Budgeting Your Time in 5 Steps

I think the reason a lot of people don’t want to make a budget for their money is they don’t want to see the disconnect between where they should be spending their money and where they actually are. Better to live in ignorance, so the thinking goes.

$100 bills

Obviously, refusing to budget not a very sustainable (or good) idea. There are too many things out there that we can spend our money on. Our money is finite. The only way to sort through it all is to prioritize, to see what needs to get spent (rent, groceries, savings, and the like) and what’s a Want instead of a Need.

Still, a good number of people understand the importance of a budget, make one, and stick to it. Not only do they have enough money going to what’s necessary, they know how much they can spend on the discretionary things; they’ve given themselves some amount, rather than cutting off discretionary things entirely.

We grasp the concept of a budget. But what we grasp at a financial level we entirely fail at on a time level.

Like our money, our time is finite. We only have 168 hours per week, no matter how you slice it. We have too many things we can spend our time doing, and not enough time to do them all.

Have you ever thought about budgeting your time?

The businessman who puts in long hours at the office is implicitly saying No to his health and family. By always doing more and more and more, his Yes to other people becomes a No to himself.

The college student who spends hours on Facebook is implicitly saying No to grades and friends. His or her Yes to mindless time on the Internet becomes a No to academics and spending time with others.

By not budgeting time, it’s so easy to unconsciously choose No to the things that matter most.

Step One: Where do you want to be?

You build the life and the life will build you.

Begin with the end in mind. Seeing in your mind where you want to be gives you the motivation to actually get there.

You’ll want to order your life. By defining your prioritize, you define how you should spend your time. Knowing something is important but failing to give yourself time for it means you’ll just get really frustrated.

Worship, prayer time, leisure, quality time with friends, exercise, and sleep should be high priorities. Some of these things are the purpose for our existence (worship, relationships with God and others), others help us function our best and life a more abundant life (leisure, exercise, sleep). How much time have you been giving yourself for these things?

At the end of each day, how do you want to feel? Burnt-out? Energized? Harried and frantic, scrambling from one thing to the next? Like you accomplished a lot but also had good time with friends?

Write these down. Later, you can work on building a week that helps you get to that.

Step Two: Where are you now?

You build the life and the life will build you. Or in this case, you fail to build the life and the life will fail to build you.

It’s hard to get where you want to be if you don’t know where you actually are. So, you need to see where your time is going. Like budgeting money, this can be a scary step: you’ll actually see where your time is going, and you might not like the results.

For one week, track how you spend your time, both planned and actual, and each time you deviated from your plan, note whether you thought it was a good idea to do so or not. For example, let’s say you’ve blocked off two hours to do your homework one evening. Two different scenarios on this:

Scenario 1: you don’t do the homework because a friend of yours had a really rough day and you decide to talk with him or her instead

Scenario 2: you think the homework will be hard and watch Netflix instead


Vastly different scenarios even though the end result was you didn’t do the homework like planned.

So now, it’s a week later and you see where you spent your time, the time sinks where suddenly three hours went by watching cat videos, or scrambling to do your to-do list because your paper took longer than expected to write, everything.

You’ll start to notice patterns, ways you spend your time that help you get where you want to be, and ways you spend your time that don’t.

Step Three: What do you need to say No to?

You build the life and the life will build you.

We live in a culture of people-pleasers, we always want to say Yes so as to not disappoint. But every choice has an opportunity cost: if you choose to spend one hour doing XYZ, it means you’re not spending that hour doing something else. Each time you want to say Yes to something, it means you’re saying No to something else. By mapping out your priorities, you can make sure you have the time to say Yes to what matters most.

You see what you want your life to look like, and how your daily and weekly activities can lead you closer or further away from that goal. In order to achieve your goals, what do you need to say No to?

I think there are two main categories of things to say No to: bad uses of time, and okay uses of time.

Bad uses of time are the time-wasters, whatever you noticed in looking through your week. Mindless hours in front of screens, things like that. These are the time equivalents of impulse spending. What do you need to eliminate from your schedule?

Okay uses of time are things that are good in themselves, but don’t help you build the life you want. Maybe week one of freshman year you signed up for 20 different clubs. Maybe upon graduation you moved to a new city and got involved with communities activities every night of the week. You now realize some of those things, while good, are distractions from what’s better. What do you need to de-commit from?

Each No frees you up for the Yeses you want.

Step Four: Putting it all together

You build the life and the life will build you.

In Step One, you identified what kind of life you want. In Step Two, you saw the kinds of things pulling you away from that life. In Step Three, you chose what to say No to. Now, you’re ready to budget your time and design the ideal week you want.

Put in your top priorities first: when are you going to Mass? When are you praying? When will you go to bed and wake up, ensuring you get enough sleep? When will you exercise? Have you allowed enough time for being with friends?

These will have to fit around non-negotiable commitments. For example, class meets at a certain time, there’s no way of getting the professor to move it. If work wants you to be in at 3pm, that’s not moveable. But let’s say you can start your work day any time between 7am and 8am, as long as you work 8 hours, that you have flexibility over and you can decide what option better serves your goals.

Or, you might have lots of options of when to sleep and you’ll need to decide. For example, I wanted to have the same wake up and bedtime every day. With us having 8pm Mass on campus on Sundays with a social after, 10pm was the earliest I could consistently start getting ready for bed, with an 11pm bedtime. A 7am wake time worked nicely for me, I like to get things done in the morning. But had my goals been different, I could’ve picked a different bedtime and wake time.

Another helpful tip: however long you think something will take, add 50% time to it. There’s this thing called Planning Fallacy, it’s quite well-researched. Basically, we vastly underestimate how long something will take, even if we’ve done the same task before. Giving yourself extra time, flex time, and the like helps you stay on top of things and not get stressed.

Flex time also lets you rearrange your schedule on the fly if something important comes up. Friend going through a nasty breakup? Talk to them now, do the errands you’d been planning during the flex time you have tomorrow. Nice and easy.

Obviously, you won’t be able to plan everything. Spending time with friends usually shows up like that, mostly unexpected. My problem usually is scheduling too many things that I can’t do unexpected things. And I’ve been working to fix that.

Step Five: Experiment and tweak

You’ll never have it perfectly figured out, so try something and see how it works! You can always tweak it later.

For example, my morning routine used to just have enough time to do some class work, but in the process I pushed off my to-do list and thus got stressed thinking about it, and didn’t give myself much time to do it later in the day. I’ve since changed my routine to have 30 minutes of tasks time, followed by class time, that way I can be fully focused on class.

As you experiment and tweak, you’ll start to learn what works and what doesn’t for budgeting your time. Sometimes you’ll get closer to where you want to be, sometimes you don’t. Either way, you’re learning.


You build the life and the life will build you.


Join the conversation: in looking at your day and week, what do you need to say No to? You can leave a comment by clicking here.

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