Time budgeting: a thousand no’s

Brian’s question

Brian made the excellent point in this question that it wasn’t clear to him whether putting in the time to time-budget was not more of a waste of time than a benefit.

His question is highly relevant. It would make no sense if I would do this exercise without it bringing me some benefit. But how do I know that the significant effort I put into my time budget development will pay off in better used time? How do I know that time budgeting pays itself back? I don’t have a 100% certain reply to that … but as an internal control practitioner, I know from experience that increased accountability generates increased awareness and increased care. Just like developing and following up a financial budget makes me aware how money flows into and from the hands of my family and my business, a time budget increases my awareness and my care for my time.

Lying to ourselves

That whole awareness also works at the level of self-accountability. And this is important as I know I am very good at lying to myself, usually without me being aware of it myself. Let me give you an example:

5 minutes for me are usually between 7 to 10 minutes long. That may seem laughable, or bizarre, but how accurate are you yourself in predicting use of your time? If I tell my wife I’m writing an article which will take me about 30 minutes, she knows we’ll be leaving the house in 45 to 60 minutes.

Front and back

I’m constantly kidding myself about my use of my time and I often fail to properly account for its use at all. Put that together with the above, that means I have an issue at both the front- and the back-end of my process. Another example to clarify:

I started my career working for a Big 4 (then still Big 6) accounting and consulting firm. We billed our hours, and I remember the struggle the first time reports were when I had to remember what I had exactly done the previous week. I learned in the first few weeks that the only way to properly account for my time was to keep timely and detailed records of my use of time.

Increased awareness

What time budgeting adds to this for me is the awareness of the available time, the intended use I give to it and the conscious choices I make to either follow the budget or deviate from it, with all the consequences. I know how much time I have available to me and I know what I would prefer doing in that available time. I give my available minutes and hours a purpose.

A thousand no’s

When I am “doing” (GTD parlance), when I am living my life, alternative choices will come up. The fact I have to make a choice is not something that I feel as a constraint. Rather, it allows me to not fill the available time with the first type of “relevant use” that comes by. I am not getting sucked into a use of time before I even consider all the alternatives. Rather, I make a conscious choice to either do as I planned to do or to deviate from that intention, to do the planned activity later or even never at all.

Note that I don’t feel this is about rigidity at all, no, it is about me making a conscious choice because I have an intended use before any opportunity presents itself. It’s like this Apple commercial: “There are a thousand no’s for every yes.”

A quick side note

To close, a quick side note: as to spending my time with my wonderful wife and kids, I hear you say that that should be evident, at it should not be planned. And perhaps you are right … but consider this: explicitly marking that time in my time budget as “their” time helps me to say no to other tasks and activities or opportunities whenever they present themselves. It is a conscious choice on my part to spend that time with them and not on other things … unless I pay them the respect they deserve and discuss with them the fact that there are opportunities that may benefit us all.