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How to Build a Time Budget

I’ve heard there are parents who feel like their lives are spiraling downward with too much to do and who can’t seem to figure out how to make it all work. Though I can’t personally attest to this feeling during the sleeping hours when I happen to not be dreaming about how overwhelmed I am, I will share with you how I make a time budget to help bring something that resembles my fifth cousin’s ugly step-child of sanity.

We’ve all heard about budgeting our money. If you’re the organized type, you probably do this routinely and stick with it. If you’re actually normal, you work on a budget when you get an overdraft notification and realize you’re one step away from Breaking Bad to make ends meet. You still put the actual budget off for a while because you know how much money you’ll be spending binge-eating ice cream as you grieve your seemingly hopeless state when you see reality on paper, but finally after ten extra pounds, you resolve to get ‘er done and feel something like freedom that comes from knowing where you really are and having a plan. Freedom less like the as-long-as-I-only-eat-sawdust-for-the-rest-of-my-life-I’ll-look-and-feel-great freedom, but more like the my-house-just-burned-down-which-means-I-don’t-have-to-fold-that-laundry freedom. It’s a fresh start, even if it’s daunting.

Baby Steps

If you’re in an overwhelming state of emergency, there are many evaluative phases that need to happen, but those steps only add to your engulfing condition. There will be upcoming posts on this blog to deal with many of those issues, but there are two things I recommend you do right now: Rest and make a time budget.

First, rest. Yes, rest. Remember whose you are. Remember that you have one Savior who already got you out of this mess. And he did it 2,000 years ago. That’s the truest truth of your situation. Yes, things are broken around you. Yes, you’re broken. But those are temporary things. Jesus became broken for you to make you whole. So if you’re in him, you’re whole, your family is whole, your home is whole, and your schedule is whole. You’re where you are with the people you’re with and have the schedule you have because that’s where God has placed you. And it’s to further his kingdom work. God wants your life to feel out of control right now so you remember who holds all control! Pray, repent of taking on too much to prove you can do it all, and remember you belong to the one who never felt overwhelmed throughout.

Second, make a time budget. Don’t evaluate what’s most important yet. Don’t track your time for three months. Just get something plugged in to a budget. We’re not maximizing long-term change yet, but this is a first (and big!) step to get out of a crisis state where you’re in fetal position.

How to Make a Time Budget

  1. Write down every single thing you do/want to do in a week, including regular calendar events, eating, and sleeping.
  2. Put a weekly time projection beside every item on your list. If you have soccer practice for an hour each week, place the number 1 beside it; however, you also need to consider driving time, so if you drive 15 minutes each way to practice, you need to write 1.5 beside the soccer line. If you want to get seven hours of sleep each night, you need to write the number 49 beside the sleep line since there are seven nights.
  3. I suggest you make a line called “marginal”and put the number 14 here. There are too many unexpected things that come up, so it’s recommended that the average person makes room for two hours of marginal time each day. You’ll want to drop this when you see the final numbers, but this marginal time is just like your emergency fund. You may not always use it, but without it there, you’re setting yourself up for scheduling disaster when anything unforeseen happens.
  4. Add all your numbers together. The ice cream moment is coming, so get a spoon first. There are only 168 hours each week! OK, look at your totals now. Eat up. I’ll still be here when the initial shock is over.
  5. Now that you’ve had the initial blow, you can move forward. Because no, you can’t actually fit 386 hours of stuff in one week. A few years ago, that number was similar to our initial total. I imagine there are few of you who are really close, or especially within, that 168-hour mark. We live in a society that tempts us to believe we can fit in more hours than God gave us, and this is the crux of why I encourage you to start here. Reality checks, though painful, are imperative.
  6. Weed, weed, weed your list (my second reading of this made me think marijuana, just so you know). Tough love here. Drop things that aren’t necessary, combine list items that can be done together (i.e. listen to a class audio book on your commute to work), and cut back more than you think on the parts that are necessary or of vital importance. It has to fit within 168 hours.

Sample Time Budget

Tasks (hours/day x days/week)Hours/Week
Sleep (7 x 7)                             49
Eat/Cook (2 x 7)14
Soccer 1.5
Work (9 x 5)45
Church Gathering2.5
Small Group2.5
Date Night 4
Marginal (2 x 7)14
Grocery Shopping/Errands2.5
To-Do List 1
Cleaning1
Social Media (0.25 x 7)1.75
Hobbies2
Family Fun8
Hang with Friends2.5
Personal Bible Study/Prayer (0.75 x 7)5.25
Exercise (0.75 x 5)3.75
Shower/Get Ready (0.75 x 7)5.25
Prep for Next Day (0.25 x 7)1.75
Pampering 0.75
Total 168

Moving Forward

Putting these numbers on paper will lead you toward many solutions right away. You may see that your reality gives you time for slow-cooker or frozen meals, not gourmet. You may need to YouTube faster ways to fix your hair or do your makeup so you cut back time in the morning. Maybe you need to ask your spouse or a friend to take your child to a practice. You may need to start working out at home instead of the gym. There are many details you may be able to change, but you cannot, I repeat—CANNOT!—add more hours to your week. So use this tool to see what you can humbly change, and work towards those changes right away.

There’s much more you can do with your list after this (we’ll deal with plugging these items into a schedule or checklist in a future post), but this one exercise is the most important tip I can give to get you back to at least doggy-paddling instead of drowning. Maybe some of you just learned the butterfly stroke! Praise God either way. Regardless of how much change you see, God’s goodness is in all of it as you see him slowly but steadily reveal your weaknesses, letting him show off his strength.

Want a free printable you can use to work on your own time budget? Click on the image below to download one.

4 Comments

  1. Brenda Madison November 15, 2018
    • Courtney November 15, 2018
  2. Rachel Hurt November 15, 2018
    • Courtney November 15, 2018

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