I was recently challenged by my Vantage study group to create a time budget for myself. As soon as you say “budget,” you naturally think “money,” and that’s something else I’m not good at budgeting. By painful experience, I’ve learned to stay within certain limits, and kept more or less on track.
But when it comes to time (you know, the one thing you absolutely cannot make more of, stockpile or save up), I’ve been even more stubborn about budgeting. I love the study of economics, but always hated that phrase “scarce resources.”
If you make it to the end of this, you may think it’s part sermon, part spreadsheet (not literally – tables are murder on websites, especially if you read them on your phone). I intend to offer one example of how I’m trying to tackle my week. There is some inevitable preamble here, then I’ll show what I’ve come up with for myself.
How a “lack mentality” works against time budgeting
I’ve had to face my mental block about budgeting time and money. In the process, I’ve about decided that it stems from childhood “lessons” about lack. My inner fat kid (who strangely sounds like my father) is constantly saying “We’ll never have enough of that, whatever that happens to be at any given time. Around adolescence, that voice (higher pitched, whinier now) started to say something like oh yeah?
In other words: “We’ll never be in a position to do it right, so let’s do it all.” Let’s give up and throw it to the wind. As a believer, perhaps a dash of “God will sort it out.”
I’ve left myself with a distaste for making hard choices. Choosing between two good things. As a result, I’ve tended to be over-committed. You will find this is a theme of most time management methods, i.e. over-committed people are who the David Allens of the world sell systems to. Lazy people don’t buy those books (maybe lazy people have those books bought for them; I don’t know). Like Paul, I’m rambling a bit but this is getting more practical as we go:
Start with the rests
Christians do like to argue about the meaning of the Sabbath and the first day of the week. But without staking any positions on that for now, I’m going to start with Friday afternoon, because I’ve come to realize that my biggest resistance to writing out schedules is that in the past I didn’t leave myself any significant rests or gaps. And it just so happens that Friday afternoon is a point of agreement between the secular and the Sephardic. The Buddhist and the Baptist (okay, I’ll stop now) – no one wants to work.
And that’s a good thing. I don’t believe it has to be Friday to Saturday afternoons, and I certainly don’t believe we need to avoid a set of prescribed activities. But we need some downtime. We actually need a lot more than we’re getting, and will probably never get as much as we’re designed for.
Because I have been agreeing to things on Saturdays,, the margins of rest have just kept caving in. This has left me resentful and resistant to even figuring out any sort of time budget. I’m working all the time/as much as I can – what difference does it make?
A week is the basic time budget building block (sorta)
Confession time: aside from eating and sleeping there is nothing I can consistently promise to do every day. But I can commit to doing positive, productive things on a weekly basis. In agile project methodology, sprints (a unit of production in developing code) are often either a week or two weeks long.
I had a breakthrough at work a month or two ago when I realized that I could not plan my days without first planning my week. Because there were too many things that didn’t fit in a day. For me, the week fit the scope of my work activities. If I’m not touching something at least once a week, it’s not getting done.
So what’s your time budget, Gary?
There’s (always) more I could say, but those are the basic principles I had to get straight before I could write out something I could agree with my future self on. Because that’s what budgeting is – an attempt to commit your future self to a set of future actions that your future self may really hate in the moment.
For me, mainly a day of worship.
- 7 am – get up, breakfast, get ready and head out (yes, we start early – 9 am)
- 9 am – Bible class and worship services
- 11:30 am – hopefully out by now, lunch with the family
- 12:30 am – depending on energy level, either in a coma, watching a movie, or working on church-related work (lessons, correspondence, etc.)
- 4 pm – heading to evening service (alternately – not. One of my decisions about rest is that if I am tired, and I’m not needed, I don’t go. )
- 6-7 pm – pre-gaming work for my main job. Dinner in here somewhere
- 8 pm – often a family video game.
- 9 pm – completely free time, reading or watching something light, getting to bed.
Monday – Friday
- 6 am – get up, breakfast, caffeine, devotional (read the Bible, or something improving)
- 8 am – work (I’m not going to get into details about work scheduling because that’s a whole other topic. Suffice it to say I work at a desk, and it’s a combination of writing, spreadsheets, software tools, and meetings. I work remotely)
- noon – lunch. Eating takes about 20 minutes – spend the rest of the time either with music practice or some type of exercise. OCCASIONALLY – stretch this time and go eat/meet with a friend.
- 1 pm – back to work
- 5 pm – off work if humanly possible. One more “in-line commentary” – I believe in giving it 40 hours, but working more than 40 hours a week at a salary job is counter-productive. So much time gets wasted at work. Budget 40 hours and make it as productive as you can within those hours. I committed to that a couple of months ago and productivity has soared.
- 5-6 pm – exercise or music practice
- 6 pm – personal stuff (bill paying, cleaning my desk, etc.)
- 7 pm – time wasting (reading/watching/social media) (dinner somewhere here between 6 and 7)
- 8 pm – writing (blogging, creative writing, personal emails or messages to catch up on)
- 9 pm – wind down, bed
- Monday night – currently orchestra (planning to skip at least two concerts a year because this group never seems to take a break)
- Wednesday night bible study (same rule as Sunday night applies)
- Friday night – more rest and time wasting, less of the other
- There is a bi-weekly chamber music rehearsal in here I’m trying to shape up and balance with the above.
- I’m a firm believer that too many weeknights out doing stuff like this makes you tired and crazy.
For me, mainly a day of rest. Not as in – laying in bed. But – not doing the routine of the weekdays. Avoiding the urge to “play catch-up.” It’s going to be the main day for me to do heavier house or yard work, and my intention is to plan 2-3 hours of that as needed (most Saturdays it will be). Jordan Raynor said “If you work with your mind, rest with your hands,” and that’s my main intention. Also, a focus on family time, which you will notice is relatively absent from the above lists. That’s something we need to work on, but we do see each other coming and going and check in with each other. Saturday is my day to be intentional about time for a family activity.