Telling Your Time Where to Go (Instead of Wondering Where it Went)

Big Picture: Just as budgeting your money allows you to be in control of your finances, time budgeting allows you to be in control of your time (instead of the other way around). This post shares some practical tips to help you be more in control of your time.

“A budget is telling your money where to go instead of wondering where it went.” Dave Ramsey

We typically think of budgeting from a money perspective. Many of us have a love-hate (or even a hate-hate) relationship with the practice. Regardless of the emotions that surface when the subject comes up, however, most of us would admit that budgeting, when done right, is a useful tool for taking control of your finances.

The same can be said about your time. Think of it this way… “A {time} budget is telling your {time} where to go instead of wondering where it went.” Sounds nice, doesn’t it? When is the last time you wondered where your time went? With some proper planning and intentionality, you can begin to take more control of your time. And, as we look to start the new year right, this is a perfect opportunity to “tell your time where to go”.

Here are some tips on better managing your time in the new year:

ADMIT YOU DO HAVE CONTROL

Admitting is half the journey. When I ask people where they spend most of their free time, however, a common answer I get is, “Free time, what’s that?!” I can understand that. There are days that get away from me and weeks where I’m exhausted just trying to keep up with my calendar and workload. But there is an important designation that we need to make. Free time isn’t empty time.

Free time isn’t the moment you tell yourself, “Wow, I’ve got three extra hours today that I have no idea what I’m going to do with!” (Does that even happen?) We always find things to fill those empty spots. Unless you’re on vacation, most of the time you’re not going to have empty time, and that’s okay because that’s not what we’re talking about.

When I talk about free time, I’m talking about time that you and I have control over. You are the one who is going to make the decision about what you will or won’t use that time for.

We all have time that other people control, don’t we? We have an employer/work time where we’re responsible to somebody else who pays us for our use of that time. We may have family time where we’re responsible to a spouse and/or children and others in our family for. But each of us also has time that we determine how to spend.

You do have time you can control.

IDENTIFY TIME BARRIERS

Let’s consider what free time looks like. Use the following questions to think about how you use it…

  • Where do you spend most of your free time?
  • The last time you had a choice about what you did with your time, what did you use that time for?
  • Think through your typical day. What do you typically fill your available time slots with? (It might be good to walk through this process with both a typical week day and a typical weekend day.)
  • Make a list of the top five things that take up the time you control.

Now, consider the following… “What are five things that you wish you had more time for?”

Compare those two lists. Why do you wind up spending time doing the things on the first list (the things that take up your time) instead of the things on the second list (the things that you wish you had more time for)?

  • Oftentimes, the urgent things in life squeeze out space for the important things. When did you last experience this?
  • Make a list of the top five things that steal the time you control away from the things you wish you had more time for.

After walking through these questions, you should have a good idea of where your biggest time barriers are. Be more aware and intentional this week to recognize those barriers and work to take control of them.

CONSIDER YOUR IDEAL WEEK

Another helpful exercise is to think through your week and block out what you would love your ideal week to look like. Author Michael Hyatt has written a great article walking through this process (he even provides an Excel template you can use). You can check it out at the link below. Natural seasonal change points (like a new year) are a great time to review how you would like your days to look and to be intentional in setting up your schedule with purpose.

Read: “How to Better Control Your Time by Designing Your Ideal Week” by Michael Hyatt.

PROTECT THE FLOW OF YOUR DAY

Even when we have an idea of how we would like our days to look, our reality doesn’t always match. Most of us don’t have the luxury of completely dictating our schedules without the input of others. There are obligations and meetings that demand time from us that we don’t have as much control over. Even when we do have a certain level of control, unexpected interruptions can derail us quickly. Here is how I have experienced this in my life…

I oftentimes would get completely sidetracked and sapped if I had days that wound up looking something similar to…

  • Meeting
  • Short window to work in-between
  • Meeting
  • Short window to work in-between
  • Meeting

It was hard to re-engage in what I was working on when meetings kept interrupting my days. I would usually get to the end of those days and feel as though I had accomplished nothing or very little.

To avoid this, I decided what times I wanted to be meeting-available times, and then I blocked everything else off on my calendar. This was as straightforward as scheduling a meeting for myself, calling it “No Meetings”, and then setting my availability status to “Busy” during those times. This meant that when people wanted to meet with me and went to schedule the meeting, they only saw my ‘meeting available’ times. My focused work blocks were preserved, as was the flow of the day that I was seeking.

WHAT ABOUT YOU?

Question: What time hacks do you use to be more in control of your time? Share your tips and best advice on Facebook, Twitter, or LinkedIn.