How to Budget Your Time If It’s Irregular

For the parts of your schedule that are pretty regular, budgeting that time is comparatively straightforward.1

From the amount of time you have available to “spend,” you subtract the time you think you’ll need for a given commitment. You’re done budgeting when you’ve run out of time to spend. In this way, you work with a variable list of commitments against a fixed amount of time.

But your schedule might not be fully regular. In some parts, it might be fully irregular.2 And even if it’s normally regular, some seasons of life might introduce more irregularity than usual.

With this kind of irregularity, the idea of budgeting your time doesn’t go out the window. But it does take a different shape.

Rather than working with a known schedule and seeing what commitments you want to address in that time, you need to reverse the process. You’ll instead work with a variable schedule against a fixed list of commitments.

An Example of Irregular Time

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 childcare plan (either normally or because another childcare plan has gotten paused), you now have a pretty irregular schedule.

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.3

If what you’re facing is a seasonal, temporary shift, you might decide to postpone everything and enjoy the time with your kids. If you have the buffer in your work and school commitments to be able to do this, it’s a great option.4

To extend the metaphor of the financial budget, buffer in your schedule serves the function of an “emergency fund.”5 A monetary emergency fund provides a cushion against unknown expenses. Similarly, maintaining buffer in your schedule can help cushion the impact of unexpected events and give you more options for addressing them.

But let’s say the irregularity you’re facing in your schedule isn’t temporary. Or it’s at least long-term enough that certain commitments still need attention. In this case, you need to somehow fold work on these other commitments into the irregular times you have to work on them.

How to Budget Irregular Time

If you try to stack up in your calendar a nice, neat tower of time blocks, you’ll pretty soon find it knocked over. And if you try to stack it up again, you’ll be in for a repeat of the same experience.

So, instead of going around that frustration-building cycle, take a couple seconds to consider what commitments you need to address. As you do so, try to classify them into the four buckets of the “Eisenhower Matrix.”6

UrgentNot Urgent
ImportantQuadrant 1
Characteristics: Urgent, Important
Response: Abbreviate
Quadrant 2
Characteristics: Not Urgent, Important
Response: Concentrate
Not ImportantQuadrant 3
Characteristics: Urgent, Not Important
Response: Separate
Quadrant 4
Characteristics: Not Urgent, Not Important
Response: Eliminate

This classification then becomes your budget for your irregular time.

How to Use an Irregular Time Budget

When your schedule’s irregular, you don’t know what time you will have to tackle these commitments or when you’ll have it. But whatever you have whenever you have it, you can then “spend” working down through these quadrants in numerical order.

You want to

  • Abbreviate the activities in Quadrant 1. You can do so by completing these items fully, completing them well enough so they’re no longer urgent, or taking advance action to prevent urgency from arising.
  • Concentrate your attention on the activities that fall into Quadrant 2.
  • Separate yourself from activities in Quadrant 3. To do so, consider whether you can perhaps automate or delegate these commitments.
  • Eliminate from as much as possible the activities that fall into Quadrant 4.

When time is up, unplug, and go hug your kiddos.—You might even thank 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 time slot. But if you’ve spent your irregular time on what was most urgent and most important, you already know what that is. And what you’re rolling forward will be what can best keep until later anyway.


Whether it’s caring for kids, juggling a busy season of appointments, or something else, lots of things can contribute to giving you an irregular schedule.

But that doesn’t mean you can’t or shouldn’t budget your time. It just means you need to be especially intentional about spending the time you have on addressing your most important commitments.

  1. Header image provided by NeONBRAND

  2. 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. 

  3. Here, I’m intentionally giving a somewhat extreme example. On the other hand, your schedule might be pretty variable but still allow you to know in advance what time you’ll have to address different commitments. In that case, you might find value in blocking your variable time with the journalistic approach

  4. See Greg McKeown, Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less (New York: Crown Business, 2014), 175–84 

  5. Rachel Cruze, “A Quick Guide to Your Emergency Fund,” Dave Ramsey, n.d. 

  6. 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 Michael S. Hyatt, Free to Focus: A Total Productivity System to Achieve More by Doing Less (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2019), 91–158; McKeown, Essentialism, 215–24. 

How to Best Budget Your Time When It’s Regular

When you hear comments about “budgeting,” what comes to mind?1 For many folks, finances do.

But aside from that specific context, “budgeting” is all about the principle of deliberate planning. So you can budget finances. But you can budget other resources too, including time.

And thinking about your time as something you budget can help ensure you “spend” it on the work and relationships that matter most.2 That’s true whether your schedule pretty regular, quite irregular, or some combination of the two.

Regularity in Time

There are only 24 hours in a day or 168 hours in a week, however you use them. So, in larger contexts, everyone’s schedule is entirely regular.

But within smaller units of time, your schedule might be quite regular too. For example, week-to-week, you might have a nearly identical number of hours when you’re working or not. And when you have those hours fall might be pretty regular too.

Budgeting Regular Time

When this is the case, you can decide how to “spend” these regular hours in your time budget. When you craft this budget, you want to ensure you prioritize what’s important, not just what’s urgent.3

But because you pretty well know what time you’ll have when, it’s not so important when you tackle a given priority. In terms of the financial analogy, having a regular schedule is very similar to a salaried or steady hourly job.

The total time you spend in your time budget shouldn’t exceed what you have available. If you do, for instance, you might over budget time at work so that it “overdraws” time with your family.

But within the “work” hours in your time budget, you have significant freedom in how you structure that time to meet your commitments.

You can budget your regular time any number of ways. The basic principle is to plan deliberately for how you spend the hours you regularly have for your commitments.

To do so, you might find time blocking especially helpful. You can time block on a paper calendar, with Google Calendar and Todoist, or any number of other methods.

Wherever you time block, the practice easily shows the time you’ve budgeted for a given commitment. And by doing so, time blocking can show where you’re “over spent” because in your mind you’d allocated the same time in competing ways.


However you budget your regular time, the principle remains the same that you need to deliberately plan how you’ll use your time. That plan needs to have room for you to invest in your most important commitments.

Time blocking is a great way of planning because it immediately shows when you’ve “spent” time, how much of it you’ve allocated, and the priority that you’ve given yourself for that time. And having that immediate, visual feedback can prove invaluable in your efforts to focus your time on the people and projects that matter most.

  1. Header image provided by NeONBRAND

  2. 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. 

  3. On the relationship of urgency and importance, 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. 

How to Budget Your Time If It’s Regular and Irregular

If your schedule is regular, budgeting that time is pretty straightforward.1 You spend the time you know you’ll have on the commitments you think are most important to fit into it.

If your schedule is irregular, you’ll instead work whatever time you have against a fixed and prioritized list of commitments.

But how do you budget your time if your schedule isn’t completely regular and predictable?

Some of it might be. But some of it might also be irregular and unpredictable.

Budgeting Regular and Irregular Time Together

In this case, you can combine the two approaches for regular and irregular time.2

For the portion of your schedule that’s regular, you can plan in advance how you want to spend your time. For the portion that’s irregular, you can work on your commitments in priority order.

When you’re thinking about this combination, though, be careful not to overestimate how much of your schedule is regular. If you do, you’ll be at greater risk of running out of that regular time and still having unmet commitments.

Minimal Regularity amid Irregularity

Instead, think about how your more irregular days and weeks tend to go. If you keep a pretty detailed calendar, it might help to look back over the past few months.

As you do, what you’re looking for is the minimum amount of regularity you tend to have in your schedule, even in more irregular times.

In a good week, maybe you can keep Thursday pretty well free to tackle whatever you need to. But when things go haywire, maybe you only get until 10 am.

If you base your plan on your best case scenario, you’ll be more likely to have that plan get more disrupted more often.

Instead, you can run your regular time budget on a minimum amount of more regular time that you have. That way, your time budget will be less likely to break in more hectic seasons.3

Once you’ve done that, you can then budget your irregular time by a prioritized list of commitments.

Using the two approaches together, you can then have a proactive plan for your time, even if some of it’s regular and some of it’s irregular.


Whether your schedule is pretty fully regular, pretty fully irregular, or some of both, there’s a corresponding strategy to plan for your time.

Whatever shape that plan takes, having that time budget will help ensure you’re giving priority to your most important commitments.

Prioritizing these commitments in your time budget will simultaneously give you a powerful tool to help you avoid “spending” your time at the scheduling equivalent of the impulse buy rack.

  1. Header image provided by NeONBRAND

  2. 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. 

  3. On this principle, see also Greg McKeown, Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less (New York: Crown Business, 2014), 175–84.