02 Mar Scrutinize your life priorities with a “time audit”
There’s a new app in town that’s stirring up a lot of buzz. It gives you superhuman powers to tackle one of life’s most soul sucking activities: e-mail. It’s actually called Superhuman and borrows marketing tricks from both Supreme and trendy nightclubs – building up a waiting list of users and using luxury pricing ($30/month, gasp!). I’ve been blessed with a few invites from the connected-Rad-fam, but have respectfully declined. Yes, I’m a bit cheap. But more importantly: I don’t have an email problem.
I knew this because over the past ten days I spent 32 minutes per day on email (sending and receiving 53.8 messages). These figures are so precise because they were the result of a time audit. I ran this audit to answer two simple questions: Was I spending my time intentionally? And were my activities aligned with my life priorities?
So I put my professional (i.e. RadReads) life through chronological proctology exam, combining logs from the Toggl app and notes from my calendar. And tbh, I was quite nervous about what the results would show.
The (infamous) Important, Not Urgent category
Ah, the infamous “snooze” button for our most precious, but hard to nail down activities. Health, Habits, Recruiting, Learning, Marriage, Parenting, Finances. The lack of deadlines and accountability makes it easy to “kick the can down the road.” What would my Time Audit reveal about this oft-neglected category?
The Eisenhower Matrix presents two challenges. First, can you strike the right balance between things that lie in the top half (Important, with varying Urgencies)? And second, can you strike as many activities as possible from the bottom half?
The first principles of my workflow
Over the years, my approach to work has been organized around three core first principles. These principles aren’t set in stone (and I often think about how to balance structure vs serendipity) and they are a byproduct of the desire to work for myself. Here are the 3 principles:
1. Manage energy over time
Here’s a chart of my energy over the course of the day:
This graph is consistent with my tendencies as a morning person. As such, I protect the mornings for deep thinking, reading and writing time and keep the afternoon for the more mundane activities (emails and bill paying.) The Power of Full Engagement: Managing Energy, Not Time, Is the Key to High Performance and Personal Renewal (ironically written by Trump’s biographer Tony Schwartz) has deeply influenced this approach.
2. Single-task aggressively
Multi-tasking doesn’t work for me. The cost of switching tasks (even briefly) is punitive (research has shown a 40% drop in productivity from constant task-switching). I use Pomodoros (25 minute deep work intervals) to make sure I don’t get lost context-switching.
3. Manage priorities using GTD
Getting Things Done is David Allen’s productivity framework for balancing the Important category. It’s centered around the concept of an Inbox to quickly capture your tasks, heavy Tagging (using meta-data) and a Review Process (to evaluate Important, Not Urgent). Here’s a webinar on how I use GTD with the Omnifocus app.
How to conduct a time audit
While it may sound daunting, it’s extremely easy to conduct time audit using the following three approaches.
- Use an app: I used a free service Toggl which has both an iOS app and Chrome Extension, covering my two modes of work (phone and laptop). I’ve also used the Hours app.
- A journal: An analog approach consisting of pen and paper. Every activity gets logged on a separate page of a notebook.
- Calendar approach: A more deliberate approach of proactively structuring your day around your priorities (which doesn’t work for me.)
Practically speaking, the best approach probably combines two of the three. For me I tracked with an app and then manually layered in my meetings by looking at my calendar.
Show me the damn results!
You’ve waited this long, here’s a 10 day breakdown of RadReads (spanning two newsletter issues).
- 11 hours total, 1 hour/day
I refuse to call this category networking, but the majority of my time is spent hanging with members of the Rad Community (both IRL and via Skype). There’s no greater joy than listening to your stories, teaching what I know, and engineering serendipity amongst community members. And in the truest example of abundance, it’s these relationships that drive 90% of my story ideas AND the referrals to my coaching business.
Damn, I’m lucky!
- 8:30 hours total, 50 minutes/day
This consists of the weekly essay. While these used to be 1 hour (500 word) ruminations, they have evolved tremendously. Now, each piece is reported, illustrated and SEO-optimized – averaging 2,000 words and drastically increasing the time spent. This is an area that merits further investigation.
- 11 hours total, 1 hour/day
I’ve slowly grown my practice to cover the Psychology of Money, Career Transitions, and Productivity+Workflow Diagonstics and coaching is a significant income contributor. Given the intensity of the work, I limit these activities to 6-8 clients at any given point in time. The Time Audit revealed that the amount of prep work required for each session.
- 5:23 hours total, 32 minutes/day
I answer non-urgent emails at the end of the day and in one sitting. For open-ended requests (“Do you have any Bali recommendations?”) I’ll morph them into tasks, and if I’ve been asked the question 3+ times I’ll turn it into a Google Doc or a blog post. This number could be lower, but as you guys know, I answer every single reader question.
- 4:30 hours total, 25 minutes/day
My reading is almost equally split between RadReads articles and books. I’d like to get the book time up a little bit.
- 4:10 hours total, 25 minutes/day
Each issue takes approximately 2 hours to produce, covering blurb-writing to formatting. I’m working on getting this down to 1 hour with the help of contractors.
- 1:45 hours total, 10 minutes/day
There’s a lot of unsexy behind the scene work of upgrades, cross-posting, and WordPress glitches. Just this week, I noticed that many of my images were too big and could impact my ranking with search engines.
- 1:43 hours total, 10 minutes/day
So the most important category is the last one, SAD!!! But here’s the reality of working for yourself, there’s not a lot of slack for developing long-term projects. As you see from the list of activities, I don’t see a ton of places where I could cut the fat.
On Reddit, I asked fellow solopreneur (and Company of One evangelist) Paul Jarvis how he balanced Important+Urgent (short-term needs of the business) with Important+Not Urgent (Long-term growth), given the lack of resources (emphasis mine):
So that’s how I started with products, almost exactly 🙂 My services took up most of my time (and paid) so I only had a sliver to work on new ideas like products. So you’re exactly where I was. I spent a small amount of my time creating my first in between client work. I spent zero dollars on it, and it was quite small. But as it did well and generated income, I was able to treat products from there almost like a client – where part of my time was bought by my product income to work on new products.
His advice about starting small and treating your R&D as a “client” really stuck with me:
I think the key is starting super small. My first product was a short book. I traded to get it copyedited and for the things I needed to shoot the photos for it. I took a month or so, even with only a few hours a week. Since it was small, I could launch it quickly, see if it worked in the market, then build on it. Even my first online course was tiny, and I spent a small amount of time on it. Then as demand and income from those things grew, I put more time into products, and slowly moved away from services. That process took almost 3 years total though to go from full-time services to full-time products. And I only increased my product time when my products were making more income.
The final verdict?
I used a heat map to color code each activity relative to its importance and time spent (red = needs to change, green = working well).
The biggest gap is in R&D which consists of researching and producing a series of courses for the Rad community. The matrix shows me that I probably should dial down my relationships, extract efficiencies out of the newsletter/blog and try to read a bit more.
Thanks for reading! I’d be curious to know what your Time Audit reveals.
P.S. The Time Audit (combined with Important, Not Urgent) are coaching modules I use with high performing execs and entrepreneurs. If we should be chatting, hit me up: khe [at] radreads [dot] co.