The 4-step time audit to achieve any goal

by Kevin Evans — 7 min read

The 4-step time audit to achieve any goal
“Don’t face complex issues head-on; first understand simple ideas deeply.”
-Edward B. Burger and Michael Starbird

 

The foundation of ALL self-improvement advice is this: you have a “bank account” of 24 hours to use each day.

Wanting to make a change in your life means you currently are spending your 24-hours one way and now, you want to spend your 24-hours a different way, one that is more enjoyable or productive.

Spending this time differently means:

1. You want to get a current activity completed in less time.
2. You want to replace a current activity with a new one.

While saving 10 minutes here or there can be great, that’s not the aim of this post. I want to help you implement big-win changes from reading more, to starting side businesses, to getting in shape.

In this post, I will cover:

  • Auditing: How you are really using your time.
  • Planning: Identifying the blocks of free time you have to work with based on YOUR schedule.
  • Creating: Making an action plan to implement the big wins in your life.

By the end, you will have the tools necessary to feel in control of your schedule and clear the space to do more of the things you enjoy.

It’s a tall order, so let’s begin…

Mission 1: Log How You Spend Your Time

If you want to read more, let’s say 25 pages a day/25 minutes per day, that time needs to come from somewhere.

Often, information like this would stay in my mind as a vague, “I’ll squeeze the time in somewhere and figure it out later.”

That plan would be good for a few days before my schedule always seemed to “take over” and my goal was pushed to the back burner.

By auditing your time, you will get an objective look at your schedule which will provide the customizable blueprint to implement any change in your life.

Let’s look at how Benjamin Franklin spent his 24 hours, as logged in his 1793 autobiography:


Ben’s schedule looks simple because many daily tasks are bundled together. I will take the liberty to clarify his schedule:


Of course your schedule will vary as different commitments come up, but for now, use the schedule you write down as a base.

I find Monday through Thursday, my schedule is fairly set. Friday nights are more open and the same with the weekend.

I recommend beginning with creating blueprints for the weekday AND weekend. Nobody wants to start the week wishing they had done x/y/z on the weekend.

★★★ ACTION STEP: Create a spreadsheet of how you spend your day.

I already set up a gSheet you can use to take action right now: Get the gSheet by clicking here.

Mission 2: Identify Your “Non-Negotiables” LOCKED-IN Times

Before getting into the blocks of time you can adjust to fit in a new activity, let’s clear out the “mostly” non-negotiable activities that are locked in.

Locked In = the time to complete the activity will remain fairly constant.  

  • Sleep - Vampires aside, if you don’t sleep, you die. Ben sleeps 7 hours a night. While we could refine Ben’s sleeping a bit, let’s assume this is mostly locked.
  • Eating  - Ben spends 1 hour, 30 minutes dedicated to eating each day. There is some wiggle room here, such as Ben eating out more, but let’s assume 1 hour, 30 minutes (eating, prep, and clean up) is mostly set
  • Hygiene / Dress - We do not want to offend our friends and neighbours and we like to look our best. Ben spends 35 minutes a day total for this. Depending on your routine, there may a lot of time-saving opportunities here.

Color-coding the non-negotiables, here’s what it now looks like:


All the WHITE spots now represent areas Ben can work with to implement changes in his life.

★★★ ACTION STEP: Identify Your Locked-In Times.

Once again, you can get the gSheet template by clicking here.

Mission 3: Identify Your Free Time

The next step is to identify the activities that you are willing to replace, that is, your free time.

This is sort of “Identify Your Lock-Ins Part 2.” What’s left will be your free time.

The difference here is that these activities are negotiable. You may not be willing to give up watching 1 hour of TV each night, but you could. Whereas, for instance, you cannot give up sleep.

As this step involves a greater emotional process than simply logging your schedule and identifying the “easy” lock-ins, I will go slowly here:

Here’s a first pass of replaceable, non-essential, activities color coded in yellow:


Let’s address the two spots I did not color code yellow in Ben’s schedule: work and commuting.

Ben works for a strict printing company and optimizing his time at work or getting a new job is not a priority now.

Because his job is in the city, replacing commuting is also out of the question. He may opt to use his commuting time dedicated to another change (i.e. reading 25 pages a day), but for now, he’s cool with keeping his commute time listening to NPR.

Ben makes both commuting and work LOCK-INs.


Cleaning up Ben’s schedule to only identify the blocks of time he is willing to work with so far, we get this:


Ben looks at these blocks and decides he does not want to replace all of them with new activities.

For the “5:00 - 5:10 am” block, Ben loves starting the day answering the question, “What good shall I do today?” He figures cutting this 10 minute activity is not worth it. He keeps it and makes it a LOCK-IN.

For the “6:30 - 6:45 pm” block, Ben loves tidying up quickly when he gets come to ensure his house stays in order. He decides this block becomes a LOCK-IN.

Removing these two blocks, we are left with: 


In the morning (5:30 - 7:15 block), Ben loves journaling + planning for the day ahead. This usually takes 30 minutes, thus eliminating 30 minutes from this block.

In the evening, Ben wants to keep his social life a priority. He decides to dedicate 6:45 - 8:45 pm to eating dinner with family + additional hanging out after. That eliminates 1 hour 15 minutes from his evening time.

Factoring all this in, here is the free time Ben has available to work with:


Now we have a clear view of the time Ben actually has to make change:

  • 1 hour and 15 minutes in the morning (6:00 - 7:15 am)
  • 1 hour and 30 minutes in the afternoon (12:30 - 2:00 pm)
  • 1 hour in the evening (8:45 - 9:45 pm)
  • TOTAL = 3 hours, 45 minutes of free time

★★★ ACTION STEP: Identify Your Free Time.

Mission 4: Your Action Plan

Now that you have a blueprint of your schedule, your next step is to write out a list of potential new activities you want to incorporate.

Ben writes the following list:

  • Meditate
  • Start a side business
  • Get in shape
  • Learn Spanish
  • Learn programming

Once again, Ben has these blocks of time to work with:

  • 1 hour and 15 minutes in the morning (6:00 - 7:15 am)
  • 1 hour and 30 minutes in the afternoon (12:30 - 2:00 pm)
  • 1 hour in the evening (8:45 - 9:45 pm)

With the exception of meditation, which could be done in 5-20 minutes a day, even while lying in bed first thing in the morning, the other four activities will require significant time each week, meaning he won’t be able to fit all into his schedule.

How does Ben choose?

There are a couple schools of thought here.

1. Pick one new habit/activity and incorporate the rest after you master adopting the one you choose.
2. Do a “test period”.

If you are in Camp 1 and know what you want to do, then begin incorporating the new activity into the free-time blocks you have:


If you are in camp 2, there are two ways to approach it.

1. Pick one activity to do a trial run for 1-2 weeks. It will look like above, but for a defined period of time rather than directly to “mastery.” For this period of 1-2 weeks, you focus ONLY on the one activity you choose before doing a trial run of another activity or deciding you want to master the activity in question.

2. Test multiple activities at once. For Ben’s schedule, he chooses to workout in the morning, work on a side business in the afternoon, and learn Spanish at night. Based on the amount of time you have available, there still will be a limit to how many activities/new habits you can take on at once. Thus, Ben drops meditating and learning programming for now.


After some experimentation, you may find you like one activity over another and drop the one you dislike. Or you may find you like multiple activities, but pursuing multiple at once does not provide you enough progress on each to be satisfied. Experiment! Rome, like your schedule, will not be built in a day :).

★★★ ACTION STEP: Block your new activities into your schedule

Of course opportunities and setbacks will come up in your schedule. Friends inviting you to events. You get sick. Your usual 30 minute commute takes an hour. You sleep in because you were exhausted from the day before.

While Ben has the blocks of free time he identified, it will be important to build some buffer in his schedule to account for when things don’t go to plan.

I find it helps make one new activity your Cornerstone Activity - the ONE activity that you focus on above all others if your schedule changes; The block of time that gets done no matter what.

Deep Work author Cal Newport would call this deep scheduling. The goal is to protect this Cornerstone Activity block with your life!

While I used Benjamin Franklin in my examples above, which last time I checked has been dead for quite some time, here is a more recent example of going from doing an audit to identifying lock-ins to what making big changes can look like:


Above is the schedule of Beau who completed a second degree and earned 5 developer certifications in one year while working and raising kids. His schedule is fairly simple because it includes 3 main things: work, family, and earning a degree.

You may start by doing trial runs of various activities and finally get to something that reflects Beau’s schedule.

One last caveat.

While the above schedules represent creating time blocks on a daily basis, perhaps you decide you only want to workout 3 days a week or write the next great novel on your weekends. Experiment! Experiment! Experiment!

If you feel like you are making progress and it fits your life, you know yourself best.

To recap:

1. Log how you are currently spending your time. This is your blueprint.
2. Identify your “non-negotiable” lock-in times (sleep, eating, hygiene & dress)
3. Identify your current activities you are willing to replace. This is your free time.
4. Block out time for the new activities in your schedule.

    While we each get 24 hours each day, as you can see, we only really have the time to make changes in our lives with the time we have left.

    With your blueprint, you now have an action plan and clear visual reference to control and make changes in your schedule, allowing you to purposefully spend more time doing the things you want to do.

    How much free time do you have and when? Reply in the comments and include some context (Age? In a relationship? Kids? Etc.?)

    Call to Action

    Once you have your schedule in place, if you want to beat procrastination and focus on actually getting your most important task done, check out the Productivity Planner to use your time effectively on a daily basis.

    Click here to get the Productivity Planner PDF Quick Guide here.

    Written by: Kevin Evans

    Head of Growth and Marketing at Intelligent Change. I have my hands in all things from emails to product creation. Passionate about improving mental health education, fitness, and nutrition. Sucker for donuts. You can find me in sweet home Chicago.

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