If you have a regular schedule, budgeting that time is comparatively straightforward.
From the amount of time you have available to “spend,” you subtract the time you think you’ll need for a given commitment. You work with a variable list of commitments against that fixed time until you’ve spent that fixed amount of time.
But your schedule might not be fully regular. Instead, it might be fully irregular.1
Does the idea of budgeting your time then go out the window? No, but it does take a different shape.
Instead of working with a known schedule and seeing what commitments you want to address in that time, you just need to reverse the process. You’ll instead work with a variable schedule against a fixed list of commitments.
Irregular Time: An Example
For instance, small humans aren’t known for their self-sufficiency or ability to keep invariably to a set schedule. So, if you have kids and you are your child care plan (maybe because another one has gotten thrown out the window), you now have pretty fully irregular time.
In that time, your kids may need you at more or less random intervals for more or less random periods of time. Your plans for that time will need to take shape accordingly.
You might decide just to postpone everything and enjoy the time with your kids. Or you might decide other commitments need attention as well.2
If you decide other commitments need attention too, you’ll need to somehow combine caring for your kids and addressing those other commitments. And in that environment, your time will probably be highly irregular.
Budgeting Irregular Time
So, if you try to stack up in your calendar a nice, neat tower of time blocks, you’ll pretty soon find it knocked to the floor. And if you try to stack it up again, you’ll be in for a repeat of the same experience.
Instead of going around that frustration-building cycle, take a couple seconds to consider what commitments you need to address. To do so, you might identify which ones are
- Both urgent and important,
- Not urgent but important,
- Urgent but not important, and
- Not urgent and not important.3
This identification then becomes your budget for your irregular time.
You don’t know what time you will have to tackle these other commitments or when you’ll have it. But whatever you have whenever you have it, you can then “spend” working down through these categories from 1 to 4.
When time is up, unplug, and go hug your kiddos. (Maybe even think about thanking them for whatever time they ended up giving you whenever they gave it to you.)
Let what you haven’t gotten done roll forward to another day. But if you’ve spent your irregular time on what was most urgent and most important, you already know what that is.
There may be some other important things there waiting for you. But what rolled forward from today will be what matters least and can best keep until later anyway.
Whether it’s caring for kids or something else, lots of things can contribute to your having an irregular schedule.
But that doesn’t mean you can’t or shouldn’t budget your time. It just means you need to be intentional about spending the time you have on addressing the commitments that are most important.
- As a basis for these categories, I’m drawing on thinking like that described in “How to Make a Zero-Based Budget,” Dave Ramsey, n.d. ↩
- Here, the principle of an “emergency fund” from a financial budget can be helpful as well. Rachel Cruze, “A Quick Guide to Your Emergency Fund,” Dave Ramsey, n.d. A monetary emergency fund can provide a buffer against unknown expenses. Similarly, maintaining buffer time in your schedule can help cushion the impact of unexpected events and give you more options for addressing them. ↩
- For this framework, see especially Stephen R. Covey, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change, 25th anniversary ed. (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2013), 154–92; see also Greg McKeown, Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less (New York: Crown Business, 2014), 215–24. ↩
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