8. Time Management Step #1: Create A Time Budget

In Part I, you created a Personal Mission Statement consisting of a set of specific and achievable goals for every important area of your life, including:

• Activism

• Health & Fitness

• Relationships

• Money

• Whole Person

Step #1 of the Time Management process is to budget your available time around these goals.

At the end of this chapter is a sample Time Budget table for a typical young activist who has allocated his waking hours among: a full-time non-activist job, activism, health and fitness, an active social life and a low-maintenance household. Following that is a blank Time Budget table that you can fill in to reflect your own situation.5 Assuming that you sleep eight hours per night, that leaves 112 hours per week of “awake” hours that you can allocate. (168 total hours per week – 56 sleeping hours = 112 hours.)

So go ahead and try it. Take every goal you listed under the Activism, Health & Fitness, Relationships, Money and Whole Person sections of your Personal Mission Statement and allocate some time to it.

Some goals, such as earning your living, are probably going to require a lot of time each week, while others will probably require much less. It’s important to allocate time to all of your goals since if you omit a goal you may wind up never achieving it. Far better to allocate thirty or even fifteen minutes a week to a goal than to ignore it completely. Believe it or not, those fifteen minutes will add up over time, and you will wind up making much faster progress than you would have ever imagined.

Sometimes we omit a goal because we have no idea how to get started on it. If that’s the case for one of your goals, then use that fifteen or thirty minutes a week to research the problem. Read a book, talk to a mentor or just sit down and make up a list of the possibilities. That will probably be enough to break the logjam and get you started.

Budgeting is harder than it looks, by the way. Just as a “large” weekly salary starts to look frighteningly small when you start allocating it to rent, food, clothes and other expenses, your 112 hours a week is probably also going to look frighteningly small once you start allocating it to your goals. You are probably going to have to make some difficult choices and tradeoffs along the lines of: “Should I use my Sunday afternoons to do an extra three hours of activism each week, or should I use that time to socialize, visit my parents, get in a third exercise session (two per week isn’t really enough!) or take that class I’ve been dying to take?” It’s the very difficulty of the budgeting process that makes it worthwhile, however. Budgeting forces you to face the fact that you only have a limited number of hours each week, and it also forces you to make conscious choices about how you will spend that time. You’ll have to prioritize your goals and determine how much time you want to budget, or allocate, to each.

Most people don’t budget their time: they let others dictate their schedule and priorities for them. When you see how hard it is to budget, and how hard it is to “defend” your schedule against the sundry “time thieves” and “time nibblers” out there (see Chapter 15), you’ll understand why so many people forego this difficult but essential task.

Some tips for budgeting:

• Begin by allocating the “non-negotiables.” These are the commitments you cannot break, such as work or parenting duties. Please also consider all tasks related to your physical and emotional health non-negotiable. After you’ve finished allocating time to all of these, you can then move on to the “negotiables.”

• Be realistic. If it takes you an hour each morning to get showered, dressed and ready for work, don’t budget 45 minutes. On the other hand, think about why it takes an hour, and how you might be able to get everything done more quickly. If, for instance, you water your plants before leaving for work, try changing your routine so that you do that in the evening while dinner is cooking.

• Don’t cut back on sleep. Numerous studies have shown that cutting back on sleep to gain more time is almost always a false economy: the time you think you are saving at night is lost in reduced focus and productivity during the day. So, try to stick to eight hours of sleep a night, or however many hours you truly need.

• Budget “all or nothing.” Your aim should be to devote a generous amount of time to each of your essential professional and personal priorities—i.e., the most important sub-goal in each area of your Mission—and as close to zero time as possible to everything else. This “all-or-nothing” approach is key to getting all the things you need to get done done within a reasonable amount of time.

• Budget in fifteen-minute (1/4 hour) increments. Why? Because you’ll probably need to use every minute of your week productively to finish everything you need to get done. You may, for instance, need to trim your lunch “hour” down to forty-five or thirty minutes so that you can leave work early and have time to fit in an exercise class at the end of the day. Utilizing every minute well may sound like a recipe for stress, but by combining this rule with the “all or nothing” rule discussed just above, it’s not. By utilizing every minute well, you’ll be able to allocate a leisurely amount of time to your small number of priority tasks: this means that you won’t be hopping frenetically from one activity to the next, and so should experience minimum stress. Fifteen minutes may sound like an insignificant amount of time, but it’s really not. Most people who take time management seriously come to see it as a lot of time. If you do allocate generous amounts of time to your essential tasks, you may frequently find yourself with fifteen-minute chunks of open time between commitments. Oh happy problem! Don’t waste that time, but use it to make a necessary call, send a necessary e-mail or do a bit of necessary reading. That single small change in your habits could make a huge difference in your overall productivity and success.

• When you are finished with your Time Budget, show it to your mentors and get their feedback. This is a very important step, as your mentors are your “reality check.” Ask them whether they think you are allocating your time in a way that will help you achieve your Mission. If they say “No,” ask them for suggestions on what to change.

The sample (filled-in) Time Budget table and blank Time Budget table follow.

Time Budget

(Sample-for activist with full-time, non-activist job and an active social life living in a low-maintenance apartment or house)

Download a sample time budgeting/tracking form here