Let’s calculate where time goes…to get it back.

THE MAIN POINT (427 words—85 seconds reading time)

It’s time to stop talking about ABC and crises and do something about getting our lives under control. We’ll start that discussion next week. In the meantime, we need to find a baseline. You see, I’m expecting you to do something about your frustrations. We’ll need to know if you’re making progress. So, we start by measuring (auditing) where you are now.

Once you know how you spend your time and effort, you can change what you do and spend your time and effort more wisely. I’m suggesting that you do an ABC audit. The ABC audit is based on the ABC model from last week and the idea that we have to improve our processes to reduce our crises so we can gain time to build the business. First, it’s helpful to know just how bad the situation is. Therefore, I suggest that for the next week or two you keep track of your “A,” “B,” and “C” activities.

Find a piece of paper to keep track of how you spend your time. As opposed to a time log where you monitor specifically what you do in 15-minute blocks (This is also a good idea.), in the ABC Audit you’ll monitor generally what percent time each morning and afternoon you spend on “A,” “B,” and “C” activities. You don’t have to be perfect in how you distinguish “A,” “B,” and “C” activities. You don’t have to define or distinguish “A,” “B,” and “C” activities just like another person does. You, however, must be consistent over time on how you categorize your activities into “A,” “B,” and “C.” If you’re not sure how to categorize a particular activity, make your best estimate and leave that activity in that category for the duration of your audit. Remember, you want to estimate how you spend your time and how the amounts of time per category change as you improve your work.

One way to record “A,” “B,” and “C” activities is to recall what you did over a period of time (perhaps a day) and estimate how much time you spent on each type of activity. Recording what you do and how much time you spend on each task, interruption, question, or whatever as the day proceeds is a better way to keep track of what you do. One problem with any recording of your time is in distinguishing what you do physically from what you do mentally. Talking to someone on the phone about plans for the future while thinking about your current personnel problem could be called either a “B” activity or a “C” activity. Looking back over a time period, for example a day, has the advantage that you can surface the dominating activity. Being able to recall your actions in terms of dominant activities without overlooking tasks takes a bit of skill.

THE FOLLOW UP (410 words—82 seconds reading time)

The following three paragraphs briefly describe the “A,” “B,” and “C” activities for the ABC Audit. Please refer to these descriptions as you audit the types of activities you spend your time on during the day.

“A” activities are administering your work process using the management process. These activities keep the organization stable and reduce surprises. For example, a routine meeting to evaluate the day’s production or backlog is A. Even if you improve your work process, that’s an “A” activity. All your activities that are strictly delivering on your expected and needed work and managing that work are “A” activities. I’ll bet you think you do almost only “A” activities. If you did, you’d know what you’re going to do during the day and would go home at night (on time) having done exactly that.

“B” activities are building the business. These activities move the organization forward. A strategic planning meeting or a meeting to change the organizations niche is a B activity. These are the fun and creative activities. When you identify a new or broader market or a new client or find a way to enhance a client you now have, those are “B” activities. When you identify a new or better product or service, that’s a “B” activity.

“C” activities are catering to crises. These activities are the good and bad surprises you experience as you manage. A surprise meeting to figure out what to do with unexpected profits (or budget funding) or a subordinate’s unexpected absence is an example of a “C” activity. Anything having to do with rework is a “C” activity. Finding the problem, resolving the problem, cleaning up after the problem, finding a way not to have the problem again are all “C” activities. Participating in politicking, complaining, gossiping and other activities like this are “C” activities. (In contrast, taking a few minutes for small talk or shop talk to help get the gears of interacting with people during the day is an “A” activity.)

Look back over your day and identify everything you did. Don’t ignore short tasks. Separate what you did into “A,” “B,” and “C” activities. Make a table showing time and duration and activity by type. Tally up how much time you spent on “A,” “B,” and “C” activities. After a week or two, you’ll see a trend. You’ll also be able to estimate whether the week or two is a nominal week.

The little table below illustrates how quickly and easily we can audit our “A,” “B,” and “C” activities. The comments part of the table doesn’t describe the division of time, rather it captures the key influence in the day.