Although we do our absolute best to save our Executive’s time, more often than not, we find that they are still running around from meeting to meeting, working on last-minute projects, asking you to deal with urgent matters and postponing essential tasks. When your Executive works in a fast-paced environment, it can be challenging to know where the time has gone, and they will often work longer hours to catch up on everything they’ve missed during the 9-5. As their Assistant, it is hard to know where to start in helping them scrap back time when you are holding on for dear life too! Sure, there are loads of productivity apps and methods that help manage their time, but when the day goes by so fast, and you don’t know what they’ve been doing when there is no clear focus, it is mission impossible. If this sounds familiar, I highly recommend you create a time audit for your Executive.

Create a time audit for your Executive

Before you set out to create a time audit, you will need to plan so that you can dedicate your own time to get the time audit up and running. It does take a little bit of discipline from you and your Executive, but the results really will help you both with scheduling and productivity. During the time audit, you will spend a lot of time tracking your Executive, their time, and what they do with that time. You will need to be up to date on what they have coming up, what they are working on, their priorities and you will have to keep a close note on what they are doing in their office, the meetings they are having and what takes place during those meetings. Before you start the time audit, make sure you are fully briefed on everything that is coming up. There are four steps you should follow that will make the time audit successful. They are:

  1. Setting your Executive’s intentions
  2. Tracking the time
  3. Analysing the data
  4. Making actionable changes

Setting your Executive’s intentions

Before you start the time audit, you will need to have a meeting with your Executive so that you are up to date on everything that is going to happen over the time audit period. I would suggest you do a time audit for one month to start with. During that meeting (if you don’t already know) find out your Executive’s top 3-5 goals for the month. What do they want to achieve and what is coming up that will drive the business forward? The goals can be ongoing project milestones, they can be personal objectives, or they can be particular to that period. This is called setting your Executive’s intentions. This is what they ideally want to be focusing on for the month. It is the work they should be doing, but as we all know, even with the best intentions, our Executive’s can be taken off course and their time is allocated to other activities. This is what the time audit will uncover – how much time is spent on achieving your Executive’s objectives.

Tracking the time

The essential part of creating a time audit is tracking the time. As I said, you do have to be disciplined, and you will need your Executive’s buy-in for this to work. Tracking time isn’t as arduous as you might think though. If you work for an organisation that already tracks time for billing clients, then you will be used to this process. If you are new to time tracking, there are a few fundamental rules that will help you.

  1. Set up categories for the working day. For example:
    • Meetings
    • Emails
    • Objectives
    • Projects
    • Personal time
    • Thinking/strategy
  2. Colour code your categories so that you can track all of the activities quickly and visually. This will help when you come to analyse the data. If you have a lot of categories and a lot of colours, this in itself will show how much your Executive has on their plate.
  3. Decide how often you are going to track the time – 15 minutes, 30 minutes, every hour. You are best to judge this, and it depends on how busy your Executive’s calendar is. I’ve worked with Executive’s who do work in 15-minute segments so as granular as this might seem, quite often they will jump between tasks every 15 minutes.
  4. You don’t need to write a lengthy description of every activity. Keep the detail simple. You will be doing this for a month, so you don’t want to make the task too time-consuming for you!
  5. Make sure you have access to all your Executive’s emails and calendar. You will need this for the audit to work.

There are a few different methods for creating a time audit. You can use a calendar or a simple spreadsheet. I highly recommend you use time tracking technology to do the time audit. There are a few brilliant apps that do the leg work for you. Again, it is helpful to have your Executive on board because you will need to upload the software to their computer and get them to hit the tracking button when they start a new task (although if you are all up in their business you will probably know when they are moving from one task on to something else). I would recommend either Toggl or Rescue Time. Both apps are straightforward to use. They are very intuitive, which takes a lot of the work out of this task and the data collected is comprehensive.

When you are tracking your Executive’s time, remember to tag any interruptions you see taking place, when they go for lunch or take personal time. If they work late into the evening or come into the office early, again, ask them what they have been working on so that you can track it.

Analyse the data

This is the fun bit! After all your hard work tracking their time, you can take a deep dive into what they are doing with it! This is raw data so you can see where they are allocating their time and if they are working on the right things and hitting their goals. This is the first thing you should check when looking at the data.

How much time do they spend working on their goals? 

Is the amount of time they are allocating to their goals the right amount? Are they finding the time to work on the right thing? This is so important to any Executive’s productivity and ultimately driving the business forward.

Analysing the data doesn’t stop there; it is also worth looking at the following:

  • When is your Executive at their most productive?
  • How long do they spend on their objectives compared to other tasks?
  • How often are they interrupted?
  • What is getting in the way of working on their objectives?
  • How long do they spend in meetings?
  • How long do they spend on personal time?
  • What type of tasks do they prefer to do in the morning? What do they prefer to do in the afternoon?

When you are looking at the data, it is crucial to see what patterns are emerging and what changes can be made to make your Executive’s time more efficient.

Making actionable changes

Now that you have the data, you can see how your Executive spends their time. From here, you can make actionable changes. Here are a few suggestions.

Goals and objectives: Now that you both know realistically how much time your Executive spends working on their objectives, it is worth putting a plan in place that means the allocation of time is correct. Try to safeguard this time, and schedule it appropriately.

Personal time: If from the time audit, you can see that you Executive takes no personal time, this needs to be adjusted. They need downtime so again try to schedule more personal time into their day.

Distractions: What work is distracting them from more important priorities? They need to stop working on low-value activities. Can these activities be automated or delegated (and not necessarily to you!). If the time audit has been a candid piece of work, it might turn out they spend too much time on their phone, emails or social media? We all have those distractions, and it might be worth setting up a personal goal for them to cut back on those distractions.

What interruptions can be avoided: Interruptions are inevitable for everyone, but you can minimise the disruptions if you plan out an ideal schedule for them to follow and they stick to their productivity goals. You can also schedule a time for them to be interrupted –  one ‘open door afternoon’ per week, for example, will give some structure to the interruptions at least.

Managing your Executive’s time and productivity levels is an ongoing endeavour for Assistants. Doing something like a time audit will give you the data you need to plan out an ideal schedule for your Executive and worth the effort.

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