Budgeting your time

time money

In last week’s post I mentioned that my friend Sarah had given me excellent advice: “Time is like money”.

Sarah and I had both worked through an excellent budgeting book called The Complete Cheapskate by Mary Hunt and we both approach our money management in the same way. Mary suggests giving away at least 10%  first and then saving at least 10% for the future, then some money is put in a separate account for bills and such that you know are coming up, some put aside money to treat ourselves, and the rest spent on food etc. (She’s also very clear about getting out of debt as soon as is humanly possible).

Sarah was saying to me that, in the same way that I know I can’t give to every good cause, I can also not give my time to every worthwhile activity. I need to choose, and stand by my choice.

I have talked about giving away ten percent of my money to various excellent not-for-profit groups. I have had to think hard about where to give the money because I want it to go where it is doing a lot of good, and I don’t want to have to remake that decision every time I pass a stall in the street, or get a letter in the mail, or see a good cause on social media.

I have decided what I want to give to. It may not be the same decision as others have made for their money (I hope not – there are a lot of non-profits that need supporting). But it’s the list for me.

I need to approach my time the same way. First, I need to figure out how much time I am prepared to give away to other people’s important activities. At the moment, I am working four days a week and that limits the amount of time I am able to give. It cuts a massive chunk out of my time budget. (In the same way that the mortgage repayment cuts a chunk out of the money budget.)

Once I’ve figured out how much time I have to give – it might be two activities a fortnight, or three a month – then I can say yes to those activities within that budget that suit my personality. But once I’ve used up that time, then I need to say no.

I can’t say yes to all the worthwhile things that are happening, I don’t have that much time in my budget. Somehow I need to make a decision that’s in keeping with my personality and values and only say yes to a few things. Other people can make up the shortfall.

One recent activity where I had to say no was a Mothers Day high tea at church. It was run by our women’s ministry team and I felt especially pressured (by myself, not by anyone else) to say yes because I had led our church service the week before and had made the announcement about the high tea. It’s very hard to say, “Do come to this excellent activity” with any form of sincerity when you’re pretty sure you won’t be going yourself.

But I had had a huge week that week. I had led church, travelled to Launceston (about 3 hours away, depending on road works) and given two days of teaching at the university campus there, staying overnight to do so, and had a couple of coffee dates with various people as well as my normal workload. I knew I would be tired and I knew (as an introvert) that this high tea, while pleasant, would be exhausting. I decided not to go and removed the entry from my calendar.

I felt guilty – it was a great cause (Days for Girls was being supported by this event) and I also wanted to support the amazing women who make up our women’s ministry team, but my time budget was too stretched and I needed to be at home, pottering around, grocery shopping, washing things, reading books.

It turned out that one hundred and eighty women attended the high tea. They were in no way affected by me not going. I must have done a wonderful job of advertising it in the church notices! No, I’m kidding, it was nothing to do with me but it was a really excellent result.

It is just as stupid to blame myself for the success or failure of an activity due to my not turning up, as it would be to blame myself for a charity going under because my $40 a month was not going into their account. I cannot give my time to every worthwhile activity and I shouldn’t be trying. I need to budget time to give regularly, and save some time (and energy) up my sleeve for special occasions that might pop up.

One of the things I love to spend my time on is coffee with people. I love one-on-one time with people, deep conversation, time for encouragement, and I also love coffee. When I am with those who don’t drink coffee I allow them 🙂 to drink tea or hot chocolates. The choice of hot beverage is not really important, but the time is.

I like having coffee with people because coffee generally lasts an hour. Lunch can take up more than an hour – up to two hours even, and dinner is so open-ended it scares me, but coffee is a good short time when you can have a great conversation and then get back to whatever you’re doing.

If I could, I’d have a coffee with someone every day, but I’ve realised lately that even the one-hour coffee was putting a strain on my time budget, much the same way that buying your lunch every day can put a strain on your money budget. It all adds up.

I now limit my coffee time. I give a coffee to each of my parents every week, and I have allowed myself two more coffees each week but no more. This meant that when a friend came to me at church and asked if we could get together because she had something exciting to tell me, I had to put her off for three weeks. That felt really bad. (And it also meant that my husband found out the exciting thing before I did because it came up in a church meeting that he went to. He was very good and didn’t tell me anything, and it does show that there are consequences to our actions, but that’s by-the-by.) So yes, it felt bad to put her off, but it meant that when we did finally get together I was not exhausted, I was happy and eager to hear her news, and we had time to deeply share and pray about it, instead of me being rushed and needing to get back to work.

So yes, time is like money. We are responsible for using our time wisely, and giving it carefully. I haven’t even started on the issue of wasting it on TV of Facebook but I’m sure you’ve all heard that sermon preached before.

Have you thought about budgeting your time? What do you think about the idea of having an amount of time each week that is set aside to give away?

This post is part of a series I am writing about what I have learned about saying no. I’d love to have you join me on this journey. If you want to make sure you never miss a post, you can sign up on WordPress and the post will be sent to your email address every week without fail.

You’ll notice some special art in this series. If you want to see more of it you can find the artist on instagram @deteor42