Maximizing Your “Return on Time”

 Ready steady... Go  - Day 86 of Project 365

Time is the most precious resource available. It is not renewable, transferable, or savable.  The time you spend reading this blog post isn’t refundable. Following the basic economic principles of supply and demand, since time is such a limited resource, it is extremely valuable.

Just like an investor examines the return on investment for different financial options (stocks, bonds, real estate, startup companies), you and I must evaluate the “return on time” for the activities in our lives. However, there is one big difference between money and time. As one person put it, “Money, I can only gain or lose. But time I can only lose. So, I must spend it carefully.” If we are a good steward of our time, then we will invest it in the activities that we deem to have the highest potential return on time.  That’s where priorities come in. 

Two Types of Priorities

What is a priority? According to, priority has several meanings including: “the right to take precedence in obtaining certain supplies, services, facilities, etc., especially during a shortage.” This definitely applies when we think about how we allocate our time.

However, aligning actual priorities with perceived priorities is tricky. For example, I may state that reading for personal development is a priority, but if I don’t spend my time accordingly, then it is questionable as to whether reading is actually a priority for me (especially if I spend an excessive amount of time on social media each day). Many business people would say that their family is a higher priority than their work, yet when they are at home spend more time catching up or getting ahead on work than they do investing in their spouse or children. The way that a person spends his or her time reveals a lot about what they actually value.

Aligning Perception and Reality

Dave Ramsey has become well-known for coaching people to effectively budget their money. One of the trademarks of his Financial Peace University courses is the envelope budgeting system. Using this system, an individual (or family) creates a budget, labels envelopes with each expense category (entertainment, gas, food, cable, etc) and then places the cash for the given week/month in the appropriate envelope. This process encourages people to think through their financial priorities and have a tangible picture of how their money is allocated.

A similar thing can be done to help budget your time according to your priorities. Here are some tips for aligning your actual priorities with your perceived priorities:

  •  List your priorities
    Make a list of the different ways you spend your time in a given week (ie work, sleep, social media, volunteerism, family, etc) and then rank them according to which ones you consider to have the highest “return on time.” This will help you to actually put “first things first.” (I recommend putting family and spiritual growth at the top)
  • Budget your time
    After you have ranked your priorities in order of importance, assign each one a “time value”-the amount of time you expect to dedicate to that priority in a given week. Next, create a time budget worksheet and plug in your priorities. I suggest using Microsoft Excel because you can use formulas to automatically adjust “time budgeted” and “free time” amounts. The resulting sheet could look something like either of the two examples from (depending on if you are doing a “whole life” budget or a work budget):
  • Put your plan into action
    Now that you have set your priorities and budgeted your time, it’s time to make your perceptions into a reality! Unfortunately, like Dave Ramsey’s system, you can’t use envelopes (unless you buy a stopwatch, set the budgeted time on it, and take it out to let it count down each time you do the budgeted activity), so you’ll have to discipline yourself to keep track of the time yourself. During the first few weeks, “feel out” your budget and see if it is realistic or not. Write down the areas that you are consistently going over-budget and under-budget and then adjust the next budget accordingly. The Money Saving Mom lists four possibilities to make the necessary adjustments: 1) steal time 2) streamline 3) get help from someone else 4) drop it.

Don’t Waste Your Life

Of course, you may not be the type of person who likes an overly structured life and that’s fine. Whatever you do though, I would definitely encourage you to evaluate the way you invest your time and seek to manage it the best you can. As management guru Peter Drucker put it, “Until we can manage time, we can manage nothing else.”

Don’t waste your time and you won’t waste your life.

Have some time management tips of your own? Share them in the Comments!

Learn It. Love It. Live It.

[image credit: Matthew on Flickr]


About Lawson Hembree
Lawson is an entrepreneur, ministry leader, and outdoors enthusiast who also enjoys blogging about business, ideas, and theology. Want to continue the discussion or write a guest post? Let's Connect!

4 Responses to Maximizing Your “Return on Time”

  1. I like that quote about how you can spend and gain money, but only lose time. Great post. Thanks for sharing.

    • You bet! There are a bunch of other good time management quotes here:

      • Thanks! I’ll have to check it out.

  2. Pingback: The Illusion of Busyness | Lawson Hembree's Blog

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