Where Does the Time Go?

Middle-aged woman working in home office looking in surprise at her watch wondering where does the time go

“I was busy all day but I got nothing done!”

How many times have you said something like this? If you’re like the rest of the working world, it’s probably a common refrain.

Most people understand that being busy and being productive are two very different things. Your day might be full of meetings and phone calls and emails and to do lists, but if you’re not really accomplishing the right things, you can end up feeling like a hamster running in his wheel and getting nowhere.

This problem stems from a basic lack of awareness. In most workplaces, you can fill a day doing small, meaningless tasks. Sure, these things still qualify as “work,” but they’re insignificant. If you spend too many days following the rabbit trail of useless tasks, you’ll suddenly find yourself wondering where the time has gone. You’ve been busy, but you have nothing to show for it.

If this scenario is all too familiar, have no fear. A simple time audit can help you better understand where the time does indeed go and, more importantly, where you can direct your attention to get more out of your time.

Also read: Help! I’m Doing the Work of 3 People!

What is a Time Audit?

Time management and efficiency experts have long used this tool to help people better understand their behaviors and choices with regards to time usage. To conduct a time audit, all you have to do is keep a detailed log of your activities over a period of 2 to 3 days. Track what you did and for how long you did it—and be sure to capture everything.

The mere process of conducting a time audit increases awareness and forces the auditor to truly take note of his or her actions and thought processes. The audit itself is often viewed as a tedious activity, but an eye-opening one. Most people start to see the benefit immediately, but don’t be tempted to stop. A complete audit will give you an even bigger pool of data to work with, and you’ll gain much deeper insight when you’ve done it for at least a few days.

How to Use a Time Audit

Once you’re done with your audit, evaluate it thoroughly. Look at the time you spent doing various activities. Consider the order in which you approached them. Why did you do these things? Were they the right things or just the easiest ones? Did they meaningfully contribute to your goals or were they just busy work? Where did you waste time on non-work activities, tasks that should have been delegated or items that were neither important nor urgent? Did you spend too long on tasks that could have been done faster? Did you jump around from one thing to the next or were you strategic in your choices?

The questions you can ask are endless. With your audit in hand, you will begin to see patterns emerge. From there, you can adjust your behavior to yield better results in the future.

Also read: What do Do When You’re Overwhelmed at Work

Without fail, every time I’ve done this activity, I’ve experienced tremendous growth. With it, I’ve identified bad habits to break and good habits to strengthen. I’ve become more conscious about my approach to work and time management. I’ve learned more about my natural productivity rhythms and the things that enhance my focus as well as the things that distract it. In short, I’ve discovered how to use time to my advantage, instead of letting it take advantage of me.

We only get a finite number of hours in any given day. Once they’re gone, we never get them back. It’s our responsibility to use that time wisely by focusing our energy and attention on the right things. Stop passively wondering where the time went. Use this exercise to help you answer that question with objective data.

About the Author

Chrissy Scivicque is a career coach, corporate trainer and public speaker who believes work can be a nourishing part of the life experience. Her website, Eat Your Career, is devoted to this mission. Chrissy is currently a contributing career expert for U.S. News & World Report and the author of the book, The Proactive Professional: How to Stop Playing Catch Up and Start Getting Ahead at Work (and in Life!), available on Amazon.