When it comes down to it, time is our most valuable currency.
Time is actually much more important than a simple conversion to dollars. While money comes and goes, time only goes. Once you use up an hour of your life watching True Blood or responding to work emails, that hour is never coming back.
It’s simply gone.
It can’t be exchanged for fifty bucks, for a surprise dinner for your wife or a backyard game of catch with your son. It can’t be traded for better fitness, a nice nap or some quality time snuggling on the couch with your husband.
We never know how much time we’ve got over the course of our life, but we do have a pretty good idea that we have 24 hours today. And hopefully another 24 tomorrow.
So, how do you want to spend those next 24 hours?
The key to being more intentional with our time is actually the same approach that’s needed to be proactive with our finances. It requires getting a solid understanding of how you spend your time now and then planning for how you’d like to spend your time in the future.
You guessed it, you need a simple time budget.
To start, you need to track how you currently spend your time. While this doesn’t have to be super-detailed, it does need to be based on what you are actually doing and not what you think you’re doing with your time each day.
Every half hour or so, jot down what you did during the previous 30 minutes. Were you really working on a sales report at work, or were you checking Facebook? Don’t worry, this journal is for your eyes only. 🙂
How long should you track your time? Personally, I like to look at my time in week-long blocks. While activities can change quite a lot day-to-day, things are pretty consistent over the course of a week.
Like a financial budget, I recommend that you go ahead and track your current habits for a week or so before trying to plan out how you’d like to spend your time going forward. This gives you a full picture of what activities need to be accommodated in your schedule (or dropped).
How Do You Want to Spend Your Next 168 Hours?
When you track how you are actually using your time, you’ll probably be surprised (maybe shocked is a better word for many of us). You may find that your real priorities aren’t reflected very well by how you’re actually living your life.
So, let’s be proactive and do something about that!
To start, you should realize that you have 168 hours available to you each and every week. It sure doesn’t feel that way sometimes, but we all have this same amount of time to start with.
Next, brainstorm the major areas where you need to spend time each week. Go ahead and jot these down in a vertical column. Here are some typical “needs” for many of us:
- Couple Time
- Essential household tasks
Now we’ll make a (probably longer) list of “wants” for all of the things you’d like to do with your time over the next seven days. Here are some ideas:
- Date night
- Play time with the kids
- Community Service
- Surf the internet (especially that Simple Marriage blog)
- Social media (Facebook, Twitter, email, etc.)
- Watch television
- Visit family
- Anything else you “want” to do
Now, go ahead and put down an estimate of the number of hours you need/want to spend on each activity over the course of a week. Some activities (like church) may be limited to one or two days per week, while others (like sleep) will happen every day.
Add up your hours. If you have less than 168 hours accounted for, then you actually have free time that you are probably wasting here and there and never realizing. Congratulations!
You should assign all of those “free” hours to something, even if they are simply noted as “free time” that you can spend however you’d like. You may decide you’d like to work on that project you’ve been putting off or take your kids for a hike each week.
The whole point is using your time intentionally the way you desire.
If you actually have more than 168 hours documented, then you are either overestimating your commitments or you are simply going to have to eliminate some “wants’ to get your life back in balance.
Yes, You Should Write It Down
Once you have a good handle on what your real time requirements are, you’re ready to set up an actual time budget to reference in the future. Take that list of activities and hours and assign them out over the course of a 168-hour week.
I set mine up using a Google Calendar, but a sheet of paper for each day of the week works just fine, too. I still reference mine when I start to feel frazzled and overwhelmed by what seems like a lack of time.
What are the chances that your week will line up perfectly with your time budget? Probably zero.
Life is unpredictable, and each week brings new circumstances. The same is true with financial budgeting, but the point is to have a baseline so you can adjust and roll with life’s punches.
The intent of the time budget is not to stick to it at all costs and live your life according to a schedule. The key is to actually think about how you are spending your time and then do something about it.
It Really Works…lf You Do
Personally, developing my own time budget has had a dramatic impact on my life. I used to think that my days were full (overfull even) and that I had no time for anything else. When I decided to take stock of how I spent my time, I realized just how much of my life I was wasting on things I didn’t even care about.
Since then, I’ve had another child, created Engaged Marriage and other online projects, taken leadership roles in my church and other community service organizations, taken up regular exercise and advanced in my career. Through all of this, my marriage and family relationships have grown much stronger and deeper.
I still waste time, but I am accomplishing much more with the life that God has granted me. And it all started with a conversation with my wife and some scribbled notes about how I wanted to spend my time.
Go scribble down your own plan. Go happen to your life.
P.S. – This post was adapted from one of many lessons shared with the subscribers to the free Marriage Time Newsletter. If you struggle finding the quality time you want for your marriage, I’d encourage you to sign up.
When you do, you’ll also get instant access to a free marriage e-course called Marriage Mojo: 7 Simple Steps to Romance for Insanely Busy Couples. People seem to dig it, but you can always drop it with a single click at any time.