Budgeting Time

I’m very careful with money: even on a freelance artist’s income, I’m determined to have a budget and savings.  I’d even go so far as to say I’m pretty good with my money.  But it took me forever to realize that I was terrible with my time.

For some reason, it never crossed my mind that I could treat the two things similarly.  Instead, I spent my time like there was no tomorrow.  I signed up for classes, started hobbies, scheduled shoots and gigs, founded new businesses, made social obligations, planned trips, attended parties, and began—but didn’t finish—a countless number of artistic projects.  I was spending all of my time on these exciting things that I ostensibly cared about, but I was miserable.  I never slowed down, and I never had the resources to follow through on all my great beginnings.  I was in time poverty.

It was only once I realized that my time was a limited resource that I changed my approach to it completely.  I keep a budget and savings because I never want to feel like I'm out of resources.  Time was a limited resource that I could budget, too.  If I did it right, I’d never feel like I was out of time again!

Of course, it didn’t end up being quite as simple as all that.  I immediately came up with a bunch of hacks that I was convinced would solve my time management problems.  A few worked; most didn’t.  For example, I tried keeping separate calendars for obligations to other people versus obligations to myself.  The first calendar had all of my gigs, social commitments, etc.  The second had things like writing time and email.  That way, I reasoned, I would see how much time I needed for myself, and not overschedule the other.  It was a failure.  I ignored the second calendar completely, and just scheduled more and more. 

But sometimes, the silliest tricks worked.  When I complained to a very wise friend that I needed more time, he made a suggestion: why didn’t I label two hours a day as “more time” on my calendar?  I could block them off from everything else, and budget my time as if they didn’t exist.  I thought it sounded pretty silly, and frankly overly clever.  But I tried it anyway, and to my surprise it worked brilliantly.  It forced me to leave time open, which I could then use for whatever I needed.  It was just like having a savings account.  

How you spend your time is as important as how you save it.

I’m also learning how you spend your time is as important as how you save it.  I worry about everything.  When I have a problem, it’s always on my mind.  I mull problems over while I’m writing, shooting, or trying to relax.  I even dream about them.  And because I feel like I spend all of my time thinking about them, I get even more worried when I don’t have a solution. 

It turns out that worrying about something constantly is a low-quality way to spend my time.  Now I have a “cup of tea” rule instead.  If I have a problem that I can’t stop worrying about, I make myself a cup of tea.  Then I have to sit and drink it, and only think about solving that problem—no distractions.  I don’t let myself work on anything else.  If I’m too short on time for a cup of tea, then I set a timer on my phone for five minutes, close my eyes, and concentrate.   It seems silly, but I’m constantly surprised how little time I actually spend solving problems instead of spinning my wheels unless I consciously make myself do it.  

I’m still utterly terrible about overscheduling myself, and I’m still looking for ways to budget my time better.  I bet that if you looked at my calendar right now, you would have no idea that I was trying to make my schedule more manageable or take on fewer commitments.  My Google calendar is more colorful than all the lingerie I’ve collected for my shoots.   

But I am now convinced that real wealth is having time.  Time to not only start interesting things, but to follow through on them as well.  And although I still have a long way to go, at least I’m not quite as poor as when I started.