Who’s in Charge Here? Budgeting Your Time

Students face a number of unique circumstances that create stress in their lives. Typically, effort in any one class comes in peaks and waves. Overlay 5 classes, and you find yourself with a fire to put out every week. It doesn’t take long before you’re fighting to survive, no longer exploring and digging into the material because you want to learn it.

Three of the most hated words in the English language

  1. Time
  2. Management
  3. Budget

Let’s talk about them anyhow. This post focuses on a tactic to put you back in control. It works the first week of the semester, it works in the middle of the semester when you’re feeling out of control.

How to Make a Budget (That Actually Works)

  1. List your income at the top of the page
  2. List expenses in priority order (hint: the top four are food, electricity/water, shelter, transportation)
  3. Subtract from your remaining income as you add items to the list
  4. Stop when you’ve covered everything in your life (or when you run out of money)
  5. Roll the rest into your current financial goal
  6. See a zero at the bottom of the page – that let’s you know you spent every dollar with intention, before it came into your life

Our financial lives tend to operate on a monthly basis, and so a monthly budget makes the most sense. The key notion is step 2: “priority order.” Your budget is for you. You get to set your priorities.

It doesn’t matter how you spend your money, as long as you spend it on purpose. You can always reflect, decide you don’t like where you’re headed, and change.

Time budgets follow a similar process, but work better on a weekly basis.

How to Make a Time Budget

  1. List the available hours in a week (hint: its 168)
  2. List your time demands in priority order (hint: the top four are sleeping, eating, exercise, mental/spiritual growth)
  3. Subtract from the remaining hours as you add items to the list
  4. Stop when you’ve covered everything in your life (or when you run out of time)
  5. Roll the rest into your current life goals
  6. See a zero at the bottom of the page – that let’s you know you spent every minute with intention, before it came into your life

When we make financial budgets, what we are really doing is giving a maximum amount to each item. When we run out of money in that category, we stop spending. This requires cutting something out of our life. This takes discipline.

The time budget is the same deal. We are taught as students to work on a task until it is complete. The idea of working on a task for a pre-set amount of time (and then stopping) is completely foreign. And yet it is the key to breaking the cycle of stress, mayhem, and “firefighting”. This takes discipline.

Saying “No”

What a financial budget gives us is permission: permission to spend a certain amount, guilt free, on a certain thing. Maybe you have $100/month allocated to eating out. That means you can enjoy eating out at restaurants until you’ve spent $100. Then you stop. If you want to eat out more, you’ll have to take it from another category in your budget.

Time works the same way. Every commitment you take on requires time. When you create a time budget, it enables you to know immediately whether you can say “yes” or “no” to a new opportunity. Once you have a budget, every new opportunity requires you to:

  1. Say No
  2. Say Yes, but drop something else

A Sample, for a Student

Two important points:

  1. Typical students will be wildly successful if they spend 3 hours/credit each week outside of class studying. Sometimes this looks like working assigned tasks, other times it means finding things to enhance learning on your own. Being a full time student is a full time job.
  2. Adding a part time job comes at a cost: time. That’s OK, but you need to keep it in mind as you consider commitments.

Clearly, full time students don’t have a lot of free time. Thankfully, this is a relatively short season in your life (and you get big breaks in the winter and summer!). If you want to be successful in school, and keep low stress the best thing you can do is protect that study time (3 hours/credit each week). That’s going to mean saying “no” to a lot of good opportunities, but it will leave you time  for the best opportunities.

The best thing about budgets

They work for you. They don’t tell you what to do. They give you the chance to be intentional with your time. Don’t let your life happen to you, happen to your life.

Your budget should reflect your values. Every decision comes with a price. Maybe you value an activity that requires some time, and the only way to commit is to reduce the hours you spend studying. That’s OK if you’re doing it on purpose: you know the tradeoff is that the quality of your schoolwork will be reduced.

It doesn’t matter how you spend your time, as long as you spend it on purpose. You can always reflect, decide you don’t like where you’re headed, and change.

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