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The Secret to Reducing Stress and Reclaiming Your Time

By Chelsea Hetherington, Ph.D.
January 19, 2023

When it comes to managing our time, we often get in our own way.

Take a look at your to-do list or weekly schedule. Are restorative, engaging, or energizing tasks and activities prioritized, or are they nestled under all the other responsibilities you have and commitments you made to other people? Do you tell yourself you’ll make space for your hobbies and self-care after work or on the weekends, only to have that time cut short or neglected altogether?

Wouldn't it be great if we could magically find more hours in a day to accomplish everything we'd like? Well, you don't need magic, just a method to better manage the time you already have. Cue the time audit.

What Is a Time Audit?

A time audit is just the process of taking a closer look at how you spend your time to identify areas where you can manage it better by delegating, outsourcing, or removing activities altogether.

Conducting a time audit can help you set clear priorities so that you spend your time in a way that lines up with your values while also allowing you to carve out pockets of time to work on hobbies and passion projects. It can also help you find room in your day-to-day to engage in the self-care activities you've been putting aside because, well, you didn't have time to do them.

And the benefits of doing a time audit go beyond having a more manageable schedule or free time: Research suggests having better time management may lead to lower stress levels, increased creativity, and improved overall quality of life.

The 5-Step Time Audit You Should Try Today

If you’re overwhelmed by competing demands—like feeling pulled between work, hobbies, friends, family, personal wellness, and more, conducting a time audit can be beneficial. By reviewing the tasks that are eating up your time and where you have a spare couple of minutes each day, you can take control of your daily life and better align it with what you care about most. Here's a step-by-step guide on how to conduct a time audit.

Step 1: Review How You're Currently Spending Your Time

This can involve looking back at your calendar or planner for the last week, month, or even year. Be sure to consider all areas of your life, both work and personal, and even how you’re spending those moments in between tasks or activities.

And if you’ve sworn off using a planner or struggle to keep your Google calendar updated, just do your best to break down the last few days or the last week.

Step 2: Reflect on Your Priorities

Once you have a sense of how you've been spending your time, start thinking about which activities are most important to you, and consider how much time you've allotted to them. Have you been devoting more time to activities high up on your priorities list, or has your calendar been dominated by tasks and people who fall more toward the middle—or bottom? Which are nonnegotiables that must stay in your schedule, and which are tasks or commitments that can take a back seat?

Step 3: Consider What You'd Like to Spend More Time Doing

Think about what activities or pursuits you'd like to take up a bigger fraction of your daily or weekly life. Maybe you'd like to prioritize physical activity, creative hobbies, or time with family. By identifying the things you'd like to prioritize after your time audit, you can start to make a plan for how to make that happen.

Step 4: Identify What Can Be Delegated, Outsourced, or Eliminated

Identifying what you’d like to give less time and energy to is just as important as figuring out what deserves more of your attention. Are you, out of a sense of obligation, filling your time doing things that don’t actually serve your needs and interests? Are you attending social gatherings out of habit rather than true intention? Is your work to-do list overflowing with tasks that are better suited to another member of the team?

By identifying what you can delegate, schedule for later, or eliminate, you can free up more time to focus on the things that matter most to you.

Step 5: Make a Plan

This can involve setting specific goals and actions to better align your time with your priorities.

Say you want to find a few hours each week to read purely for pleasure. A time audit might reveal that you have some idle time on weekday afternoons while waiting for your kids to get home from school, time you usually spend stressing about what to make for dinner. To make your reading goal a reality, you might delegate dinner prep to your partner two or three days each week.

Time Audit Success Tips

To ensure your time audit is successful and productive, consider these tips:

  • Start small. Resist the urge to make drastic changes all at once. Trying to make too many changes at once can be overwhelming and difficult to sustain. Instead, start with small changes and build from there
  • Don’t rely on your memory alone. Human memory is often fallible. Lean on a spreadsheet, calendar app, or a good old-fashioned agenda to keep track of your time and jot down observations as you do your time audit. You might learn that you have more free time or dedicate more hours of your day to a particular task than you initially realized.
  • Involve others for supportive accountability. Adjusting how you spend your time can be tough, so try involving a friend, co-worker, or family member in your changes. They can help support you, hold you accountable, and even provide feedback.

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