How to Budget Your Time at Work

Want more money? Follow a budget. Want more time? Do the same.

We all have things that keep us from completing our to-do lists. But if we focus on better managing the time we have, we’ll find more minutes in the day, meaning we can get more done and feel less crazed.

To do this, you’ll need to get control and find the leaks in your schedule — and then fix them. Here’s how to manage your time with a budget so you can do more with it.

Know Your Enemy

Know Your Enemy

First, figure out what’s taking up all your time. Where are those seconds, minutes, and hours going? Just as you’d do with a financial budget, take stock of the way you spend your day — even those seemingly benign brief intervals between tasks.

Technology can be the ultimate time bandit — at work and at home. Mindlessly browsing the Internet is like adding an impulse buy every time you go to the drugstore: You can write it off as negligible in the moment, but over time it adds up to a major expense.

Apps like Moment and Checky measure how many minutes per day you actually spend on your device. Start with this analysis, because you’re probably underestimating your usage. Then keep a notebook by your desk and make a note each time you scroll through Instagram or focus on something that’s not work-related. You’ll likely be surprised to find out just how much time you spend reading the news or TV show recaps — and once you know these weak points, you’ll be able to rein them in.

Minimize Distractions to Maximize Your Time

Minimize Distractions to Maximize Your Time

Once you’ve figured out the time sucks in your budget, it’s time to minimize them. (Anyone with computer-based work has to have a certain amount of self-discipline to stay the course.) If social media or browsing the Internet turned out to be your biggest distractions, try Mac’s OS X Self Control app to obstruct Facebook and other tempting sites during work hours. Not a Mac user? Check out the Freedom app for similar features.

Maybe site-blocking software seems extreme, or maybe you’re like Dawn Allcot, owner of Allcot Media Marketing, who doesn’t mind distractions if they’re useful. “Some of our best ideas come from these ‘digressions,’” Allcot says. So if taking some time away from your work is the key to jump-starting your creative energy, try scheduling in some time to take your mind off your current project. Just make sure to set a timer, so that 20 minutes of letting your mind wander doesn’t turn into an entire afternoon wasted.

Set Up a Budget for Your Time

Set Up a Budget for Your Time

Just like with budgeting your money, there are multiple ways you can organize your time. For example, a Pomodoro-type approach works for Kate Bayless, a California-based freelance writer. “I work for 33 minutes (I set a timer on my phone), then take a four- to five-minute break where I can do a quick check on social media, reheat my coffee and do some kind of quick cardio,” she says. The same principle would work in an office, where you could take a quick walk to reset.

Or you could take a “batch of tasks” approach, says Susan Johnston Taylor, a freelance writer based outside Seattle. This entails carving out specific hours exclusively for different tasks and sticking only to that agenda for every hour-long block. Put your blocks into your calendar and set reminders so you know when it’s time to move on.

Regardless of the method you choose, be intentional, organized, and careful to allocate time for self-care like a snack break or five minutes outside.

Establish Housekeeping Routines

Establish Housekeeping Routines

Even if you truly loathe them, don’t forget about administrative tasks like responding to emails, billing, clearing out old files and folders, or following up with colleagues. And when was the last time you backed up your most important files, bookmarked top sites for speedy access, or developed spreadsheets to streamline daily tasks?  

Administrative tasks like these are the easiest to leave out of your time budget, but end up costing you when it’s 5 pm on a Friday and you realize you have 100 unread emails that require your attention.

Dahna Chandler, a content writer based in the Washington, D.C., area, blocks off 10 hours in her week to conduct administrative tasks. “This does not include the things that simply ‘pop up,’ like being forced to call the bank to challenge a charge on my business account,” says Chandler — instead, it’s regular maintenance. Even if you simply budget in one half-hour block per day, you’ll find that you aren’t left scrambling or trying to take care of week’s worth of housekeeping in one afternoon.

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