How to Make a Time Budget

Time is the great equalizer, we all get the same amount in each day.  Bill Gates gets 24 hours, Oprah gets 24 hours and you get 24 hours.  The big difference is how you use that time.  If you find yourself saying things like “where did the day go?” or “why am I always late?”  You need to start a time budget.


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What is a Time Budget?

A time budget is just like a financial budget. You have set limits on the amount of time you spend on each activity, in the same way you would set a limit on the amount of money you would spend on each activity.

You categorize the things you spend your time on, just like you categorize the things you spend your money on.  Your financial budget might have categories like food, car payment, and rent, where your time budget will have categories like drive time, sleep and work.

Why You Need a Time Budget

Time is arguably our greatest resource.  We have found ways to clean up polluted water, we can work more to make more money, and people are coming up with more efficient ways to produce food every day.  Time However, is finite.  You can not work over time to get more, you can not clean it up so we have more of it, and you can not run down to the bank and borrow some.  You get 24 little bitty hours each day.

Start With a Time Study

The first thing you need to do before you start your time budget is to do a time study. A time study is just keeping track of where you are currently spending your time.  Just like in a financial plan, you need to know where your time is currently going so you know where you can save time and where you need to keep it.

For the next week or two, you need to keep track of how much time you spend doing what.  That means, sleeping, eating, driving, playing on Facebook.  You can use a daily planner that has a 24-hour schedule like this one, use Google calendar or just use a pen and paper.

However you choose to do it, you need to keep track of all 24 hours in each day.


The Time Budget

Your time budget should have three parts: daily items, weekly items, and monthly items. This will allow you to see the big picture.  List out all of the things in each category for the coming month.  If it is mid-month and you really want to get started, you can plan the rest of the month. Just don’t get too caught up in getting everything you would get done in a month, done in two weeks.

Daily Items

Daily items are things like sleeping and eating.  These are non-negotiable things that must get done each day.  For some people this will include working, some people it will include a child’s nap time.  Anything you do more than 4 days a week should go into this category.

Weekly Items

Weekly items are things you need to get done each week or less than 4 days a week.  Your weekly items might include laundry, cleaning the kitty litter or mowing the lawn.   Again, anything you do (or want to do) each week goes into this category.

Monthly Items

This is the once in a while things and things that get done each month.  My only true monthly task is paying bills.  The other monthly things I have on my list are usually fun things.  Visits to family members, camping trips and special dinners out all fall in this category.

The Rule of the Time Budget

There are a few simple rules you need to follow for making your time budget.

  • Zero sum.  A time budget is a zero-sum game, that means you need to allot time for all 24 hours in your day.
  • Stick as close to the budget as possible.  Some days stuff will happen that will effect your budget, but try and stick to it as close as possible.
  • If you want to add something, you must take something away.  This is the hardest part of any zero-sum system.  It is also why it is the most effective.  If you want to sneak in a nap, that time will have to come from somewhere else in your budget.
  • Build a cushion.  Because stuff will happen, you need to build a bit of a cushion into your day.  This way, when stuff happens you have a chance of keeping on track.
  • Write in your weekly and monthly chores at the beginning of the week or month.  Only plan daily tasks a day in advance (because, well, stuff happens)

When Stuff Happens

We all know that life will not go exactly as we plan it.  Children get sick, someone stops you in the parking lot and talks your ear off or your car breaks down.  Stuff will happen.

The best way to deal with stuff is just to take a breath and review your plan.  Yes, the time you just spent talking to your long lost cousin in the grocery store is going to have to come from somewhere.

First question, will your cushion cover it?  If it can, just move something else you had planned on doing into a cushion slot and you are set to go.  If not, you are going to have to move something to another day.

This is the main reason you only fill out your budget for the next day.  For example, on Monday, I fill out Tuesday’s budget.  On Tuesday I do Wednesday’s and so on and so forth. I can review the budget I made for Tuesday on Tuesday morning, and then go right into making Wednesdays.

This system keeps all that stuff that happens from screwing up my entire week.


  1. Do a time study
  2. Create a list of daily, weekly and monthly tasks
  3. Fill in your schedule with weekly tasks at the beginning of the week, monthly tasks at the beginning of the month.
  4. Fill in daily tasks the day before
  5. Build in a time cushion!






  1. Erin @ View From Our Terrace

    November 11, 2016 at 12:17 pm

    This is a really interesting concept! I find on the days where I don’t plan out my day I get less done as I sit around thinking about what I should do instead of actually doing anything.

    1. Michele Cook

      November 12, 2016 at 12:11 pm

      Hi Erin,
      It is amazing how much time you suddenly seem to have when you have a bit of a plan in place. I think the time study is really eye opening for a lot of people, you never realize how much time you spend playing on social media or driving until you actually count it up.

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