When a new year rolls around, you’re usually focusing on new habits to build and what you want to accomplish. We focus a lot on what we’re going to do or bad habits we want to break. This year, before you devise any plan to take over the world, or at least your schedule, I encourage you to complete a habit audit. I recently did one, and it was a huge wake up call with how I’ve been spending my time. Here’s how to complete one, and why I think it’s a game changer.
What is a Habit Audit?
When we moved to Portland, we joined Bridgetown Church and jumped right into leading a community group. Let me tell you, this has been challenging, but so good! We go through lessons on Practicing the Way each week, which is where I came face to face with my habit audit. In one lesson, I was encouraged to get out some paper and a pen (or record in a digital journal) exactly how I spent my days. Here are the instructions:
“For one week, keep a short and simple diary of your habits and patterns of life each day.. Make note of the amount of time spent on each activity. Take particular note of the things to which you commit time, energy, and money. “
My list included things like:
- 10 minutes making coffee
- 30 minutes reading
- 15 minutes making breakfast
- 1 hour of emails
- 30 minutes exercising
- etc, etc
You obviously don’t need to follow Jesus to do a habit audit and benefit from it. I cannot emphasize enough how powerful it is to see what you are actually doing with your day. We all know we have time wasters in our lives, but it’s so helpful to see how much of our lives we are wasting – as in, down to the minute – on things that don’t matter, stress us out, or prevent us from accomplishing what we want to do.
My Habit Audit Wake Up Call
I shared a snippet from my actual habit audit, but if I shared more specifics, you’d see there’s 3 minutes here and 2 minutes there of Facebook and Instagram scrolling, 10-15 minutes of online shopping on a “mental break,” clicking on an article on Twitter and going down a rabbit hole while completely forgetting what I’m supposed to be working on… I found I spent a lot of time on my computer on sites like Facebook and Poshmark. On my phone, I wasted a lot of time on social media apps and texting. Texting isn’t a waste of time in my eyes, but I want to be more mindful of how much I’m doing it during work hours.
Limited Attention and Wasting My Life
I’m ashamed to even tell you what those few minutes here and there actually added up to, but let’s say it was enough to dramatically change how I’m structuring my life this next year. If I continued to live this way, it’s safe to say a significant portion of my life would be utterly wasted. I’m not about to let that happen!
The biggest wake up call for me was having my tiny attention span on paper. I used to go to the library for hours researching and writing 30 page papers… now I read a few paragraphs and feel mentally tired and need a break. Damn you, Facebook, and all the addictive properties of social media! I cannot let my brain be rewired this way, even though this is really embarrassing to admit.
How to Monitor Your Phone Usage
If you have an iPhone, you can click on “settings”, then select “battery” and click “usage.” You’ll get to see how much of your battery life is spent on certain apps or in your browser, and you can tap the small clock icon to see that in minutes. That’s when I realized I spent 2 hours of my day texting, and a few hours on social media. Now yes, some of that is work. But let’s face it friends, most of it isn’t. What does your usage say about how you spend your time?
I recommend checking this every day during your habit audit and keep track of what you’re actually doing. I hear you can do this with other phones, so do a quick google search to tell you how if you’re interested!
Base Your Goals Around Your Habit Audit
I have goals and things I want to accomplish.
There are things I want to add to my life and new habits I want to create.
I have a clear idea of the person I hope to become.
My guess is, so do you.
I’m guilty of saying I’m too busy to do certain things and feeling stressed when my work week is extra full. As it turns out, I might not be so stressed or busy if I just managed my time better. Instead of focusing on what I want to add this year, I want to get a hold of these things that are wasting my time.
My New Years Resolutions are all about limiting my time on social media, and a game plan on how to do it. I also have noticed that in a year of crazy change, uprooting ourselves, starting over, and learning life in our new city, I turned to shopping as something I could control.
Now, compared to other people I don’t own much nor do I actually buy that much. But I found that I was looking constantly for things that might make me feel more settled, like replacing my Southern wardrobe to fit the Pacific Northwest climate! I’ve set up specific resolutions around how I’m spending my time and money.
After completing your habit audit, plan your goals and resolutions around what areas of your life you are dissatisfied with and what needs to change. If there are areas where you waste your time, create a strategy to help utilize your time better.
This doesn’t mean you have to be productive 24/7.
In fact, I’d argue against that any day and encourage rest.
Live a More Intentional Life
The habit audit is a helpful tool for you to realize how exactly you’re spending your time, identify areas that you don’t like, and make changes so you can live your life better. Maybe better is having more free time with your kids, or utilizing your time more efficiently so you can get more accomplished in a work day. Maybe it’s freeing up some time so you can take that class you had your eye on or grab coffee with friends more often.
I’m sure not everyone is wasting their time like I was, but I hold people accountable for a living. I think it’s safe to say a lot of people would benefit from a habit audit to see how valid their “busy excuse” really is, and if they could live a life that doesn’t put them in a state of chronic stress.
Another way to use your habit audit for good is to identify habits you want to replace with better ones. For example, if you wake up and scroll through your phone each morning, get a real alarm clock. Then wake up and read for 30 minutes instead, before you look at your phone. Or if you want to add in exercise or be more on top of chores, swap out a bad habit you identified and replace with doing the dishes nightly or a 20 minute workout!
Tools of the Trade
In my newfound journey of getting my time back, I’ve researched websites and apps that might help me be successful. Here are some things I’ve found for anyone who wastes their time online (disclaimer, I’ve used all the browser extensions but haven’t made my way to app exploration yet!).
Get Your Time Back with Technology
- Kill Newsfeed: This is a Chrome browser extension that will allow you to get on Facebook, but not endlessly scroll through your newsfeed. You can respond to comments, be active in groups or pages, and post statuses without the endless distraction of the newsfeed.
- StayFocusd: This is another browser extension that you can set time limits for any website you don’t want to waste time on. You can set certain hours to limit or block the sites entirely, like during your work day. A little countdown timer pops up that you can click on to see how much time you’ve spent already!
- Rescue Time: This extension can an act like a habit audit for your computer habits. You can set it up to give you alerts when you’re spending a lot of time on a site. It can also block or limit time on distracting sites.
- Offtime App: This app helps you figure out where you’re spending your time, and allows you to limit or restrict access to any app you find distracting. You can even block texts and calls, but allow certain ones to come through! (for apple and android users)
- Moment (for iOS) tracks your usage and allows you to set daily limits, and even includes a setting that forces you off of the apps by flooding your screen with annoying messages once you’ve exceeded the limit.
- AppDetox (for android): You can set your own parameters on an app-by-app basis so you can have access when it’s not a disruption. When you break your own rules, the app reminds you to put your phone down.
- 2019 Update: I purchased the Freedom App for my iPhone and that $20 literally purchased hours of my life back! I wish I could report I was more disciplined about social media… still fighting this battle but I LOVE Freedom!
There’s definitely more, but I’ve tried to include the ones I think would be the most helpful and are free. If you’re willing to pay, you can even get your own personal AI assistant. What!
Hopefully you can find something that would help you if you share some of my struggles. Managing time better can’t hurt, can it?
Finally Set Resolutions that Stick!
By identifying specifics about your struggles, you can work to make time for those healthy habits you want to add into your life! I’d love to hear how your habit audit goes, what you discovered, and how this will change how you set goals in the future.
This was a rude but welcomed awakening for me, and I am so thankful I was able to do this. I hope you benefit from this as well! And if you can’t do a full week, shoot for a few days and make changes accordingly.
No one wants to waste their life. This is a tool to live a more meaningful, intentional life. Best wishes, friends!