Your time and your money are both limited. There are a set number of hours in a day and you have a certain amount of cash in your bank account.
Unfortunately, to state the obvious, neither of these numbers magically multiplies when you’re not looking. That truth, though, seems easier to grasp when it comes to money than minutes.
As Allison Rimm wrote in article about “Taming the Epic To-Do List” for the Harvard Business Review, “time is a finite resource, but people rarely budget their time with anywhere near the rigor they apply to their finances.”
Rimm shares her to-do list strategy, which actually involves three lists—one for important but non-time-sensitive projects, another for tasks that must be completed that day, and a third for things not to do, “to remind me of things I’ve consciously decided aren’t worth my time”—and calendar blocks to make unbreakable appointments with herself to tackle certain items and ensure she has time for projects when she takes them on.
Her approach, and her comment about finite resources, got me thinking.
…You might remember that there’s a point when you hit zero—and while you could theoretically overdraft your bank account or use credit you can’t yet pay back (ill-advised as it may be), you can’t overdraft on hours in a day, no matter how little you sleep.
…You might budget fixed time for work, sleep, and other must dos the way you would budget fixed expenses for must pays like rent, mortgage, bills, and loan payments—with the understanding that you’ll need some wiggle room for weeks with big assignments in the same way you need to account for months with higher utility bills.
…You might budget discretionary time for workouts, errands, family and social activities, and anything else you can control, the way you’d budget discretionary expenses like food, entertainment, and clothes.
…You might sketch out an ideal budget ratio—with a cushion for emergencies—and be mindful of whether you’re sticking to it. You would try not to cut into your allotted work time for errands just as you would try not to spend your rent money on food, and you might be alarmed and try to make a change if work hours were getting longer and longer and eating into your free time just as you would investigate if your bills were getting higher and higher and digging into the rest of your budget.
…You might create a sub-budget for your work hours to ensure you’re spending the time you have in the office wisely and efficiently. You might learn to say no politely and respectfully, or avoid volunteering, when you couldn’t possibly fit another big assignment into your work schedule or freelance project into your overall calendar, just as you would try to avoid making big purchases that would tip your bank account over the edge.
…You might agree that it’s just as responsible to ensure you have enough hours to devote to certain tasks and areas of your life as it is to ensure you can pay all your bills, feed yourself and your family, and try to find a little extra both for fun and to invest in your future.
…You might find that you’re far more productive and far less stressed than you ever were before.
Photo of person sitting with his laptop and a big pile of files being handed another folder courtesy of Jose Luis Pelaez Inc/Getty Images.
A longtime word nerd and bookworm, Stav studied history and dance at Stanford and later journalism at Columbia. Before joining The Muse, Stav was a staff writer at Newsweek, where she wrote about everything from Nazi hunters to Chinese adoptees to Good Girls Revolt, the real story and fictionalized TV show about a 1970 gender discrimination case at the magazine. She prefers sunshine and tolerates winters grudgingly.More from this Author