Time Management 101: Create a Time Budget

Guest Post by Amy Andrews who helps with much of the behind-the-scenes work at Money Saving Mom® and blogs at BloggingWithAmy.com

Hey there Money Saving Mom® readers! I’ve communicated with many of you behind the scenes via email, so it’s fun to have the opportunity to talk to you on this side of things. Crystal asked me to introduce myself and tell you more about time budgeting as part of her Time Management 101 series. So here’s a little bit about me…

My name is Amy Andrews (not to be confused with the very classy Amy McGuire of Amy’s Finer Things — the advertising/giveaway guru here at Money Saving Mom®). My husband Brian and I have been married for 13 1/2 years and we have 4 children.

Amy Andrews and Family

Online, I blog at BloggingWithAmy.com which is aimed at teaching others how to start a money-making blog from scratch. I also do some blog consulting and I just released an ebook about time management called Tell Your Time which, incidentally, came to be after helping Crystal with her schedule.

Time Budgeting

If you’ve read Money Saving Mom® for any length of time, it’s likely you have heard Crystal talk about the envelope system for money management. The goal of the envelope system is to pre-determine where you will spend your money so as not to overextend yourself financially.

Earlier this year when Crystal and I discussed how to make her schedule more workable, I told her about a similar concept which I refer to as “envelopes of time.” They work the same way in that you pre-determine where you will spend your time so as not to overextend yourself commitmentally (is that a word?).
time budget

This is how the concept works (excerpt from Tell Your Time):

  1. Total up the hours in a day (or week). That’s easy, 24 (or 168).
  2. Make a list of the activities you want to accomplish in that time (i.e. your envelopes).
  3. Divvy up your activities between your allotted time envelopes.
  4. If there isn’t enough time in the day to cover one of your activities, you have four choices:
    • “Steal” time from one of your other activities.
    • Figure out a way to streamline so it takes less time.
    • Get someone else to do it for you.
    • Drop it completely.

In the ebook I move on to talk about how to determine your priorities/life goals and how to accomplish them by incorporating them into your daily schedule, but here I’ll expand on the four choices we have when we don’t seem to have enough time in the day.

1. Steal time

When the total hours of our daily activities exceed the number of hours we have in a day, it often results in us stealing time from other activities in our schedule.

For example, too much time on the computer might steal from my personal time, too much time studying for an exam might steal from my sleep or too much time shopping might steal from one-on-one time with my kids.

Often we steal time from other areas without even realizing it, or, we realize it only after it leaves a gaping hole. Life happens of course, and occasionally we have no choice but to steal time from other time envelopes. Stealing will happen, we just need to proactively make room for the deficit elsewhere.

Also, we need to remember that stealing time has a domino effect. Whenever we steal time from one area, another will always be affected.

2. Streamline

I am a streamliner. Whether I’m contemplating how to get from my house to the grocery store or thinking about a new giveaway entry system on Money Saving Mom®, I’m constantly thinking, “There must be a more efficient way to do this.”

I’m on a neverending quest to figure out how to do things quicker and cheaper. Streamlining is, no doubt, very handy when it comes to shaving off precious minutes in my schedule, but it can cause its own trouble too.

Streamlining itself takes time — time which must be accounted for. If I’m determined to find a faster route to the grocery store but I end up getting lost every time, streamlining doesn’t really work in my favor at that point.

Another downside to streamlining is paring down your schedule just so you can pack more in. It’s great to be productive, but if you’re so productive that you end up cramming your day with things that do not help you accomplish your life goals, it’s not benefiting you in the long run.

Streamlining is great when it reduces stress, however, if you’re streamlining but your stress level remains the same, you might have to consider another option.

3. Get help from someone else

Another way to combat a too-full schedule is to figure out how to get others to do things for you. In our house, my husband and I take care of various responsibilities and our children are expected to help as well. We all work together to share the load.

I’m also in favor of looking to others outside our home for help. I loved what Crystal said the other day about focusing on the things you’re good at. I am guilty of trying to do everything because I’m either too cheap to pay someone else or too prideful to ask for help.

Granted, we are on a limited budget so paying someone for help is not always an option, but I am 100% in favor of this idea. I see it as a win-win — I am relieved of something I don’t like to do or don’t know how to do, and someone else gets to make a little money doing something they’re skilled at.

But lack of money doesn’t have to be prohibitive when it comes to getting outside help. Be creative! Bartering, swapping babysitting with another mom so you can go to the grocery store alone or making a few homemade pizzas to feed a group of friends willing to pitch in and paint your house are all great ways to get help, without spending money.

And there are plenty of people who are more than willing to respond to a humble, un-reciprocated request for help. All you need to do is ask.

4. Drop It

You are only one person working within a limited amount of time. You can only do so much. If you’re like me, you might simply need to let some of your commitments go. Gone. Finished. Done. Outta here.

Now, I’m the first to say this is not always easy, nor is it pleasant, but if you constantly feel overwhelmed and stressed out, it’s likely you simply have too much on your plate.

For a long time, I kept looking for things to cut out of my schedule. The problem was, I couldn’t find anything to cut! It took me a while to figure out that I was looking for the “bad” stuff to eliminate, but all the activities on my calendar were “good” things (church ministry, building my business, excellent learning opportunities for my children, etc.). It was freeing to realize that I could choose to let go of “good” stuff in order to make room for the “best” stuff.

This is how I said it in Tell Your Time:

Are your daily activities really helping you achieve your life goals, or have you gotten swept up in the tumult of your to-dos? Whether it’s an inability to say “No,” the fear of missing something, the need to keep up with the Joneses or just careless planning, many of us are masters at committing to things that sound like great ideas, but do nothing to get us closer to [reaching our life goals]. Frankly, if they’re not getting us closer to [reaching our life goals], they’re a waste of time…no matter how amazing they are.

Amy Lynn Andrews shows step by step how to make money blogging at BloggingWithAmy.com and is the author of the time management ebook, Tell Your Time.

Note from Crystal: Use the code MoneySavingMom if you want to get a copy of Amy’s ebook (and I highly recommend that you do!) for only $7! The code MoneySavingMom is good through Friday at midnight only. Tomorrow, I’ll share more about how I’ve implemented a Time Budget in my own life and how it’s revolutionized my life.

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Comments

  1. says

    Amy I love your advise, you are so right about dropping things even if they are good! After reading Crystals earlier post, I dropped out of a good activity that was just too hard on my family.
    I also struggle with hiring someone to help because I’m too cheap, that is defiantly and area I need to improve on !
    My sister just bought your book and said it has some great ideas!
    http://lindyandjeanne.blogspot.com/

  2. says

    So simple yet so brilliant. I can see this helping me with my problem of feeling guilty at the end of every day that I didn’t accomplish all I wanted to — simply because there is not enough time in the day, no matter how hard I work!

  3. Jennifer says

    GREAT POST!! This is so timely for me as I could relate to what you said about feeling like there was nothing you could cut from your schedule. Learning how to say “no” is really challenging, but it’s got to be worth it in the long run. Loved the idea of the “envelope system” for time. I will try it. Also bought your ebook and really found it helpful. Now just need to find the time to implement the changes :)

  4. A says

    Also loved the e-book and the emphasis on planning LESS than 24 hours worth of activities in a day. I rescheduled my day with a “margin hour” each day and it is changing my whole life! :)

  5. says

    Amy,
    Great post! I actually purchased your e-book earlier in the week and am working through making my life goals and streamlining my schedule. You have done a GREAT job, and I just wanted to thank you. As a missionary wife, seeing so much need around me constantly, it is particularly painful to have to let the “good” things go to make room for the best. It is so worth it, though. :)
    Crystal,
    Thanks for this series!! You are doing an amazing job and I appreciate your honesty and wisdom on this topic.
    Blessings to both of you!
    Joy

  6. Erica says

    Love it! I had a HUGE revelation! I need to cut out coupons! I know! I used to love the thrill of it and loved saving money but recently I just can’t do it without neglecting so many other things that are well, more important! Kinda a strange thing to give up but for right now I’m just going to stick to my BIG priorities :)

    • Priscilla says

      I also have had to cut back on how much I do (or not do) with coupons and the deals. I’ve need to use my time on the best stuff instead of the good stuff. I’m a mom to 6 so, I’ve got plenty to keep me busy.

      As a side note: we need to move some rooms around and make our house work better for us (such a huge job). It is a bit depressing at times, to know ‘where’ to start with the clutter in the house. I get discouraged ‘before’ I start. Maybe some one can post some how to’s on that topic.

      • Mickie says

        @Priscilla, Priscilla, I also am in the process of decluttering our house. I am a full time student, a wife and a mom to 3 so it has been difficult. This is not exactly a “how to” but what has helped me is to do a little bit at a time and start from a place where I can “win” and focus on that until I finish. For example, for us, the linen closet is the smallest place in the house so I went through that and got rid of stuff we don’t need and organized that. It gave me such a feeling of accomplishment and energy that helped me move to the next place and so on. I found that looking at the clutter in the entire house is so discouraging to me, but focusing on one managable spot at a time keeps me going. HTH

    • says

      @Erica, Yes, I’ve recently cut back in coupon usage, and it really has been good for me. I had been going to Rite Aid 5 times a week, plus doing some couponing from time to time at my grocery store. I tried to just “cut back” the time I spent on it, but that’s hard to do. Once I get excited about the deals, it’s really hard to stop, plus I would always feel guilty that there were deals I wasn’t getting. The past 3 weeks, I haven’t even looked at an ad or read blog posts/forums about the deals, and has really freed up my time and my mind to think about other things. I do think I’ll go back to couponing before too long, but it was good to cut it out for a while.

  7. JC says

    Was just wondering if there is a link on the blog to read all the posts in the Time Management series.

    • says

      @JC, if you look at the end of any post in the series, you’ll see a section that says, “Other Post in this Series.” Alternatively, look just a bit further down and you’ll see “Looking for more? Click here to read other posts about Time Management.”

      I hope that helps!

  8. Malissa says

    This came at such a wonderful time for my family! I was already feeling overextended most days, and then we decided to pull our daughter out of public school and begin homeschooling her! I loved the e-book and even had our daughter (who is 13) work through it with me to help plan our days! Thank you so much!

    • says

      @Malissa, that is so encouraging to me! I tried to make it as simple and straightforward as possible, so to hear that you worked through it with your 13 year old daughter is awesome.

      Like I mentioned in the Intro, how come time management books are so often so time-consuming?! :)

  9. says

    I love this quote – “It was freeing to realize that I could choose to let go of “good” stuff in order to make room for the “best” stuff.” That’s exactly what I struggle with as well – I need to prioritize so I can make sure I’m getting to best, and not trying to do everything (as much as I want to be superwoman!)

  10. says

    Oh my goodness, Amy, your family is beautiful! =) So fun to “finally meet” them!

    I’ve been putting the concepts in your book into practice and loving it. THANK YOU!!

  11. says

    Oh my goodness, this is genius! It’s like a zero-balance budget. How many times have I said, tritely, “There’s only so many hours in a day”??? But until reading this, that truth never fully sank in.

    For instance: No wonder I’m so tired — the one envelope that always gets stolen from (grammar?) is SLEEP! Okay, I’m bookmarking this post to come back to it when I have an envelope for deep thinking ;-)

    Thank you, thank you!

  12. Lyn says

    Hi Amy,
    I think you have a beautiful family. Thank you for your wise words. I think all women can learn something more when it comes to time management. I know I can, and I’m not a youngin’ like so many others here. :)

  13. Anna says

    I am a single mom with 4 kids. I am a professional. I have one child with a disability. Life is full of kids, work, school, household duties, PLUS MD appointments, therapy appointments, medications, sickness, hospitalizations, etc. I keep a planning schedule that includes school, work, and ME time. I also put all household activities and needs on it. I even put time with each kid. My goals are on the left side in a column for our family, days at the top in the first row and time on the left side in the 2nd column. On the second row is space for dinner plans, the 3rd row is for daily chores. I fill in the blanks on the week. I keep focused my time focused on family goals (spirituality, relaxation, family time, spending plan, taking care of our belongings). Not a perfect system but keeps me organized and helps with time management. With a child with special needs I have to balance time carefully.

    • Kerry D. says

      @Anna, Since my time and energy is also split in many directions, I am reading your description carefully… but I’m a little confused… can you tell more about “time column” and “goals” since they’re both on the left? How do these interrelate?

      • val says

        @Kerry D.,

        Yes I’d like to know more too! I am a mom to three, one with a disability so I totally get all the extras that go with that, a wife to a husband that works many long hours and doesn’t offer a ton of help in the home, and I also work outside the home a few mornings a week. I’m intrigued to learn more.

  14. says

    I worked my first time budgeted schedule yesterday and got two projects that have needed to be done finally done, as well as all the important stuff like spending time with my family and sleeping a full 8 hours. At the end of the day, I felt so good. It is so hard to let go of the so many other things that my mind still thinks I “should” be doing and dealing with the guilt, but the feeling of accomplishment and satisfaction from budgeting my time was so wonderful! My husband even noticed a difference in me!!

  15. says

    I loved the e-book Amy. So direct and helpful. No fluff – just the important stuff.

    Had a meeting with my husband last night about our time management thanks to your book. I was saying, “Like she says, there’s only 24 hours in a day…” How do you like being quoted :)

  16. Kathy says

    Love your ebook! I wondered how one can apply this when they have a schedule that is different every day? For instance, I work from home as a medical transcriptionist. Some days I only have 2 hours of work, some days 8 hours or more and I never know what it will be until I’m in the midst of it. Can you elaborate on this?

    Thanks!

    • says

      Hi @Kathy, great question! Here’s what I would suggest…

      I would still do Steps 1-3 and the first part of Step 4 (i.e. your Q1 activities and sleep) as described in the ebook. Then I would block out 8 hours of work each day. I realize some days it will be more and some days it will be significantly less than 8 hours, but since (I’m assuming your work is a Q2 and therefore a non-negotiable), making room for it is important.

      Then, as soon as I knew how much of that 8 hours would actually be used on a particular day, I would fit my other Q2s, then Q3s &Q4s around it.

      In other words, your Steps would be basically the same, it’s just that you’ll be doing a little more adapting on a day-to-day basis as you know your daily schedule. But by blocking out 8 hours a day, you’ll already be prepared to use that time in that way. Then, if one day you find yourself with only 2 hours worth of work, once it’s finished, you’ll just start in on your other Q2 activities (which are hopefully listed in priority) and fill the other 6 hours with those. That way, you’ll have a plan and you’ll be getting the most important things done, they just might not happen in a predictable pattern.

      Does that make sense?

  17. Monica says

    I love the last part about dropping good stuff for the best. There is an awesome article just about that called GOOD BETTER BEST by Dallin H. Oaks.

  18. elizabeth says

    I love this! I work outside the home and one thing that I really have to make myself do is leave work on time. I am salaried so extra time at work is my own donation,if you will. By leaving on time I can get so many more chores done at my house.

  19. Catherine says

    I need an e-book that tells me how to FILL my time! I’m a SAHM of a 1 year old. I cook and clean and play with DD, but the days are so long! (My husband doesn’t get home from work until 8:30 – after DD is in bed for the night) There’s not many places you can take a 1 year old in cold weather, especially for cheap :(
    Many days I just give up and watch tv, because I can’t think of anything else to do.

    • Kerry D. says

      @Catherine, When my kids were small, we belonged to a playgroup (Las Madres) based on our general area and age of the child. We’d have weekly gatherings and outings. It was incredibly fun. Also, discovered MOPS, Mothers of Preschoolers, which met a church, a weekly potluck, moms took turns handling the childcare with activities, and there was a craft activity for the moms. These both were wonderful for me and my kids.

      • Catherine says

        @Kerry D., I looked up MOPS but there are no English groups in my area. There are tons of expensive classes like ‘baby yoga,’ gymboree, etc. I think it’s just the area we live in. At the park I never saw moms, only nannies (the majority don’t speak much English). Hopefully my husband will decide on a permanent church soon, so I can at least start to do church things :)

        • Ashley says

          @Catherine,
          I did not have a church home for several months in a new town, but I still joined a Wee Praise group at a local church and that is how I met some friends! Everyone knew that we probably weren’t joining that church (different denomination!), but they were welcoming anyway. And it didn’t matter that we weren’t members. My new friends and I met for playdates that I really looked forward to. Also, during your free time maybe you could work on some cool crafts to give as Christmas presents. My days started to go faster when I began doing some projects instead of watching T.V.! Good luck!

  20. says

    Amy-
    I just purchased your ebook- and plan to “schedule some time” to cozy up next to a warm fire and read it this weekend! I have lots of ideas of my own on how to map out spaces in my day- but I am looking forward to having your expand my knowledge!
    Warmly,
    Sharon
    http://www.momof6.com

  21. says

    Great advise about dropping the good for the best. There’s a similar concept in Andy Stanley’s book “Choosing to Cheat”. Basically, it’s the concept that we all “cheat” somewhere depending on what our priorities are. If we are trying to move up the career ladder we spend long hours at work and “cheat” our family with our time. If our focus is on our family, we may “cheat” work (meaning work hard during the day but we don’t work hours and hours over) so we can be there for our family when they need us (and during the specific hours they need us). That means you may get passed over for promotions, etc. but your family knows they are #1 in your life. Work and family are both “good” but when you prioritize one over the other you are “cheating” one of them and saying the other is “best.” It’s explained MUCH better in the book and there are many other examples but that’s just a quick summary of a concept that has stuck with me.

  22. Lisa says

    This is a very helpful post. Thank you for taking the time to help us manage our time better.

    I wanted to add a comment on #3 (get help) … one thing I have found to be very valuable in my life over the past year is Timebanking. In a nutshell, it’s an indirect barter system where you offer your time to help others (individuals or organizations) and “redeem” your earned time to get help from others. For example, I can earn an hour making a meal for someone or raking a lawn and use that hour to have someone change the oil in my car or set up a home computer network or teach me to tango. The possibilities are truly endless. Timebanking gives me opportunities to spend my time doing things that I enjoy and saves me time and money on things where I’m lacking skills or just plain need help!

    Time banks are available in lots of communities nationwide. See http://www.timebanks.org/directory.htm to see if there is one in your area. If not, maybe you can set one up (in your free time!).

  23. val says

    Am I the only one grasping this envelope idea? We do the envelope cash system with our budget and it works wonders for us. But I don’t understand how to conceptualize this idea in terms of time. You say that each “activity” is like an envelope. What goes in it? The time I assume. How? Are you being literal in using a system like this? Do I put like 20 minute cards inside each activity or something like that? Seriously, am I having a mega blonde moment here and totally missing something obvious? Ack!

    • says

      I’m so sorry it was confusing. I definitely did not mean to do that! :)

      Just like the money envelope system…you have your goals in front of you (cover living expenses, pay off X amount of debt, save X amount in an emergency fund, etc.) and so you decide ahead of time where your money will go. So, as you know, when you’re at the grocery store and you have the opportunity to buy that candy bar in the checkout line, it’s easier to say “Nope, can’t do that. It’s not in the budget. If I spend it on that, it will sidetrack me from reaching my financial goals.”

      The same goes for time. You figure out what your life goals are and then schedule your days and weeks in such a way to ensure you are slowly achieving those goals. When an opportunity for X, Y or Z arises, you can say, “Nope, can’t do that. I don’t have extra time. It’ll sidetrack me”

      I think too often when an opportunity arises that seems good, we don’t think about whether or not it will help us reach our life goals, but instead, it looks good at the moment and there happens to be an hour free on Wednesday on our calendar so we squeeze it in. What results is spending time in not so productive or efficient ways.

      I don’t have literal envelopes for time, but it gets worked out in my weekly schedule which can be done on paper, in Google calendar, etc.

      Does that help at all?

  24. says

    I’m a streamliner too! No matter how “tight” I think I have things, there is always room for improvement. Not to mention the fact that the family is forever morphing into something else that requires a new schedule or a new way of doing things. Great post, Amy!