How (And Why) To Do An Activity Audit

How (And Why) To Do An Activity Audit
This post was previously published. It has been updated.

Did you ever feel so overloaded that you simply want to shut down? Or perhaps you need to be at least two places at the same time? It gets worse at this time of year, too, with all the holiday activities added on top of everything else. It may be time for you to perform an activity audit.

Why Is Auditing So Important?

When a company is concerned with waste, they will perform an audit. This is usually thought of in financial terms, but can also be done on processes. Waste can be found in many different forms — it can be too much of something used for a job, or the wrong resources used. An audit can also determine if a job or function has a good return on investment (ROI).

By applying these concepts to our activities, we can find out if we are wasting energy or time for an activity; if we are the best people for the job; or if the payback for an activity is worth the effort.

How To Do An Activity Audit

List Your Activities

List your activities…all of them. Anything that takes time should be included, even if you consider them essential, like going to work and sleeping. If you are truly feeling overwhelmed, it must include everything, even things like household tasks. It has to include activities that require your effort on a tangential level, such as taking a child to soccer practice.

This list should also contain things that you have committed to but haven’t started, such as a backlog of reading; an e-course you purchased, but haven’t started, or projects for which you have the nagging “need to” sense about.

If you’re not sure about how you spend your time, you can do a time audit.

List The Benefits

For each of the activities you listed in the last step, write out the benefits you receive (or will receive in the case of the unstarted ones). These benefits can be either tangible or intangible.

Going to work falls into the tangible benefits category – you trade your time for money. So does trading skills between two people – you get something done you can’t easily do yourself.

On the intangible front, you may need to dig deeper. For a volunteer position, the benefit may be a sense of accomplishment or being part of a larger cause. For bringing your child to soccer, it may be a feeling of satisfaction for providing your child with opportunities. For a household task, it may be a sense of a job well done or enjoyment of a tidy space.

Don’t downplay your benefits. It may seem silly to feel good about enjoying doing laundry, but it is important to know what you enjoy and what you don’t.

Figure Out The Cost

For each of the activities, you must now figure out the cost right now. This may be in actual currency, but it may also be in time, emotion, or energy. It is these costs that can make things seem overwhelming.

You may volunteer at a homeless shelter and enjoy the work, but you are finding yourself resenting the amount of hours you have been asked to put in, or by a sense of approaching burnout. This example has a cost both in time and emotional energy.

Tangential activities often come at the expense of our time. Taking a child to orchestra practice, even if you are using the time waiting productivity, can come at the cost of time at home and the ability to tackle tasks there.

Figure Out If You Are The Right Person

For each of the activities, ask yourself if you are the right person for the job. Your interests and abilities should match what you are doing. I know for a fact that it is easiest to ask existing volunteers to take on more, than to find new volunteers. After all, someone who is already doing a great job and meeting commitments is reliable and easy to ask.

Being the wrong person for the job counts as a cost of the activity.

Analyze Your Data

Now for each of the activities, analyze the amount of effort, the use of resources, and the benefits of each activity. You will find one of three outcomes:

  1. The activity will continue, unchanged.
  2. The activity will continue, with changes to your part in it.
  3. The activity will not continue.

How To Change Your Part

If you decide that you need to change your part in an activity, think of the ideal form of that activity. From there you can brainstorm solutions. Don’t be afraid to think outside the box.

You may decide to scale back an activity, rearranging how it is accomplished, cutting back hours, or limiting your involvement to those things that fit your interests and talents. You may even decide to delegate the task or hire it out.

A friend of mine, who lives 40 minutes from town, was getting frustrated at the time to run her three children to rehearsals and lessons. She worked out with the teachers that the children will have lessons the same day as the orchestra rehearsals, keeping her and the kids out of the car for an extra 4 hours a week.

How To Get Rid of Activities

Dropping activities can be hard for many people.

There are several ways that you can transition out of activities: you can quit without notice, which may leave people in the lurch; you can quit with notice, which will still leave a gap; or you can find someone to replace you.

Each activity you choose to leave will have a different outcome. The last time I did a big purge, I made a promise to myself to jettison 30% of my outside activities. Most of these were volunteer positions shared with other people. So I politely gave notice. One, which required my technical expertise, I transitioned by finding a replacement and then training him in the job.

Others I just said, “sorry, I’m overwhelmed, and I can’t do this anymore.” It was this last case that I was most worried about, but the funny thing was I found everything went on without me. I realized that no one can pick up the ball if it never gets put down.

It’s Your Time

Your life is made up with your time. To paraphrase Oliver Burkeman, whatever you spend your time on is how you spend your life. When you spend your time in a way that you don’t particularly value, you are paying with your life.