Where Does the Time Go? Performing a Time Audit

time for change

On Sunday, I shared with you my feelings about time: That it’s slipping through my fingers — and that no matter what we do, my husband and I are always running behind.

There was a lot of wonderful response to that post — and most of it made me realize that I’m definitely not alone.

I’ve been ruminating on this topic a lot this week. I imagine that some people do a better job than others of adjusting to this state of chronic time depravation.

Kind of like how some people don’t see the mess – and if they do see it, they simply acknowledge it and move it. Or maybe clean it up.

While other people (me), see the mess and proceed to totally freak out and feel like the walls are closing in on them.

Does this mean my house is always clean?

Absolutely not. (You should see my master bedroom – oy!) But, it does mean that I inevitably expend a lot of energy feeling bad and anxious because of the mess.

Same thing with my feelings about time management. In other words, if it didn’t bother me — that we have too much to do, not enough time to do it, and therefore aren’t doing it all – or even some of it – well — then I wouldn’t be writing this series.

But unfortunately it does bother me. A lot.

And one of the things I’ve realized as I’ve been working on this series is that “being bothered” takes up a lot of space in my brain.

If you are familiar with this, you may also be familiar with the whole “don’t sleep well when brain is too full = less time and patience to deal with everyday tasks” vicious cycle.

So… my time-induced emotional dysfunctions having been bared, let me get down to the details of this post: Performing a Time Audit.

Here’s what I’ve unscientifically surmised about time management, based on searching my soul — and asking my friends to tell me about their experiences:

Those of us who have longer To Do lists (mental or actual) than Hours in the Day are facing one of three problems:

1. We simply have too many items on our list to reasonably complete them in a 24-hour day, 7-day week

2. We are not using our time as efficiently as we could and therefore are unable to complete those tasks in a reasonable time frame

3. Some combination of #1 and #2

With few exceptions, I’d say most of us fall into category #3.

Let’s take me for an example.

Do I have a lot on my plate? No doubt.

Is it too much? More than likely.

Do I also waste “too much” time messing around on the computer (my big time “leak”)? Probably guilty as charged.

The goal of the Time Audit is to take this discussion from the theoretical – “more than likely” and “probably” — and move it to the evidence-based.

Definition of a Time Audit

Performing a Time Audit means writing down, every hour, a brief description of what you spent your last hour doing. You must do this for at least ONE WEEK in order to begin collecting sufficient data from which to draw conclusions.

If you want even more data, break it down by the half hour and/or do it for two weeks.

But keep those descriptions brief —  I’m talking three or four words at the most (“household chores”, “blogging”, “hanging out with kids”).

And remember: The auditing is a means to an end. Don’t get so caught up in recording that you forget to move on to the next step: The Time Budget. (I’ll be talking about the Time Budget in an upcoming post!)

Time Audits Are Like Money Audits

Remember back on Sunday, when I said that I think time management is like money management? Well, to me, the Time Audit is analogous to when I recommend that before you make a budget, you spend two months writing down every single thing you buy — in order to start to get a sense of your spending patterns.

And just like those two months of money auditing, this one week of time auditing won’t expose you to every single scenario and obligation you may encounter.

For example, it won’t necessarily tell you how you handle “yomtov prep”, since there aren’t any yomim tovim in the next week. (Yom Ha’Atzmaut withstanding.)

But it will start to show patterns. Reveal leaks. Indicate sub-conscious priorities.

And from that data, we can begin to extrapolate – and move forward to a better, more balanced place.

At least that’s my hope! 

Nitty Gritty Details

I plan to perform my Time Audit, starting on Sunday, April 14th. And I’ll use my cell phone to do so.

I will set a reminder to “ding” every hour — and I’ll type my descriptions into a document in the Notes Application on my iPhone. Because the phone is usually near me.

But you could just as easily do it on an actual notebook – grab a small one, so you can throw it in your purse or your pocket.

(In other words, don’t waste time looking for your notebook, otherwise you may find yourself recording: 15 minutes spent searching for my d*mn time audit notebook.)

“Team” Time

In addition to me doing a time audit, I am strongly encouraging (begging?) my husband to perform one, too.

As our time has seemingly gotten shorter in the last few years, it has stuck me – time and again – that our time is, actually, in many ways, shared. We’re a team — and our time is, so often, not mine and his, but rather ours.

Perhaps this is magnified for me, since Frankie and I both work from home, and we both share in the responsibility for homeschooling our children.

When he takes over laundry (thank you!), that means I “gain” three or four hours in my week. When our shul asks him to join the executive board, that means I may “lose” five hours in my month.

If one of us is over-burdened, the other may need to pick up the proverbial slack. But if we’re both over-burdened, then we may need a Plan C. Having Frankie do the audit along with me will give our family — our “team” — more information from which to move forward.

Are you with me?

The specifics that I’ve shared in this post may totally resonate with you. Or they may not.

Maybe you don’t think a time audit has to be a team effort — totally fine.

Maybe you want to audit your big kids’ time, too, since perhaps they’ve got some slack to pick up — awesome!

Maybe you have another way for tracking your activities — great!

Bottom line: If you, too, are feeling like the day is too short, and the list is too long, I’d love for you to join me in taking a one-week Time Audit, starting Sunday, April 14th.

Let’s start to get a handle on our time, so we can make the changes we need for ourselves and our families!


  1. Judith Goldberg says

    This is great, except that I rarely stay on one task for more than one minute, constantly, constantly interrupted. Juggling all the balls together. I can’t imagine what my audit would look like beyond a study of ADD someone else would need to perform. I always feel like my life is bigger than myself, meaning my demands are greater than my capacity. It gets worse when there are exceptional things going on (working with 4 house fix-it workers right now, for example). And there’s balance. You may be “wasting” time or you may also just be clinging to some balance because you really can’t be all work and no play. I try to just let it be ok. I do procrastinate and could do much better. I find if I set overly high expectations, that even when I slack an only accomplish 80%, I’m doing mighty darn fine. Good luck with the audit! I’ll be following how it goes.

  2. Chani Rosenblatt says

    I’m in!

  3. I’ve been thinking of doing this for a while and procrastinating on it. (Maybe because I’m too busy to do it) You’ve motivated me to start this Sunday.

  4. This is so me. It’s already 2:30 pm here, but I can probably remember what’s happened so far today…I think.

    • Mara Strom says

      YAY! So glad you’re doing it “with” me, Tali! The reminders are saving me from forgetting to write it down.

Leave a Comment