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Tips to Help You Budget Your Time and Energy

We’ve all been there — realizing we’ve gone over our allotted spending amount, blown the budget and scrambled to find something — anything — to stretch and make ends meet. The advice for someone who consistently goes over budget is typically: spend less.

That good advice applies not only to a financial budget, but also to the way you spend your personal focus time and energy budget. If you’re consistently stretching yourself thin, scrambling to find more time in your days and weeks, and blowing off personal time to eke out a little more work time, here are tips to get your “budget” back under control.

Time is Money

We’ve all heard the adage that time is money, but do we live with that in mind? Your time, your attention, your focus — they are valuable. They also happen to be things that are truly finite — it’s impossible to make more than 24 hours in your day.

In 2020 Instagram generated a reported $24 billion in revenue, and Facebook generated over $86 billion dollars. What are they selling? Our attention. We need to value our own attention as much as social media companies do. It’s time to treat our time, focus and attention with intention.

White Lies We Tell Ourselves

The first step to budgeting your energy is being honest about how it’s being spent. It would be great to show up to work every day feeling energized, knock every task out of the park, and then shut down for personal time. But real life isn’t always that easy. Everyone has exceptional days, and everyone has exceptionally bad days. Some days your focus time is unexpectedly taken over. It may be a work or personal crisis, an unexpected change, or something you had forgotten. When you schedule your time, do it with an understanding that some days you’ll be running on full and other days you’ll be running on fumes.

“Win at Work & Succeed at Life” authors Michael Hyatt & Megan Hyatt Miller describe looking at your day as if it was a glass of water. Draw your glass filled with three parts: achievement, non-achievement and rest. Achievement most often refers to work-devoted time and tasks.  Non-achievement references personal time: playing, hobbies, personal and parenting responsibilities. Rest and sleep are self-explanatory. Imagine your glass of water right now. What is the ratio of each part? One may be surprised by your proportions. Their advice is to start with equal parts of each.

How you think about work-life harmony makes a difference. Accepting that we can’t offer our entire glass of water to everything, every day, will help create a more realistic budget for our most precious resource—ourselves. Hyatt and Miller call this achieving the “Double Win”- when you “win at work and succeed at life.” Instead of budgeting your work tasks—“I have to finish these things today”—try budgeting your work time. “Today I have 6 hours to devote to achievement. Here are the tasks I can complete within that time.”

Budget Yourself with Intention

Kristin Magette, CEL Communications Strategist, is no stranger to blowing her energy budget. “We’ve all done itthought ‘I’m the only one who can handle this, so I need to stay late’ or ‘it’ll be faster if I just do this myself,’” explains Magette. “But that’s not sustainable on a regular basis. That’s how people end up burning out, even when they’re in careers they love. It’s not necessarily the job doing it to us either — we do it to ourselves. Just 15 more minutes! Just one really busy week! Instead, we need to be intentional about scheduling ourselves and stop viewing our work and our personal lives as completely separate.” 

Magette recommends creating an emergency back-up plan to help think about work absences differently. None of us should be irreplaceable. Just because work can’t stop when you’re away doesn’t mean you can never be gone. Cross-training, documenting file access, and back-up training are essential to protecting your work — and your wellbeing. And if a true personal emergency pops up, you can disengage from work without worry. 

Learn to Say No — Seriously

It’s true, many people didn’t get where they are by saying no. They took the opportunity, the challenge, the risk, the new job, jumped into a new relationship, or took a leap of faith. That’s why saying no can sometimes feel risky or downright shameful. But it’s important for both your mental and physical health — especially for high achievers. The Mayo Clinic suggests that saying no is a tool you should always keep in your toolbox. Their advice? “When you quit accepting tasks out of guilt or a false sense of obligation, you’ll have more time for activities that are meaningful to you.” In other words, keep the word no in your back pocket for times when it’s appropriate, and don’t be afraid to use it. 

“When we talk about the Double Win,” says Hyatt, “We mean having the freedom to prioritize what matters most to you in all the important domains of your life.”  It requires being intentional, scheduling what matters and setting boundaries. That means saying no when your glass of water is drained—not siphoning some from another category. 

Be Empathetic

Most people find it easy to have empathy for someone going through a tough time. When a coworker has a personal emergency or a health struggle, we wouldn’t dream of suggesting they buckle down and do what it takes to get the work done. And yet, we often tell ourselves something less empathetic.

Have you told yourself to put aside something personal to focus on work? Felt guilty for leaving early to go to a child’s school event? Skipped lunch to get more done? Perhaps you’ve checked your work email on vacation because you can’t bring yourself to totally disengage? 

Hyatt and Miller recommend being firm on boundaries, but not rigid. You can be available for true emergencies and unexpected needs, while still being committed to your planned energy budget. One way to make that work is to develop rituals. Hyatt and Miller suggest things like setting rules and expectations: maybe it looks like no meetings before 9 in the morning or after 4 pm. Maybe it’s blocking out focus time on your calendar. For some, a workday shutdown ritual is key: scheduling the last half hour of the day to tie up loose ends, acknowledge the accomplishments you’ve made during the day, and set up your achievement budget for the following day. 

We all have stress, overwhelm and anxiety at times in our lives. Just as we approach others with empathy, our internal scripts need to be positive and compassionate for the circumstances we face. A good trick is to listen to how you talk to yourself and compare it to the words you’d use if a friend was in a similar situation. It’s important to view your personal and rest time not as a roadblock to your achievement but as a time for refueling your energy budget.

There is Value in How  You Think

Thinking intentionally about your energy budget actually has the ability to improve your work quality and output. Fatigue and stress can take a long-lasting toll on your physical and mental health; pushing through in an overstretched, overtired state actually increases the risk of costly mistakes. Beyond that, burnout is real. 

By contrast, when you approach work energized and enthusiastic, your mood shines through in your interactions with colleagues and clients. Productivity and efficiency actually increase when your boundaries clear and you’ve scheduled yourself with intention. If you have been blowing past your energy budget for weeks, months, even years, maybe today is the best day to start wrangling that budget. After all, making an honest change in the way you manage your 24-hour cup of life won’t get easier tomorrow, or when you’re done with this big project, or next month. The sooner you think about time and energy as a resource as precious as dollars, the sooner you can enjoy the benefits of a realistic time and energy budget.

Published on: December 10, 2021