I was talking with my friend Sarah one evening about how difficult it was to say no to worthwhile activities and she gave me a very good piece of advice.
“Time is like money,” she said.
Now we’ve all heard “Time is money” – that we need to make sure that we’re using our time to make money, or that the use of our time is worth money, but that’s not what she was saying. Instead, she was saying that just like we need to budget our money, we also need to budget our time.
The first step with a money budget is to figure out where your money is going. Not where you think it’s going, but where it’s actually going. To do this, you need to keep a record of every cent you spend. It’s the same with time. Before you start to figure out how to divvy it up or how much to give to each activity, you need to know what you’re actually doing. You can do this in a couple of ways. There are many apps that you can use. I use Toggl Track (I’m pretty sure it’s the free version). If you sign up to my newsletter on ruthamos.com.au you will receive a pdf of a more manual version of the same thing with half-hour segments to fill in as you go.
The important thing is to do the tracking as you go as much as possible. We are notoriously bad at remembering how long something took and right now you want to get a clear picture of how you spend your time. This may be eye opening or even confronting.
If you are tempted to say, ‘But this week was a one-off difficult week. Other weeks are better.’ Then keep measuring until you find out what an average week is like.
Now we get to allocate our time into different categories.
First, you need to figure out how much time you are prepared to give away to other people’s important activities. The amount of time you are committed to unavoidable things like work and family will limit the amount of time you are able to give, in the same way that the mortgage repayment cuts a chunk out of the money budget.
Once you’ve figured out how much time you have to give – it might be two activities a fortnight, or three a month – then you can say yes to those activities. But once you’ve used up that time, then you need to say no.
Saving money is really hard. I mean really saving money – for the future. Not for a holiday or for next week or for the next time that we run out and need to buy something, but for the long term future. It’s hard. I find it hard. But it’s necessary. It’s a good thing to do. It’s good stewardship, delayed gratification, healthy and wise.
When I talk about ‘saving time’ I’m talking about putting aside time to rejuvenate yourself. This is time where you have nothing booked, time just to be. Time to invest in yourself and your energy for the future. This can be just as hard as saving money.
It is difficult to block out time for this because it doesn’t have a label attached to it. It’s not exercise, or doing something for someone, or cleaning the house, or working. It’s rest time. Just rest.
It’s easy to eat into it. “Yes, I can do that – there’s nothing booked into my calendar.” Maybe there should be “Nothing” booked into your calendar so that you don’t book anything else in. Plan to do nothing. Just to be. To read, to think, to go for a nice walk, to sleep.
It is investing in your future.
You can’t always do that, of course. Sometimes life circumstances just do not allow the space that you need. But sometimes we bring it on ourselves – the busy-ness. We don’t value rest highly enough. Is there something in your schedule that you can cut out to allow yourself some time just to be? Is there some time-savings that you need to make for your future?
Good money management means living within your means, making sure you have enough money to cover your expenses and a little left over for when things don’t go according to plan. Richard Swenson (author of Margin) takes this idea and applies it to time management. He suggests we budget our time with margin built in – time to do what we need to do, and some time left over. Then the margin in our time can be used to reach out to others, to connect with our families, to give us space to be able to give of ourselves.
I really like the idea of having margin around appointments. There is always something you can do should you be actually running on time and need to wait somewhere for ten minutes before the next appointment starts. You can bring a book to read. You can think. You can pray. Any of these are better than the stress of running from appointment to appointment praying that there are no traffic issues and that you’ll find a park directly outside. Or texting embarrassing apologies for lateness.
When you allocate time to your activities, allocate a margin around them. That is just good time management.
I encourage you to do your own time budget. What can you cut out? What can you double up on? (For example, you can combine a walk for exercise with time spent with a friend.) What can you limit to once a fortnight, or once a month? How can you build margin so that you are living within your time and energy limits? Let me know what you think by writing to me at firstname.lastname@example.org, or tweet me @aquietlifeblog, or find me on Facebook at Ruth Amos Author. I’d love to hear what you think.