You Need to Budget Your Time to Manage Your Commitments

If you think in terms of financial expenditures, you have vastly more opportunities to spend money than you have funds available to you.1

If you’re Bill Gates or Warren Buffett, the size of your financial net might be wider. But it’s still quite limited by comparison with the world’s total opportunities for expenditures. Even if you use debt, there’s a ceiling to how much you can use.

1. Your time is limited.

The same is true with your time—only more so. Everyone gets only 168 hours a week to spend.

You might incur “sleep debt” to try to stretch the number of hours you have. But that’s a losing proposition.2 And it still doesn’t allow you to spend more than your 168 hours from a given week.

Time is a zero-sum game. When you spend it on one thing, you can’t spend that same time on anything else.

So, any commitment you make—whether it’s to a person, a project, an event, or whatever—represents a claim on your 168 weekly hours.

2. Your possible commitments are unlimited.

But there’s nothing out there in the aether stopping you from committing to more than you can do in the hours you have. So you can very easily make more commitments than you have the time to fulfill.

The only trouble is … that’s not honest to yourself or to the other people involved. Any excess commitment you make is, by definition, going to get shortchanged in some amount or left entirely unfulfilled.

And shirking commitments you’ve made isn’t a good practice—for you or anyone else.

Conclusion

But that doesn’t have to be your story. You can start “right-sizing” your commitments to your time.

You just need to work through them both intentionally to decide what does and doesn’t make the cut.

That will be an iterative rather than a once-for-all process. But you don’t have to wait to begin. And the sooner you start, the sooner you’ll be able to better fulfill the commitments you have.


  1. Header image provided by STIL. I’m here using the metaphor of financial budgeting as described, for example, in Financial Peace University; “10 Budgeting Myths You May Be Falling For,” Dave Ramsey, n.d.; “What Is a Budget?,” Dave Ramsey, n.d.; “A Zero-Based Budget: What and Why,” Dave Ramsey, n.d. 

  2. Greg McKeown, Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less (New York: Crown Business, 2014), 91–102. 

Why You Need to Budget Your Time

Budgeting time requires different strategies for different contexts and schedules.1

Your schedule might be regular, irregular, or some of both. But whatever it looks like, there’s a corresponding strategy you can use to budget your time.

Still, saying all of that leaves out one very important question: Do you really need to budget your time in the first place?

Reasons You Need to Budget Your Time

I’d like to suggest that the answer to this question is a firm “Yes” for at least four reasons.2

In particular, you need to budget your time in order to

  1. Manage your commitments because your time is limited, but your possible commitments are unlimited.
  2. Get the most out of it not only by doing more things but also—and more importantly—by doing more important things.
  3. Avoid schedule crises. Schedules don’t always go to plan. And if you haven’t balanced your scheduling budget in advance, you’ll find yourself in larger crises more often when the unexpected arrives.
  4. Avoid guilt and shame. You will spend your time. How you spend it reflects what you chose or endorsed as a priority. If you spend your time intentionally, you will disappoint someone at some point. But you don’t have to feel guilt or shame about that if you know you’ve done your best to choose what’s most important.

Conclusion

In short, you can spend your time intentionally. Or it will get spent for you.

Intentionality is critical to knowing what you should do with the time you have. And creating a time budget can help you ensure you’re making the choices about your time that you really feel are the best.


  1. Header image provided by STIL

  2. I’m here using the metaphor of financial budgeting as described, for example, in Financial Peace University; “10 Budgeting Myths You May Be Falling For,” Dave Ramsey, n.d.; “What Is a Budget?,” Dave Ramsey, n.d.; “A Zero-Based Budget: What and Why,” Dave Ramsey, n.d. 

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.

Conclusion

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.