Budget your time like it’s your money

Actually, I think the title should read more like: “budget your time nearly the same way you should be budgeting your money”. If you know me then you I’m a) an accountant, b) a big fan of personal finance, and c) looking for new ways to be productive. I’ve found a secret I’ll share with you right now. When you “budget” your time, do it the same way you “budget” your money…

First things first

There’s one thing you have to do first and it’s a necessity. You have to be committed and motivated to use your own schedule. When you sit down and consciously make these plans you’re in the perfect mindset: you want to improve. Keep in mind, once you hear your alarm on Monday morning you’re going to want to say “how about another 30 minutes?” On Monday you’re not in the same mindset and if you simply react to your current situation you’ll never accomplish what you set out. You have to defer judgment to that person who sat down on Sunday night and said “this is what I should be doing tomorrow.”

In other words, you’re always consuming time and only every so often will you stop and say “this is what I should be doing.” The rest of the time you’re thinking “this is what I want to be doing” or “this seems like a better idea.” We can’t all be super-motivated all the time, but we can realize that, if done right and followed, our schedules will always treat us well in the end.

Looking to the future

The first thing I do, just like any budget, is consider the big things. In the case of time your income is very fixed: 24 hours each day. How you decide to spend that money is up to you. Your goal though should always be a zero sum day. By this I mean you budget every hour that you’re given.

Sound a bit crazy? Perhaps. But consider that anywhere from 4-9 hours of your day are already filled in with “sleep”. For students, another few hours are consumed by class. Everyone else fills in “work”. The rest of budgeting is simply filling in the gaps.

I always recommend Google Calendar (because I can access it anywhere, sync it to my phone, share it with friends, access it through GMail, etc.) but any calendaring program will do what you want. Heck, you could even use my Weekly Schedule spreadsheet.

The point is: look at your week and start using colors, symbols, whatever it takes to visually see where you want to spend your time. In my case I have lots of blue and grey (school and work) so I have to make sure I fill my week with some green (personal time). Like I mentioned earlier, when you’re sitting down and looking at the big picture you will realize “damn, I don’t have enough fun stuff going on, I should dedicate an hour to TV on Wednesday!”

The rear-view mirror…

As an accountant we’re always looking at what has already happened and making sure it makes sense. This part is just as important as the finance (budgeting) because it helps you plan for the future. The concept is very simple: go back to your tool (calendar, spreadsheet, etc.) and fill in your actual expenditures. Spend a few minutes to look back and say “I spent more time checking email” or “I actually finished that early and watched a movie”. Now you’re giving yourself some data to work with!

For me, I simply drag the Google Calendar events around and reshape them to see how they actually occurred. I can simply print my schedule and look at how things actually happened. Now that I’m in the swing of budgeting my time I can consciously take note and say “okay, I’ve been good about not sleeping in, I don’t need to budget as much next week.” I don’t have to print anything, I just need to realize I ended up spending way less time on X than I had anticipated.

This is important because it helps keep you honest with yourself. If you don’t face the facts then you’ll stumble along blindly not knowing “where the time went.” But, spending a few minutes to keep track will demonstrate to yourself: “hey, I’m not meeting my goals, I don’t deserve going out so much at night!”

Go easy on yourself

Of course, I find myself breaking my own rules all the time. Again, it’s hard to sit and say “yes, it’s a good idea to stay here and keep reading for class.” At the same time I can come back and say “shut up, Devin, if you finish by 9pm you get to watch a movie and go to bed! Just look at your schedule and stop complaining.”

But, things come up. Just like with money, you can only prepare for so much. Hopefully, though, spending a just a half-hour or so will help you change your entire week’s outlook.

Happy budgeting! Let me know if you try it out and how it goes…