Time Budget

Over a week ago I’ve covered topic of time maps. This time I try to explain the concept and benefits of using something called time budget.

What’s a budget?

Budgets are widely popular in the financial world. In very simple terms it’s a list of all the income/revenue streams coming in and all the planned expenses in a period. Each year every country would announce it’s budget plans. This is pretty significant event for the financial markets. Based on the content of the budget proposals economists and analysts try to forecast the future growth and economic conditions of a country.

On smaller scale families and individuals are advised to keep a budget to monitor their spending and income to build future wealth and financial stability. 

In general terms budget is a framework, a plan which details areas of spending and the available resources. The net difference between both will indicate if you have anything left or whether you’ve overspend the available supply.
Budget also works as a boundary which indicates whether you’re spending too much or too little.

What’s a time budget?

In this context a time budget would be a plan detailing available hours against the activities you want to spend that time on. Time budgets can be created for weekly,monthly or even yearly intervals giving you a wide perspective. Similarly to financial budget you would have fixed commitments like eating, sleep, work, commute, shopping and more flexible appointments like exercising, going out, visiting friends and so called free time. Once your budget is read then you can review and you can decide whether you can afford to spend your time on some activities or should you spend it on something else.

How it’s different from time map?

Time maps as we  described them last time show your time and commitments as they  are. Their main purpose is to provide you with a higher view of your current situation. Time budget looks into the future. Budgeting is really a planning process where you look at your commitments, needs, wants and try to figure which are sufficiently important to have your time. Setting time budget is more about taking control of your time and not letting it slip through your fingers.

Benefits of having a budget.

Setting up a time budget can bring a number of benefits:

  • Focus on important areas – by creating time budget you can pinpoint areas of higher importance and give them sufficient amount of time. If for example getting into shape would be your top agenda item, then you could create a budget that would take into account 1h of training each day. Consequently you would reduce time spend on other areas in order to set aside time for exercise.
  • Less time wasting – with increased focus on important items, you would reduce the time that’s wasted. When setting up budget you would identify elements that don’t take you anywhere and in fact should be eliminated from your schedule.
  • Progress on goals – setting up a budget can be a significant boost to making progress on your goals. Simply bringing them to your attention and setting a side sufficient amount of time will allow you to start making a progress. No more saying “I don’t have enough time”.
  • Sharpen your attention – Some activities like deep thinking or creative work require significant amounts of time. Unfortunately those are mostly pushed to the back as there is never the right time, mood etc for them. If your work, goals depend on having creative/uninterrupted time making an allotment in the budget will help you with that.

How to create?

Creating a budget is relatively easy and involves just a handful of steps.

  1. List the activities your want to accomplish in a week or or a month.
  2. Estimate the number of hours you need to have for each task or commitment.
  3. Add all of the together and compare against total available hours i a week or month(24h in a day, 168 in a week, 708 in a month).
  4. Remember to leave few free hours as there always are some unexpected or unplanned thinks popping up.

For example I try to sleep not less than 7-7.5 hours per night so every week  that means 7.5h x 7days = 52h per week.
Another big chuck of my time is used for my day job, that including commute takes around 9,5h x 5days = 47.5h per week.
Other rather fixed activities that I spending my time on is eating/cooking which takes around 2,5h a day which = 17.5 per week.
Since triathlon is one of my hobbies I need to dedicate sufficient time to keep in shape and that takes around 6-7 per week.
When I add all above I’m using  124 hours on activities that are somewhat fixed but I also have 44 hours a week that I can plan any way I want. Some of it will go toward spending time with my wife, going out, some will go to reading and learning, cleaning, shopping etc.

Once you’ve created your initial budget then you can analyse it and decide if this is what you what or are there any elements that should come forward or should be pushed back. It’s very much a balancing act.

Budget is very much a pro active tool. It’s planning tool where you learn how to use the main resource of your life – time. It gives you a chance to create a framework of commitments for coming week or month. It can help you model new behaviours or introduce new way of using time. Time budget also puts your need and desires in the perspective of what is really available to you.

Building Time Maps

Do you have enough time? Do you stress out over the hours that you’ve left out to finish your projects?

If you want to have "more time" or to manage it more effectively I have couple of tips for you. 

Where is my time?

Nothing comes from nowhere and in order to have more time you need to know where it goes. Your first task is to think what are the ways you spend your time. It would be the best if you could track it for a week or so. For starters simply jot down all the regular and irregular activities that form part of your life.

Think of as many as possible.  Then look at your list and check how many hours per day or per week are you spending on each activity.

If you really want to know where your time goes consider tracking it for a week or more if possible. There are countless software packages for doing that, some even allow to monitor your computer usage, used applications and visited internet sites. But remember, it’s not only about tracking your computer  activities, look at your life as whole.

Daily/Weekly chart

Once you have your list of activities ready it’s time to put a map in place. It works best if you use daily or weekly perspective of your week.

Lets start with a simple and easy method that will give you results very quickly:

  1. Take a ruled sheet of paper and some colour pens or alternatively use spreadsheet on your computer.
  2. List all the hours in the day starting from 0:00 to 23:00. Each of the line represent a single hour of your day.
  3. If you need more granular approach, say 30min slots just divide the lines appropriately or find bigger piece of paper. 
  4. Now start on the top and go down drawing a line between each activity. Once you’ve done fill the blocks  with colours you want. 



[sample day schedule]

What you can see now is the map of day’s activities. By sketching this quick map you can identify any time sinks or simply realise that you have a lot on your plate and there is not much room.


If you have listed the number of hours you spend on each activity per day or per week then you can create pie chart. This method approaches your time map from slightly different angle and lets you see all the areas where you spend your time in proportion to the total time available. You can also see how they stack up against each other and what are the areas that dominate your schedule.


[sample weekly activities]

It’s worth considering this approach if want to look at things from monthly or even annual perspective.


Once you’re done with your map it’s time to look at it and analyse it. There is no point in creating something if you’re not going to use it. Time maps give you an overview of your situation so now you need to look at it and start asking questions.

  • What is important?
  • Is there anything that can be eliminated?
  • Is there any free time?
  • Am I spending time in the right way? etc


Next week I will look at time budgeting which aims at re-shaping your current schedule and making space for activities that are important and move you towards your goals and desires.

Time a zero sum game

The problem with Time

Many people have problem with time. When we think of stuff I would like to do, see, experience etc we end up with a sigh and consternation – there is not enough time. How could we possibly fit all those things in to this week or day. It just not possible.

We are all equal.

Looking at various successful people on the web, in the news etc. I couldn’t stop thinking how do they do it. Where do they get the time? But the thing is we are equal, everyone of us has the same 24h a day, 168 hours a week. These amounts are fixed, you can’t add anything to them can’t subtract. There are no people with extra hours in their days. In order to make the most out of the time you need to learn how to play with time.

The Game

Have you ever heard of zero sum game? This is the game where winner takes all. If I win I take the prize if you win you take the prize. Simple as that. Now apply this concept to managing time. You can fill your time with ‘x’ amount of activities up to 24h mark. Once you reach that limit you need to trade. Want to add any new activity then you need to remove one of an equal size.

For example if you want to sleep until 9am you need to make sure you haven’t scheduled anything for that time.

If your follow Merlin Mann’s talks (page15) he refers to a similar concept by Joel Spolsky. The metaphor is a giant box which represents single day. You can fill this box with anything you want but once you reach the limit that’s it. If you want to add anything else you need to first remove one thing and than add another.

Regardless of tricks you might use to play the time your end result will always be the same. Double-booking, multitasking are just old tricks that don’t really work. You can get away with them for a while but eventually they will bite you.

Play by the rules

To make the most out of your time you need to accept the rules. And these rules are very simple it’s actually just one rule.

To put one thing in your calendar you need to make sure your have still enough time or you need to take something out.

That’s it, only one single choice. Whether that choice is spending time with family, working some extra hours, going for a run or whatever, it’s still a choice. There may not be equal weight in each of the items. For different people the weights might be different but we all work from the same base of 24h. 

That 24h is yours, you own it, so use it well.

Now knowing this would you change the way you interact with your time? Would you do differently?