisure, and 8 for sleep. The reality, however, is much more complicated. Work has come to bleed into our leisure time, “leisure” time is less about play and more about life-maintenance tasks, and who is able to get 8 hours of sleep EVERY night?? If we want to get a realistic picture of our time, we are going to have to come up with new categories.

When I think about time, I tend to sort it into six categories, which I have explained below. You can choose to use these categories, or make up your own that make sense to you. Either way, I invite you to reflect on how you are using your time, and how it makes you feel. If you want to get REALLY nerdy (I know I do!), you can print out this spreadsheet and actually block out your tasks, and then highlight them according to the category they belong to. This will give you an overall visual of where most of your time is going, and what areas of your life are getting neglected. Ok, here we go!

Perform a Time Audit with These Six Categories of Time

WORK: The “9-5” is a myth. Perhaps this is the amount of time you are “On-the-clock” at your particular job, but when I think about my time, I take a much broader perspective. The half hour you need in the morning to prep for work (making a lunch, grooming myself to a certain professional standard) that’s work time. If you spend time outside of the office doing something work related-that’s work time. If I wouldn’t choose to do these things in my “free time,” then why should I categorize them as such? When you think about it this way, your 8 hour day may actually be a lot longer than you think. Be realistic about what your work entails.

LIFE-MAINTENANCE: I use the term “life-maintenance” to describe all those activities that are technically work, but just not the kind we get paid for. This can include our grocery shopping, meal prep and cooking, household chores, transporting the kids, paying bills, fixing things around the house...you get it. If you’re doing it because it HAS to be done for life to run smoothly, and not for the sheer joy of it, categorize it as life-maintenance.

LEISURE: I think the biggest mistake people make when plotting out their time is to automatically categorize certain things as “work” vs. “play” based on some objective notion of what category an activity belongs to. If you are going to a party (something that is “supposed to be” fun) because you feel obligated-for networking, or because your workplace expects it, or because you feel you owe it to someone to show up, that’s not leisure. Put it in another category. On the other hand, there may be some “chores” that you actually love doing. If grocery shopping and cooking makes your heart sing, consider it leisure. Maybe you love to fix things around the house or go to the gym. This category is very subjective. Think hard about how you feel about the activity, rather than what category it seems to belong to. What are you doing during the week that brings you joy?

SELF-CARE: This can be a bit of a nebulous category, so it might require some reflection first. Are you taking the time for self-care? What are the things you need to do to feel “right.” Or, think about it in reverse. What would activities prevent you from feeling anxious and stressed during the week? This could include exercise, meditation, a bath, a beloved hobby, or time with a special person. It’s entirely personal.

“GREY TIME”: When I use the term “grey time,” I’m referring to those bits of in-between time, where you have free-time, but it’s restricted in some way. This can include waiting somewhere, stuck in a certain location, like if you are watching your child’s soccer practice. It can include your commute, where you’re free to listen to podcasts or chat with someone over Bluetooth, but you can’t really engage in other activities. It can be helpful to identify these times, (when you may just be wasting time playing on your phone) so you can put them to better use either productively or enjoyably.

SLEEP: Lastly, the most easily defined category. Note what time you are getting to bed each night, and rising each morning. It it consistent over the week? Are you getting enough sleep every night, and if not, what is taking up that time?

What did you learn from this activity? Did anything surprise you? Stay tuned for tips on how to maximize the time you have, and open up more time for your priorities..