“While 168 hours is a lot of time, time is still, in the broader sense, a nonrenewable resource. These hours still have to be carefully budgeted in order to turn the life you have into the life you want.”Laura Vanderkam, 168 Hours: You Have More Time Than You Think
Because we often overcommit ourselves, we need a time budget so that we can manage and invest our time wisely.
What is a time budget?
Have you ever come upon the end of your week and wished you had just one more day? One more day would have been enough, probably, to finish out the to do list for the week.
Sounds similar to coming to the twenty-fifth of the month and wishing for just another hundred dollars for the close of the month.
However, where raises might come, we all get the same allotment of time and it won’t ever change.
Just like Dave Ramsey has you use cash envelopes for your spending budgets, we can reserve envelopes of time for our various responsibilities across the week to help things “come out even.”
Your weekly time budget gives you a guide for how to allocate your time across the week, thinking in terms of 168 hours instead of 24 hours.
Rather than scheduling 20 minutes for folding laundry, 10 minutes for sweeping, and so forth for every task we have on our list, we can look at our days and weeks as a whole and reserve chunks of time for types of tasks. Then when that chunk of time begins, we can assess the current state of things and decide what comes first and what’s next.
And when we have this big picture view of our week we also have a clearer vision of how we’re spending our time and if that matches up with our priorities.
However, a time budget is not a schedule.
We’re not assigning tasks to times, we’re “chunking” our time and giving it a name – perhaps even simple a vocation name – and doing what needs to be done within that theme during that time.
For example, I do not schedule each student’s schoolwork into the day. Instead, I have a list of what needs to be done and I have several hours blocked off on my weekly time budget for “school.” During school hours, we do school, working from our list.
A week is never going to play out the way we budget our time, but it’s still a valuable exercise because as we mark out the time commitments we have, we start to see where we have margin, where we need to create margin, and perhaps why things like grocery shopping or phone calls are so stressful – there’s no place for them in the flow of our week!
As we start filling in the overview of our weeks with our commitments and responsibilities, we also need to keep an eye on whether or not we have healthy amounts of rest built into our weeks. We can’t function in go-go-go mode all day, every day.
If we think less about planning out the days to cover all our bases and more about how we spend time over the course of a week, we get a better sense of whether or not our priorities are in balance. Do the hectic, errand-running days have balancing at-home days? Is there time for you and your husband to spend time together? Do you have times set aside to pray and read your Bible?
Looking at the picture of your week instead of an individual day also helps with perspective. A day can be easily derailed, but over the course of a week things can even out.
Having a time budget helps us be confident in what we are doing, because we know it’s the right next thing.
Step #1: Brain Dump
Before filling out a time budget, think through how you’re spending your time and what your responsibilities are.
What kinds of family time do you have in place? Include morning and evening routines you do together, read-aloud time, and evening or weekend time. How about date nights or morning coffee with your husband?
List the housekeeping and chore routines you have in place or would like to put into place. How much time overall do you need? Do you spend a consistent amount of time daily or do a little each day with a longer cleaning time on one day? Now is not the time to think about what you’d LIKE to do, but what you’re ACTUALLY doing already.
There really is no such thing as time management. There’s only self-management. You don’t use your time better and end up with more. Usually it seems less time because of how we spent it, though there are things we can do to maximize what we get out of the time we have.If you feel like you don’t have enough time to do all the things on your list, then you’re right. Nothing is wrong with you. It’s simply true. We don’t have enough time to do everything we’d like to do.
However, we can’t change and manipulate time. It is ourselves – both our actions and our mindset – we need to change and control.
We need to learn how to make hard, good choices about those things on our list. As Elizabeth Elliot said, there is always time to do the will of God.
There really is no such thing as time management. There’s only self-management. You don’t use your time better and end up with more. Usually it seems less time because of how we spent it, though there are things we can do to maximize what we get out of the time we have.
Time management is all about the decisions we make regarding our time, decisions for ourselves and not the time. Time is external from us. It is not something we can control, manipulate, or change.
When we’re talking about time management, what we’re actually needing to manage is ourselves. To maximize our time we must practice self-control and self-management. We must make better choices and decisions.
Nothing we do will actually make more time, but there’s a lot we can do to use the time we have well, stewarding it and making the most of it.
If we try to use time management strategies, tips, or techniques that assume that we have control over our time, that we have control over all the things we need to do, then we’re going to wind up frustrated. It’s not really because we’re doing anything wrong; it’s because we’re coming at our life from the wrong perspective, with the wrong expectations.
As mothers, our primary vocation is serving and raising our children. So they are not interruptions. They aren’t getting in the way of our work. They are the work.
It’s so easy to look at the requests of our children as interruptions, or to see their needs as something that we have to get out of the way before we can do the things that are needful.
So our biggest time management need is not arranging life so that we can accomplish our list, but rather rearranging our mindset so that we pay attention to our life.
The definition of good time management isn’t doing all the things on the list; it’s doing what we’re called to do.
Time management is not about making the right tweaks so that everything that we want fits into our day. If that’s what we’re going for, we’re always going to be hunting for the secret sauce, or the magic secret that will make our personal pet plans happen.
What we really need for time management is to see the needs in front of us that are our responsibility to meet. We need to see our duties and see that our time is taken up with them, and that’s ok. Those are our priorities and our choices.
Then we can keep our head in the game, do our work with a cheerful good will, and grow through it.
We’re giving up the wishful thinking, giving up the total life overhauls, and giving up trying to make life go our way; instead, we’re looking at what we are actually responsible for doing and making those our priorities and cheerfully choosing them. That’s the kind of time management that we need as moms at home.
Time is a resource and a gift that we need to invest and use well.
Time management is more about self-management than anything else, but to do either, we have to start with awareness of what’s going on. A time budget will give you that awareness.
Step #2: Create a time budget
Use a pencil as you create your time budget and do your best to stick to where your time blocks already are in your life. Don’t start by setting up an idealized week, but rather use the time budget to see an accurate reflection of your current reality. Adjustments to that can come after the honest assessment.
Mark all the time committed to regular outside-the-house (or other-people-coming-to-your-house) commitments. If you carpool or drop your kids off at school, include that – it takes time!
Mark the time you need for daily routine work like housework, chores, meal prep, and meals. If you homeschool, add those time blocks, too.
Add margin around your committed times, not only for putting on shoes and coats but also for things like putting away groceries. We all need transition time when we move from one activity to another.
Time Budget Examples:
Step #3: Start with a baby step
Now that you have a time budget, what do you do with it?
It will be a tool you refer back to as you progress through the course, but your first baby step with the time budget is just to see how much time you actually have – and notice how different that might be from the time you think you have.
Which of your time blocks are you most likely to forget about and skip? Should you set an alarm to help you remember?
What blocks of time do you have that are discretionary? How much of those do you need to mentally reserve for parenting?
When you want to take on a project or new responsibility, look at your time budget to see if you have the capacity for it at this time.
Step #4: Iterate for progress
It’s so easy to fill out that spreadsheet or piece of paper with an idealistic frame of mind that does not account for the realities of working out a plan in a house full of people.
To make your time budget work better, always budget more time than you think the activity will take. If we expect little setbacks and we have time enough to just roll with them, we won’t feel so worn out and stretched thin.
As we start filling in the overview of our weeks with our commitments and responsibilities, we also need to keep an eye on whether or not we have healthy amounts of rest built into our weeks.
Sunday is a good day to take off of productivity. Use it as a day to rest, rejuvenate, worship, fellowship, read, walk, create. We don’t have to always be striving to get ahead. If we take one day out of seven off from effort, labor, and working, we’ll find we return to our daily life better equipped and more energetic. We will better use the time we have for taking one day off.
Whatever a day off looks like for you – and I don’t mean a vacation day or a day in solitary confinement, but a day off of trying to improve and get ahead – breathe deep, take the plunge, and set a day aside.
Try color-coding your time budget after you’ve filled it out. Use a different color for each vocation. Does the visual help explain why you feel the way you do in the day? Does the visual show a proper proportion over the course of a week?
Are you allowing enough margin around your activities? Always remember to build margin around your activities as much as possible and allow time for children to be children and for people to be late and for snacks to be required or toys to be picked up.
Do you take a day of rest? What needs to move around to make that a possibility? Do you have daily time for prayer and Bible reading?
Repent. Rejoice. Repeat.
A time budget is not good for us if it’s entirely about housekeeping, homeschooling, and errands. As humans, we are more than our task list, and that reality should be evident in our time budget.