Whether you’re in public accounting or not, I’m going to assume you have some familiarity with the concept of auditing. I personally chose to go straight into the Tax Department at Deloitte when I graduated college, but still had to do some time in the Audit Department for my CPA licensure.
The funny thing is that I had no idea which area I wanted to go into, and someone I knew from college, who was a year ahead of me and was working for Deloitte, pulled me aside and said, “Don’t go into Audit. It’s boring, and they have no life.” So out of the 12 graduates starting at the Long Island Deloitte office, 11 went into Audit, and I went into Tax.
As time passed, I saw what my friend was warning me about – my coworkers in Audit were getting burned out at the ripe old age of 22. But as our accounting careers continued, the tables seemed to flip – they left public accounting to become CFOs, and I stayed in public accounting and have dealt with tax seasons for the past 30+ years.
Believe me, I don’t regret my decision at all, but the idea that auditing is boring has always stuck with me. My limited time doing a few audits to get the hours for my CPA license made me thankful for the college friend who pulled me aside that day the new hires were taking a tour of the office.
Plus, when you add the cautionary tales of audits gone bad, such as the case of Enron, it’s no wonder we’re cautious when it comes to audits. If done incorrectly or poorly, there can be a lot at stake.
Thankfully, that’s not the case with a time audit; the only thing at stake is your awareness of time. The best part is that they’re not boring and can help you create more time for the things and the people you love.
If you struggle with better time management, feel like your to-do list is running your life, find yourself stressed and overwhelmed, or just want to regain control, a time audit can be an important first step. It can help you create more hours in your day, allow you to get more done in less time, and help you get some balance back in your life.
An added bonus is that a time audit can improve your relationships, health, and finances. It can help you live a more purposeful, intentional life.
A time audit can show you why you feel burned out and help you extinguish the fire. Since time is our most precious asset, a time audit can help you preserve that valuable asset.
Sounds pretty cool, even though it has the word “audit” in it.
This week I’m going to discuss what a time audit is and how you can do one.
What a time audit is
If you frequently find yourself saying, “There isn’t enough time,” you’re not alone. Time is a huge issue for working moms, especially accountant moms.
But when it comes to our most valuable asset – time – we’re not truly aware of how much we waste of it. We believe we’re doing our best, but if you’re struggling to get everything done, there’s room for improvement in your time management skills.
In a 2017 study, the work habits of business owners, key executives, and employees were evaluated. They found that “time-wasting, low-value, and no-value activities accounted for more than 30% of their workweeks.”
If we were sitting around watching Netflix at work for 3 hours, we’d probably agree that we’re not using our time wisely, but unfortunately, that’s typically not the case. We’re doing as much as we can in the time we have, but we still don’t feel like there are enough hours in the day.
This is where a time audit comes in. A time audit is a process of tracking exactly what you spend your time on for a consecutive period.
The purpose of a time audit is to gather data in order to analyze and arrange your time in a more efficient way. It’s an awareness tool that allows you to be more intentional with your time, create more free time, and get more done in less time.
In The Balanced Accountant Time Management Program I run for CPA MOMS, I teach a fool-proof system for managing your time, but until you understand how you’ve been spending your time, what works, what doesn’t, and what needs to be changed, you’ll easily fall back into unhelpful time habits.
Just like a doctor draws a small amount of blood to determine if you need any changes to your diet or medications, a time audit takes a small sample of how you spend your time to decide whether you need any changes to what, why, and how you spend your time and attention.
Here’s how to know if you should perform a time audit – if you have a never-ending to-do list, you have a hard time achieving your goals, you’re always “busy” but never seem to get anything done, you don’t have time for yourself, you feel like you’re always behind, or if you always run out of time but can’t seem to identify why. If you answered “yes” to any of these, it’s high time you start auditing your time.
I don’t want you to feel bad because most of us go about our workday with no particular plan or agenda, unaware of what we spend time on. We feel like we have no sense of control over our time because we’re not exercising control over our time.
So if you’re ready, willing, and able to do a time audit, let me tell you how.
How to do a time audit
As opposed to a lengthy accounting audit where you feel like pulling your hair out, a time audit is much simpler and less painful. You want to be able to streamline your day and that starts with getting clear about how you currently spend your time.
The first step when it comes to a time audit is to decide when you’re going to do it. You’ll want to choose a 5-day period and avoid auditing your time during less “typical” times like when you’re picking up the slack of an absent co-worker, have a lot of unusual meetings, it’s a holiday season, or you’re about to go on vacation. You’ll want to choose a “normal” week to track your time.
The second step is to establish a way to document what you spend time doing. You can write it down on paper or, if you love a good Excel spreadsheet, then go for it, but decide the easiest way to document how you spend your time. The more complicated you make it, the less your brain will be on board doing it.
If you want, you can Google time audit charts. There are plenty of templates and suggested ways to track your time when doing a time audit.
Once you’ve chosen the “standard” week to audit your time and decided how to document your time, the third step is to conduct an easy time audit. You will simply set your phone alarm to go off every 30 minutes from the time you wake up to the time you go to bed, take 20 seconds to jot down what you did the previous 30 minutes, and do this for 5 consecutive days.
A word of caution – when I work with my time management clients, I warn them to “act natural” when they’re doing a time audit. We tend to clean up our act when we’re being watched, so make sure you’re doing what you normally do to get accurate data, not false, unhelpful data.
At the end of the 5 days, it’s time to gather your data and analyze the results to identify potential areas of improvement. You’ll want to get clear on things like your people-pleasing tendencies, lack of time boundaries, time wasters, dips in your energy, unhelpful habits, when you’re more or less productive, what you should be delegating, and what could be systemized.
Once that’s done, it’s time to consider what a perfect day would look like for you. Write down your top priorities and allocate an amount of time you would like to spend on each.
For example, out of the 24 hours you have in a day, start by breaking them down into chunks – 8 hours of work, 8 hours of sleep, and 8 hours of other things.
Of the 8 hours for work, what does a perfect day look like? Do you spend a total of an hour answering client emails at specific times throughout the day? Do you have 2 hours a day of “Focus Time” where you are uninterrupted and getting your most complicated work done? Do you set aside 30 minutes at the end of the day to plan for the next day? Do you stop working by a certain time and not feel guilty? Do you leave work at work?
Of the 8 hours for other things, what does a perfect day look like? Do you spend quiet time in the morning reading, meditating, or exercising? Do you say no to certain obligations? Do you spend more one on one time with your kids? Do you have a date night with your spouse every week? Do you get your nails done or meet a friend for dinner? Do you take turns planning and making dinner?
A time audit isn’t done in order to make you busier; it’s done to make you more intentional. Up until now, you’ve been letting your lower, primitive brain decide how you should spend your time. How do I know? Because you’re not enjoying your time and you’re describing yourself as “busy.”
If you use the word “busy” often, as in, “I’m so busy” or “I’m too busy,” you are not being intentional with your time. I had a time management client keep a tally of how many times she said or thought the word “busy,” and she was shocked.
The truth is that most of us have never been taught how our brains work and how we can use them to better manage our time. A time audit offers you the opportunity to see what your unmanaged brain does with time.
One of the cornerstones of The Balanced Accountant Time Management Program is first understanding how to manage your brain and then how to better manage your time. One without the other isn’t going to help you have more time for the things and the people you love.
The best part about doing a time audit is that you now have the data to see what your unmanaged brain has deemed important and why you feel so busy. You now have a front-row seat to what your lower, Toddler brain does with time.
Thankfully, you also have the higher, executive functioning part of your brain that’s like a supervising Mother. That part of your brain can take the data you’ve gathered from the time audit and develop a better plan.
In essence, a time audit is the starting point for your journey to better time management. It’s like the spot “You are here” on a giant map of a park or a shopping mall; you need to get clear about where you are right now, how you currently spend your time, what needs to be adjusted, and how to be more intentional with your time.
Remember to be kind to yourself because the human brain is resistant to change. To prevent yourself from reverting back to old time habits, consider setting up a system of accountability to keep you in check or working with a time management coach like me.
Don’t forget, the purpose of conducting a time audit is to give you back control of your time, so stay consistent with the changes you decide to make.
If you struggle with better time management, feel like your to-do list is running your life, find yourself stressed and overwhelmed, or just want to regain control, a time audit can be an important first step.
A time audit isn’t done in order to make you busier; it’s done to make you more intentional.
You can take the Time Management Personality Quiz mentioned in this episode HERE