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  • Writer's pictureBrianna Wall

Time Budgeting, Part II

Updated: Jan 24, 2022

Identifying and Filling the Gaps in Your Day

This is the second post in a two-part series titled Time Budgeting. To read more about establishing priorities, read the first post!

No matter how crammed your calendar is or how flexible your job is or isn’t, you can use these steps to create more time in your day simply by writing things down. This is such an undervalued practice, but I promise if you will take this time, you will find gaps in your day that you can fill with whatever you want or need — read, listen to a podcast, take your kid to the park, go on a date with your honey, nap or whatever else you deem important.

Step 1: Find a planner — yes, an actual printed planner

I can already see some of you rolling your eyes and saying something like, “This isn’t the 90s.” Trust me, I know. I’m a full-on adapter of technology and depend on my phone’s calendar to get me where I need to go when I need to be there. That’s not the point of this. I’m an older-ish millennial so I can appreciate the advantages of technology as well as a good old fashioned planner.

There’s just something about getting tasks and ideas out of your head and onto paper that frees up brain capacity so you can do things like be present in conversations, enjoy the moment and, probably most importantly for your body, get a good night’s sleep. If you don't want to invest in a planner system yet, try this free, downloadable task list or these journal pages first.

Perhaps you don’t have a busy calendar but are always thinking about things that need to get done. Whatever works best for you, I encourage you to get a good set of erasable pens and start writing things down. Your brain will thank you.

Back to planners. You won’t be hard-pressed to find endless options. From department stores and drug stores to Amazon and beyond, planners are everywhere. The key is finding one that works for you. Start by asking yourself these two questions:

  • What exactly do I want to track in my planner?

    • A broad monthly view will do, where I can see the entire month at a glance.

    • A little more detailed, maybe a weekly calendar spread where I can write down my meetings and tasks for the week/month.

    • I need more detailed daily planning. I’d like to track and plan for multiple areas of my day, from meal-planning to kids’ activities, exercise stats, budgeting, etc.

  • How often do I plan on using my planner?

    • I’d like to transfer my monthly projects and goals to it and check it once a week to make sure I’m staying on track.

    • I plan on referring to it a few minutes each day, as it will house my main to-do list and projects.

My favorite planners and resources are part of The Happy Planner brand (sold at Hobby Lobby, Michael’s, JoAnn’s or online). My goodness they have a planner style for everyone. Different styles, layouts, sizes. Since I use mine mainly to stay on top of goals and projects, my preference is the Dashboard layout, Classic size.

If that’s not your vibe, hit Walmart or Target and pick up one that works. The goal is to have space of some kind to transfer ideas and projects from your brain or digital calendar to paper. You can get caught up in the stickers and accessories after you’ve found a planner you love and that’s functional for you.

Step 2: Set aside 10 minutes each Sunday to look at the week ahead

After reading the first blog post in this series, I hope you took the time to list your highest priorities. Now, I challenge you to take 10 minutes on Sunday and make the activities in Step 3 a priority. Just try it one time. If, after the week is over, you didn’t find any extra time in your week for your highest priorities, then try something different next Sunday. Make sure you’re able to fully focus with no distractions — it’s only 10 minutes — to see if that helps.

Step 3: Put pen to paper

First, sit down with your planner and whatever calendar app you use, and write down each day’s scheduled meetings and known deadlines first. If you have double-booked yourself, decide which is more important and reschedule the least important obligation if you can.

Second, what tasks do you know have to get done this week? Perhaps it’s the end of the month and you need to complete a report. Or a new product is launching next week and you need to test the order form. Or it’s the last week to sign up your kid for the fall soccer league. Whatever the case is, make a list of the things that MUST get finished sometime in the next seven days.

Third, plug these items into your week. In the gaps between your scheduled meetings, where can you make time to work on these must-do tasks? Write them down in those gaps. Or take it a step further and add calendar events in your phone specifically for those tasks. If it will take you an hour to work on a report, block off an hour. If it will take you a couple of minutes, block off five or 10 minutes. Taking this extra step will give you legitimate reason to avoid planning yet another last-minute meeting during the time you should be completing these projects. Having trouble managing all the deadlines? Keep an eye out for an upcoming blog post titled “What’s Your Deadline? Prioritize your projects with one simple question” or subscribe to be alerted as soon as it’s posted.

By this point, you should have your meetings, appointments and must-do tasks scheduled in your planner. Now, make room for your less important tasks. These shouldn’t take up too much of your time this week — unless you have a ton of time to kill during your work day — because they’re not on a critical deadline yet. An example of what I would deem a lower priority task would be to gather data from the latest email campaign to compile in a report later in the month. Or to research social platform features for a presentation in a couple of weeks. Again, I’m not on a time crunch for these and, being the procrastinator that I am, I’m not going to devote a ton of time to these, but they are important enough to block off some time in my calendar to work on them.

Finally, it’s time to fill in the gaps of your day with things you love. Hopefully you are able to keep your work projects and meetings within a specified time, leaving 30-minute chunks here and there or, better yet, an entire afternoon available to plug in some of your life priorities. In order to make room in my day for my life priorities (family, health, etc.) I had to shuffle things around and change my sleep schedule. This is the step where I discovered I have:

  • 30-45 minutes at the very beginning of each day to read and study my Bible and take a quick glance at my day (I use this checklist to keep me on track)

  • 30-45 minutes in my morning to complete a workout

  • 15-20 minutes immediately after my workout while I’m cooling down to work on my side gig

  • 30-45 minutes while I’m getting ready to listen to my favorite podcasts

  • About 1-1.5 hours with Bryson to eat breakfast with him, help him get ready, fix his lunch, etc. (his school starts pretty late)

  • Drive time on my way to work: Continue listening to podcasts, audio books or music, or making any necessary phone calls before I get to the office.

That’s 2-3 hours I’ve gained each morning simply by keeping work projects in their specified times and changing my sleep schedule. Obviously this will look different for everyone but, again, where can you find time for your life priorities?

  • Lunch break: 30 minutes to an hour of reading a book while I’m eating, working on my side gig, running errands, or sometimes something mindless like online shopping or checking social media.

  • Driving home: Catch up on news or more audio books, take voice-to-text notes, etc. I typically use this time to review podcast episode drafts or something that doesn’t take a ton of thought and that I can do safely while driving.

Don’t be afraid to take a few vacation hours here and there if you have them available. It is essential you use those hours to avoid getting burned out and to stay creative. Every month, one of the first items on my calendar is a date afternoon with my husband. Once we’ve set a date, we block off an afternoon on our calendars and, if someone tries to schedule a meeting during it, we decline it or suggest a different time.

We must be good stewards of what we’ve been given and make sure we’re devoting the necessary time and attention to things and people we claim to love.

As a reminder:168 hours in a week

  • Roughly 50 hours spent in relation to our jobs (working, commuting, meeting, etc.)

  • 49-56 hours spent sleeping (at an average of 7-8 hours per night)

  • 4 hours spent tending to your home in some fashion

That leaves 58 to 65 waking hours each week. How are you spending them? If you’re a fan of Dave Ramsey’s zero-based budgeting system like we are, it’s wise to do the same with your time. Assigning every minute or hour of your day to something intentional — even if it’s a nap! — will help you ensure your life’s highest priorities are getting the energy, time and attention they deserve.

What are some tips that work for you? Comment below some of your tried-and-true practices! I hope this 10-minute, 3-step process helps you better organize your time and energy so you can create time for what matters most.

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