A popular technique among productivity experts is “time auditing.” This is an approach where you obsessively record what you are doing every fifteen minutes in order to maximize your use of time. I think this is a terrible idea.
A great example of this comes from Sean Black’s blog. In “How Productive Are You?” he writes:
I started instituting quarterly time-logs where everyone individually tracked everything they did for a week in 15 minute increments using an always-open spreadsheet. I prefaced this exercise to the team by explaining that we were trying to make sure we were using their time effectively as well as find opportunities to automate, delegate or eliminate redundant tasks so they weren’t mired in minutia.
Another comes from an article on Productivity501 called simply “How to do a time audit.” Mark Shead provided the following advice:
Get some type of timer that can be set for a specific interval of time. You want to use 60, 30 or 15 minutes. Normally an hour is what you want to use. Set the timer to go off, but make sure you start at some odd time, like 8:11….
Each time the alarm goes off, write down what you are doing at that moment, reset the alarm, and go back to work. The process should take about 20 seconds. It will interrupt you, but the data should be well worth the inconvenience.
In essence, the suggestion is to obsessively record what you are doing so that you can review it later and make behavioral changes. In my view, however, this is a form of micromanagement, where you are the both the worst possible critic and the most abused employee.
Writing down how you spend every minute of every day will certainly help prove where you waste time. It’s also likely to drive you crazy. Your life is not a crime scene where forensic experts are called in to piece together an exact timeline. Instead, it’s actually valuable to do nothing to increase worker productivity. It’s pretty hard to let your mind wander and come up with innovative, outside-the-box ideas when you have to check a box every seventeen minutes.
Instead of time auditing, I prefer keeping a daily journal to increase productivity growth. As I progress through the day, I type up some reflections on my progress. Sometimes these are notes on client interactions, or just a log of what I did. However, since it is written in retrospect, it’s not a series of interruptions. Instead, it’s a powerful way to close my day and get a sense of where I’m spending my time without obsessing over every minute.
Furthermore, the daily journal has a fantastic value for my team. It’s available to everyone else at anytime, so they can comment on my progress and get a sense for what I’m doing. This isn’t an audit, but rather a way of communicating and empowering others. It’s a tool for ensuring success without having to prove that it actually happened.