The book of Ecclesiastes tells us that there is a time for everything. A time to sow; a time to reap. A time to kill; a time to heal. A time to gather; a time to throw away. A time for baseball; a time for football. Okay, maybe not that last one.
I’ve got to be honest, though; in today’s culture, I’m not entirely convinced that I have time for everything. Yeah, I know that’s not what chapter 3 of Ecclesiastes is talking about, but it makes for a great segue into my topic.
The truth is, we have more going on in our lives these days than almost any culture throughout history. Work. Meetings. School. Athletic events. Orchestra and band concerts. Birthday parties. Social gatherings. Home projects. After-hours work events. The list goes on and on. I often find myself struggling to make time for everything that’s happening in my life.
And one of life’s great mysteries is this: Why do I continue to pile more and more on my plate when I know I already find it difficult to get things done?For several years now I’ve had a deep desire to create simplicity in my life, and part of that process involves cutting back on the commitments I make.
But simplicity is not what this post is about; that post will come later. The simple truth is that most of us aren’t ready to make the sacrifices and cut-backs required to live a life of simplicity. And I get it. We don’t want to miss out, or we don’t want our kids to miss out. However, there is a way we can be better stewards of the time given to us: by budgeting our time.
Now, I know. If you’re like me, the word “budget” causes you to cringe internally. Not that there’s anything wrong with budgeting; in fact, I highly recommend budgeting. It’s a great practice that can create clarity and improve focus in your life. Still, while creating a budget is not all that difficult, sticking to a budget is another matter. That requires a level of discipline and self-control that sometimes eludes us.
Budgeting is most often used in regards to finances. It is a process by which one considers the incoming financial assets in comparison to the outgoing assets. It is income vs. expenditures. Financial budgeting provides a means by which one might trim away the excess spending and begin to use resources more wisely.
Why can’t we use that process in regards to other resources, as well?
I have to be upfront here: this is not a new idea. I’m not a guru who developed this in my basement over the course of countless hours. Honestly, I don’t think anyone did that. I’m not entirely sure where the idea to budget one’s time was first developed, but I’m giving credit here to Gordon MacDonald. In his book Ordering Your Private World, MacDonald offers up several practices that are meant to help people come to a place of peace within themselves. These practices range from practical activities to spiritual disciplines, but one of the first things MacDonald discusses is the importance of budgeting one’s time.
It really is a simple activity. You can perform it on your mobile phone calendar app, or on your computer calendar app, or you can go old school and write it in a paper calendar/planner. It doesn’t really matter what medium you use. But once you’ve chosen your method, you have to figure out what you have available each day, week, and/or month. From there you have to decide what activities and events are a priority. Work? School events? Study time? Family time? Are you a writer or artist who needs to set aside creative time? Do you work out or train often? Whatever you are involved in that’s important, add it to the calendar. I try to leave gaps in my calendar. This allows me to take on unexpected meetings, events, etc. when they inevitably arise.
The real problem with creating a time budget is not the budget itself; the problem comes from the need to sometimes say, “No.” I feel like many people fear turning down certain invitations or requests for fear of offending someone or of missing out on something. But the fact is that none of us has time for every single activitythat comes up, and to try and take them allon is a recipe for burnout. Or worse. Instead, don’t be afraid to tell others that you can’t make it. Better yet, ask them if it would be possible to reschedule and use one of the gaps you left in your calendar. However you approach it, understand that self-care is vital to your health and the health of your family/ministry/teammates/fill-in-the-blank. If you don’t lead yourself well, you can’t expect to work well with others, at least not consistently.
I started budgeting my time about a month ago, and it has made a significant difference in the way I approach my life and work. I allot time for prayer and meditation, workouts, my family, and my work activities first. Then I find spaces where I can deliberately leave empty slots, since I often meet to have coffee with volunteers and coworkers in ministry. Once those are entered into my calendar, I talk to my wife and kids to find out what’s going on that I may not be aware of, and that goes into my calendar, as well. (This often leads to minor adjustments and rearrangements, but that’s what a budget is for. It means I don’t have to adjust at the last minute, therefore reducing stress.) Once these are done, I simply check my calendar every morning to see what’s coming up, and the rest takes care of itself – for the most part.
I’ll be honest; I’m still working out the kinks. I haven’t quite figured out the best way to manage some of my duties at work, since those duties change from week to week. But I have found that I sleep better at night, and I don’t feel the anxiety and stress I felt before. Budgeting my time has also increased my efficiency at work, as well as my consistency in personal growth. I’m far from perfect in this practice, and I still have a lot to learn, but for someone who has a tendency to either take on too much or mismanage much of my time, the practice of creating a time budget and sticking to it has been a game changer.
MacDonald, Gordon. (2017). Ordering Your Private World. Nashville, TN: W Publishing Group.