Creating a 4-Step Time Budget

My wife and I recently finished Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University, and it’s been great. I’d say we aren’t terrible with our money, but we’ve always desired to be better stewards of the resources God has given to us. And it turns out that we weren’t quite as solid financially as we should be.

Budgeting has never been our strength, so we weren’t pleased to hear Ramsey teach that budgeting is the key to succeeding financially. He teaches a zero-balance budget, which means that you know where every dollar of our your income will be spent before the month even begins. It’s the only way to truly take control of your money. You tell it were to go, rather than spending it on every whim.

It’s a great idea.

But it’s also really hard to actually follow through with it.

Budgeting is the answer to controlling finances, but it requires discipline.

A few weeks ago, my wife and I were talking through all of our responsibilities while on the road, and she began to lament that there simply wasn’t enough time to get everything done. I agreed with this feeling but decided to put it to the test with an experiment, a time budget. Here’s what we created:

1. Using your 168 hours. 

First, we wrote down 168 at the top of a page.

Why is that number special?

It’s the number of hours God has given to each of us every week.

That’s our “income”.

Nothing will ever increase or decrease that number. It will continue onward, steady and sure.

These 168 hours are God’s gift to you.

If the Lord wills, you will receive 168 more next week, but there is no guarantee. And there is no means of taking them back once they are spent. They will be used for good or evil, with purpose or tossed aside.

Financial budgeting is driven by the question: What am I going to do with the money God has given me?

Time budgeting is driven by the question: What am I going to do with the 168 hours God has given me?

2. What are your priorities?

168 hours fly by rather quickly, you may have noticed as much.

Once you resolve to take control of your week, the next step is to make a list of the priorities in your life. These are non-negotiables that you resolve to create time for no matter what.

For example, do you want to get more sleep? Make your first priority sleep (this is a great priority to begin with, by the way). Set your goal for each day and write out the number for the week (so 8 hours each day is 56 hours each week). Then take this number from your 168 hours. If you resolve to set 8 hours for sleep each night, your new “income” is 112 hours. Those are your awake hours, so plan on only having 112 hours with which to do things.

Continue doing this through all of your priorities.

Do you want to read for one hour each day? Assign those 7 hours from the total.

Maybe you want to give an hour to God in prayer and reading Scripture. Budget 7 hours for the week.

Write down your non-negotiable priorities, and budget for them.

3. Create a schedule.

A budget is a wish until you actually do it.

You can dream about your perfect week all day, but it will not happen until you make it happen.

This is where a schedule comes in.

Create a schedule (each day, preferably). Try to realistic with yourself, but also make it challenging.

Living out your schedule is where the true difficulty comes, so attempt to plan preemptively for distractions. You established your priorities as non-negotiables, so what kind of circumstances will attempt to force you to lose focus? How can you avoid these distractions? What is your backup plan for getting your priority done if you are thrown off course?

These are the kind of questions that you will need to ask beforehand.

4. Do a weekly evaluation.

To be honest, it’s really easy to create a well-formed plan and do nothing with it. So how can we avoid falling into that rut?

Perform a brutally honest evaluation each week.

Or, if you’re a crazed type-A, do one daily.

The point is to be honest with yourself.

If you failed miserably last week, own it. Look your failed productivity in the face and figure out how to do better next week.

Stop making excuses and letting yourself off the hook. We will never actually improve until we learn to honestly evaluate ourselves.

Certainly celebrate the places in your schedule where you succeeded, but also be honest with where, and how, you failed.

Suggested Tools

You can do all of this with pen and paper, but let’s be honest, the digital age has made many of us much too spoiled for that.

With that said, here are a few tools that my wife and I have been using.

ATracker

Probably the biggest problem with budgeting your time is actually keeping track of what you do.

Enter time tracking apps.

A glance at the app store reveals plenty of apps to choose from, and I have certainly not tried them all.

But I’ve been using ATracker, and I love it.

It’s simplistic and customizable. I can create however many tasks I want and sort them into different categories. It took some time to form the habit of using the app, but once I did it’s worked wonderfully. The report charts are also easy to create and read, making the weekly evaluation easy to do.

Action Day Planner

Both my wife and I used these planners from April onward, and we love them. If you are a task-oriented person, I highly recommend this planner. As a goal-oriented worked, I’ll actually be giving the Panda Planner a try this year.

But whatever you do, get a planner.

Preferably a daily one.

Time Budget Template

This is a Word template I created for doing our weekly evaluations. Feel free to use it until your heart’s content or update it to better serve you.

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