A Complete Guide to Time Budgeting

Ash Lal
December 23, 2020

A very smart person probably once said - time is the most limited resource and we should use and invest it prudently

Do you find it difficult to live up to that and accomplish your tasks in a specified amount of time? Successful time management isn't as difficult as it might seem to achieve and a time budget can definitely help you in managing your time. 

What is a Time Budget? 

A time budget is just like any other budget. It helps us in tracking the most precious resource for us — our time. With a time budget, you can plan how to use your time so that you are sure to spend it as wisely as possible. 

The time budget is that discipline that focuses on planning the amount of time that will be spent on particular activities, often with the goal of enhancing effectiveness and productivity. 

With a time budget, the concept of time management has evolved greatly making it more systematic and logical in its approaches. Let’s dig deep into understanding more about the time budget. 

The Two Main Time Budget Factors

The time budget is not about getting EVERYTHING done rather it includes two factors that make it more useful and productive. It helps in avoiding productivity killers such as lack of focus, procrastination, and perfectionism. Let' s understand these important factors: 

  1. Getting More Things Done: Everyone has a limited amount of time. Thus, it is important to manage it so that you can get a lot more work done within that limited time. With a time budget, you can plan how to get more things done in a specific time. 
  1. Getting the Right Things Done: You may likely end up doing something other than what you originally set out to do. For example, you planned to complete Task 1 in 2 hours. However, in the middle of completing that task, your attention got diverted and you started working on Task 2. So the ultimate result would be when the time will be up, you ended up not achieving Task 1, and having another task pending too. As a result, you did not finish anything. With a time budget, you can finish Task 1 before the time is even up, and can head start on Task 2.

How to Create Your Time Budget?

1. Adjust Yourself Around Main Result Areas

Start with focusing on the high-level compartments of your life which include areas of major responsibilities and your long-term goals. Invest your time in thinking about these important factors of your life and these should get your regular and daily attention. 

Forget for a minute about your daily tasks. Make sure to be as broad or as specific as you want. Start with brainstorming and listing the things you need to accomplish this. 

2. Dedicate Time for Each Area

Now that you have your principal result areas drafted or planned, you need to allot time to spend on each of these areas. This may vary from task to task or person to person, but here are some tips that can help you:

  • Be Conservative with Your Overall Budgeted Time: Initially, you should never invest all of your available time to your time budget, as you can never predict the certain external demands and random tasks that may pop up. Starting your time budget with 50% of your available time is a good start. You can be even more conservative in the start and can adjust it as you gain more confidence in the process.
  • Don’t Pay Attention to Current Tasks: Always remember that with a time budget, you should allot your time in one way you consider it ideal. Of course, you need to add extra time for emergencies and other unexpected circumstances, but acknowledge that these incidents are temporary. While creating a time budget, think long-term and mentally isolate yourself from current pressures as much as you can.
  • Use Short Time Horizon: If you want to make time budgeting work, you will have to review your budget frequently. To make it practical, don’t wait too long to assess how you’re doing with your budget. To start with, one week is a great time frame for outlining and reviewing in general.

3. Track Your Spent Time

This is similar to any budget, to make your time budget a success you’ll need to track your time spent and ensure that it comes as close as possible to what you’ve planned.

There are various ways to track your time as well as many time management tools you can use. Time management tools can definitely ace up your entire time budget but if you don't have tools, you can manage it via different techniques. 

4. Analyze your Time Spent

It is quite obvious that your actual time spending will not match 100% of what you defined in your budget and it is completely okay. Reviewing your time and progress is as important as tracking it. This way you can adjust your budget accordingly. It helps you in keeping your budget effective and flexible. 

Consider asking these questions while evaluating your past week’s performance. This will help you in creating or updating the budget for next week:

  • Did you designate too much time overall for your budget?
  • Did you overspend/underspend time on any particular category?
  • Are there any fundamental result areas you originally overlooked?
  • Do you feel that the amount of time you allocated for each area is balanced? 

Don’t have any tools to plan your time budget? Check out these tips to create a weekly time budget in a spreadsheet.

Different Methods to Create your Time Budget

If you do not want to use any time tracking tools, these methods are the most effective for creating your time budget initially:

The Envelope System

You must have heard about the Envelope System of Money Budgeting. The envelope budget system requires dividing cash into envelopes for each spending category (food, household expenses, clothes, transportation, etc.) All you need to do is substitute time for money. This system works well for time, too. You do not need envelopes instead use seven columns on a sheet of paper. You can visualize your time commitments per category:

  • Pick seven envelopes, one for each day of the week.
  • Use colored index cards and represent each color to a time expenditure category — family, work, exercise, etc — write the activity and the time it takes to complete.
  • Now fill each envelope with what you think will fit into each day of the week.

If the amount of time designated on your cards in any of your envelopes sums more than the number of waking hours you have on that day, you may need to do some modifications.

Use the 50/30/20 Budget Rule

The 50/30/20 budget rule designates the percentages of your income to fixed expenses (50%), discretionary spending (30%), and saving (20%). You can also allocate these percentages to create your time budget. You can divide them into fixed, discretionary and wasted time. 

  • Fixed Time

This time is dedicated to your fixed time expense. You may include all your fixed time activities and plan them in a week. 

  • Discretionary Time

It is important to keep discretionary time. It may include lunch with a friend, getting a massage, exploring social media, etc. These times are the hardest to measure but they can take more time than you realize if not kept in check. This way, discretionary time becomes a more predictable element of your time budget.

  • Wasted Time 

The time that can't be banked and used at a later date. Let's face it, it's not uncommon to get stuck in traffic or some meetings at work. These kinds of non-intentional time gobblers are somewhat unavoidable. So, you can plan them initially into your time budget so you don't take out time from your allotted time for a particular activity or task. 

Tips to Focus on Maintaining your Time Budget

  • Make sure to step back and analyze your time inventory at the end of the week. Take a look at how your activities fit into categories relevant to your time budget. 
  • Look at your "fixed" versus "discretionary" time expenses. Always remember that time is no different than money when it comes to the dividing line between the "musts" and the "wants." So make sure you divide your time among these expenses notably. 
  • Once you have a better comprehension of your time budget, design a budget to maximize the hours of your day in order to be more productive. 


A time budget is a guide. It only works if you stick to it. By budgeting your time, you have an accurate framework to evaluate your life balance and regulate it accordingly.

Accept the fact that life changes — by season and by circumstance. Adjust your time budget accordingly and see how it does the wonders for you!

How do you manage your time? Do you use a different approach? Let us know in the comments section.

Ash Lal
Ash is the Founder and CEO of Prodivy. He was a Product Manager at a large technology firm before starting Prodivy.

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