Do you ever wish there were more hours in a day? Or feel like your schedule is crowded with external demands and you don’t have time for the most important things? If so, you’re not alone. Around half of Americans report not having enough time to do what they want. In this post, I’ll show you how to make a time budget. A time budget allows you to see where you’re going, stop drifting in life, and do what’s most important to you.
Here’s how to make a time budget in 4 steps:
Step 1: Know Where Your Time is Going
With a monetary budget, it’s important to know where your money is going. The same holds true for your time.
For one week, I want you to track everything you do each day. Not the “ideal day” but what actually happens. I’ve included a template sheet (Word version, Excel version), or you can use your own. From personal experience, I recommend tracking your time in 15-minute increments, which is a small enough window to capture things like interruptions or distractions.
Once you’ve finished that, you can move on to Step 2.
Note: if you’re in a time of transition in your life, such as moving, or if your week looks wildly different than a usual week, perhaps hold off. The point of this exercise is to see what usually happens with your time.
Step 2: Assess
With a monetary budget, once you’ve seen what money you have coming in and where it’s going, the next step is to decide if that’s where you want it to go. With a time budget, it’s the same. Now that you’ve taken one week to see where your time is going, you assess it.
Here are three areas to look at when you assess. You can do more if you’d like, but I think these three give a good big-picture overview.
What Matters Most
Make a list of what matters most to you in life. When you look at how you spent your time last week, did you spend your time pursuing what matters most?
Keep that list handy. You’ll use it again shortly when making your ideal time budget.
Responsibilities and Necessities
For a money budget, your rent or mortgage likely won’t change from month to month. And, you have to pay it; it’s not negotiable. Some parts of your time are non-negotiable responsibilities. Record these, their frequency, and how long they usually take you.
- Commute: 30 minutes twice per day, Monday-Friday
- Cleaning the house: 2 hours, once per week
- Church: 1.5 hours including driving, Sundays
Keep this list handy for when you build your ideal time budget.
What to Eliminate
When you look at how you spent your time last week, is there anything you think shouldn’t be there? Can you eliminate it? If you did, what would it free time up for?
Perhaps a responsibility (from the above section) is something you’d like to eliminate. You’re free to do that, to un-commit to something. You may need to talk to others involved before ducking out of it, but this can be a great way to get rid of what matters less for the sake of what matters most.
Make a list of what you’d like to eliminate from your schedule. Extra credit: list what you’d like to replace it with.
Step 3: Build Your Ideal Time Budget
Using whatever your calendar system is (an app, a paper planner, a whiteboard calendar, etc.), build your ideal time budget.
Responsibilities and Necessities
Start by putting in your responsibilities and necessities. Since you have to do these, put them in where they belong on your schedule.
What Matters Most
Schedule regular time for what matters most. Depending on the activity, it could be daily, weekly, or any time in between. Decide a length of time and frequency and put them in your ideal time budget.
- Work out: 30 minutes, 3 times weekly (Monday, Wednesday, Friday before work)
- Date night: all evening, once per week
- Read 10 pages of an inspiring book: 10-30 minutes, daily
All three examples above are habits, which are a time-efficient way of doing what matters most. Habits become automatic with time. So, it means each day you make progress on the things that are most important.
Habits don’t have to be huge things, and often they shouldn’t be. Ask yourself the question “what’s one thing I can do today to [be healthier]?” Notice it says “one thing I can do” rather than “should do.”
Habit-setting is a great practice. I don’t have space to talk about it in this post, but I’ve put together a free guide to walk you through it.
With the remaining time, fill in what you’d like to do, including:
- Flex time – because things inevitably take longer than planned
- Margin – breathing room between activities. You probably don’t enjoy scrambling between activities, so don’t book yourself solid.
Congratulations! You now have an ideal time budget. Keep in mind it’s just an ideal. Most days you won’t do everything on the ideal; I know I don’t. But, keeping 70-80% on track is great.
Step 4: Evaluate and Reevaluate
Your life doesn’t stay the same forever. If your season in life changes, such as having a new baby, or moving across the country, you’ll need to adjust your time budget accordingly. You’d do the same for a monetary budget if your income or expenses changed.
Or, even on a monthly or weekly level, things change and you need to tweak your ideal time budget. Enter: the weekly review.
The weekly review was advanced by David Allen in his book Getting Things Done (which Brian has referenced before). But it has been popularized by a number of business and life planning blogs (including Michael Hyatt, LifeHacker, and Live Your Legend).
A weekly review is one hour per week to review your week. Your ideal time budget makes it easy. Here are a few questions to get you started:
- Have you been on track (ideal vs. reality) or not? If not, what is going on? Are there other responsibilities you weren’t aware of that will happen each week, or are they one-time events? You might need to change your ideal to give yourself enough time.
- Do you feel overwhelmed? If yes, you might need more time for margin or flex time.
- Do you feel fulfilled? If no, perhaps you need more time for what matters most.
Make changes as appropriate and reevaluate in one week or one month. Like everything, it’s a work in progress, an experiment. Constantly experiment and tweak.
Brian writes a lot about what matters most. I highly recommend making a time budget to sort through how you’re spending your time to make sure you have time for what matters most.
Question: Do you proactively budget your time? Have you ever thought about creating a “time budget”? You can leave a comment by clicking here.
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