I Created a “Budget” for My Schedule and I’ve Never Felt Less Stressed

published Mar 15, 2023
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Agenda organize with color-coding sticky for time management
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Sometimes it just feels impossible to get everything on my to-do list done in the limited number of hours in any given day or week. But reading Greg McKeown’s “Essentialism” recently sparked a renewed interest in an idea I’d dabbled with before, which has completely changed the way I use my time. McKeown espouses a way of life of making deliberate choices so that you spend your limited time and energy on the things that matter most. McKeown himself puts it this way: “The Way of the Essentialist isn’t about getting more done in less time. It’s not about getting less done. It’s about getting only the right things done.” 

“Essentialism” inspired me in so many ways (so much so that his book has earned a permanent spot on my bookshelf), one of which was to overhaul my schedule — and go back to creating and living by one that’s governed by a thought-out budgeting of my time. 

I’ve long been a fan of zero-based budgeting of money, which involves assigning a job to every dollar I currently possess so that nothing is left to the whims of impulse shopping and sporadic saving. Budgeting time is a parallel concept, involving naming what I’ll do with the limited allotment of hours I have each day. 

For me, putting this idea into practice has involved going back to a block schedule, something I’ve dipped my toes into in the past but have let go of through many different schedule upheavals in the past several years (new babies, a pandemic, an interstate move). I was ready to take charge of my time again, though, and to arrange it in such a way that I don’t feel always behind, drowning in undone to-dos that I feel like I’m straining not to forget. 

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First, I divided my weekdays into blocks. Here’s what that looks like: 

  • My morning block, which runs from about 6:30-9 a.m., is for getting ready, getting the kids ready and off to school, eating breakfast, and exercise.
  • Nine to noon is my “focus block,” a chunk of time ideally devoted to uninterrupted deep work dictated by the day’s theme (more on that in a minute). 
  • Noon to 2 p.m. is my flex block, where I can finish up outstanding work, prepare dinner, schedule appointments, etc. 
  • Two to 5 p.m. is the kids’ block, devoted to tech-free time with the kids as they arrive home from school. It’s when I feed them a snack, chat with them about their days, and putz around in the kitchen, available, as they begin homework or play outside.
  • Five to 8:30 p.m. is the evening block, during which we eat dinner, clean up, help the little kids with baths and getting ready for bed, and tuck the youngest children in. 
  • The rest of the evening is slated for “rest and relaxation” before bedtime. 

In addition to these daily blocks of time, I’ve broken down my week into daily “themes.” This tells me what to work on during my focus time, but it also helps me corral my energy into what needs to get done when I have pockets of free time.

  • Monday and Tuesday are my work days
  • Wednesday is my “domestic” day where I make appointments for the family, keep up with financial record-keeping, prepare returns, run errands, etc. (Believe me, when you run a household of seven, these things can become a full-time job!)
  • Thursday is a flexible day because my preschooler is home with me
  • Friday is for rest or creative pursuits because it’s so important to fill that tank. 
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It’s key to note that my block schedule and theme days are guidelines. There nearly always seems to be an appointment that falls during my rest day and I routinely need to use some time in the evenings and a few of my flex blocks to get my weekly work done, for instance. But assigning my time to various pursuits has truly transformed my days and my weeks. 

Knowing that I have blocks of time devoted to work helps me be as productive as I can be during those days. Although it’s not always possible to complete everything in those two days, I’m motivated to focus because of the parameters I’ve put in place. 

Having time devoted to the practical aspects of running a house also keeps me from getting distracted during the day by trying to fit in a phone call here or an errand there. Having to switch between tasks dilutes both my time and my focus. In contrast, lumping all these necessary duties into one block allows me to zip through them because I can stay in that mindset. Most importantly, I can jot down the tasks when I think of them (I use a checklist in the Reminders app on my phone) and then put them out of my mind until it’s time to tackle them, with the assurance that I will get to them later. 

Scheduling rest days where I pursue something that replenishes me allows me to show up as my best for my other roles and responsibilities. And having that day to look forward to is a boon when I’m doing less exciting tasks, like scheduling a dryer vent cleaning. Ultimately, if I don’t schedule rest, it won’t happen until I’m burnt out. 

The thing I’m most thankful for, though, is the quality of time I have doing what’s most important to me: being with my children. Budgeting my time has given me the ability to be fully present during my time with them, without the feeling that I need to multitask so something doesn’t fall through the cracks. 

Budgeting my schedule has given me the opportunity to re-evaluate what I spend my time on. It’s allowed me to use the time I have wisely and drastically increased my efficiency. Overall, it’s eliminated the stress that comes from the fear of not being able to get it all done. Because I’ve assigned time for everything that has to get done, I’m free from the burden of to-dos when I spend time with my loved ones, which is the greatest gift.