Time Management Series: Budget Your Time like Your Money | Working Mother

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Ellenore is a happily married, working mother of three kids ranging in age from college to grade school. Being a member of the working mom club for the last eighteen years produced many stories. They range from the profound to the ridiculous. Entering middle life led to the desire to make a bigger difference and raise children to the same. She also blogs at www.balancingmotherhoodcareer.blogspot.com, www.ethiopianties.blogspot.com and tweets at @ellenorea.

Time Management Series: Budget Your Time like Your Money

My seven step approach to maximizing your ROI.

Woman managing her time

Start with making a list of how you use your time.

Photo: iStock

Effective time management requires facing hard truths. Nobody, and I mean NOBODY, gets more time. Everyone gets 24 hours in a day and seven days a week.

I get asked, “Do you sleep?” Yep, I need seven-to-nine hours. And I truly envy those who only need four-to-five. I imagine what I could do with that extra time. I tested if I could get by on less sleep; the results were disastrous. I was less effective in everything, found it hard to deal with everyday stress, and if I deprived myself of needed sleep for long enough, I would almost inevitably get really sick (like acute bronchitis and pneumonia!).

If you are like me, then what do you do?

Treat time like the precious, scarce commodity it is. Budget it is like you would your money. I remind myself daily every hour of my life I spend on something is an hour I never get back.

Here is my seven step approach:

1. Track how you spend your time. Be as specific as you can. As a lawyer who used to have to bill my work time in six minute increments, I had a little practice. But it’s not hard. Just keep a pad with you all day and note when you start and finish an activity. It will be eye opening and even potentially a little disturbing. (Spoiler alert, you waste A LOT of time). I suggest at least a week to get a good picture; two weeks is better. Tally the time spent on different activities and create a list starting with where you spend the most time to where you spend the least. Note where you expected to spend time but didn’t.

2. Write a complete list of what you consider priorities. I included family, friends, career, my health, writing, gardening, my not for profit work, you get the idea. Don’t try to prioritize; just get everything down first. Then go back and thoughtfully put in priority order.

3. Compare your prioritized list from #2 to your time spent list from #1. Chances are high they don’t match–AT ALL. Don’t worry, that is the point. Without being intentional, time just slips through our fingers just the way our funds do.


4. Build a budget to get you from where you are to where you want to be. Take the 3-5 highest priorities and allocate the time you think you should be spending on each. Don’t worry about how you will get there. Just paint the picture of what an ideal state of time matched with priorities would look.

5. Develop a detailed plan. What would need to change? Where are you spending more time than the priority would warrant? Where are you wasting time? What research could you do – talk to others with similar situations, get a mentor/coach, take a course, read a book - -to give you tools and insights to assist you.

6. Execute your plan. Please, please, please, don’t try to do this all in one step or take too many steps at once. If you do, failure is almost certain. Start with your biggest gap. What is one concrete think you can commit to do to close? I found spending time with my husband often gets short shrift. So we agreed to plan a date night every one-two weeks and an occasional trip. When you feel like you are solid on making a change (2-3 months), then take on another. Committing to getting enough sleep or writing one list are two great places to start.

7. Audit and repeat annually (at least). I find a few good indicators I need to check in on my plan. I feel I am going to get sick, I am feeling disconnected from key people in my life, or I am dragging through my day. Your priorities shift and your strategies to align them will need too.

When I was first working in Europe, I traveled a ton. I felt off but just kept putting one foot in front of the other. I was home and asked one of my kids about school. He responded with brutal kid honesty, “Do you really care Mom? You are never around anymore.” My first reaction was hurt and anger. I wanted to explain how I didn’t want to be traveling this much but it was a new role and I managed remote teams. And then it hit me like a ton of bricks, he was right and I felt exactly the same. I was getting disconnected from their everyday lives because I didn’t spend enough time there. To change that, I limited my travel and made more conscious efforts to connect daily.

This is tough, get in the trenches, work. There are no short cuts and it a lifetime commitment if you want to do it well. But the return on your investment, in terms of living your best life, are truly amazing! Give it a try and let me know what worked.

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