Brilliant Idea: Make a Time Budget

Your days are like your dollars -- if you don't have a plan for them, they have a way of disappearing. To take control and manage your time, audit your week to carve out space for your priorities while rooting out time-wasters. By Christina Breda Antoniades, REDBOOK.

Manage your time
You meant to spend the morning prepping for a meeting. But first you opened email--and now it's noon. "People focus on what's in front of them and forget everything else," says David Allen, the author of Getting Things Done. "All their energy goes toward patching cracks and catching up. They never get ahead." Break that cycle by treating your time like it's money.

Take stock
Spend a week tracking how you spend your time now. "Chances are, you'll be shocked," says Julie Morgenstern, the author of Time Management From the Inside Out.

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Tally your "expenses"
Put your commitments into a few broad categories--think family, career, hobbies, housework, fitness, relationships, worship--and list three major goals for each. Don't be too project-oriented: Wanting more hours to enjoy your marriage or kids is perfectly valid.

Be selective
Mercilessly ditch any tasks that don't move you toward your goals. If book club has stopped being fun, bow out; instead, add in something with a tangible payoff.

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Sketch out your new plan
On a blank weekly calendar, mark off sleep hours and then slot in your activities, starting with anything that's regularly scheduled: commuting, Zumba class, your Tuesday meeting. Then draw in blocks of time based on your categories ("Housework") or specific activities ("Movie night!"), using your goals to prioritize. And be sure to make room for planning the week ahead. "It's the most important thing to budget," says Allen, who recommends Sunday night for the task. From there, take the next several weeks to fine-tune your plan, and tweak it on the fly. "Think of it as pieces of a puzzle," says Morgenstern. "If your 30-minute run gets preempted by a work crisis, trade it out for another time in the day or week."

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Your day could look like this...
8 a.m. - Your commute. Find yourself rushing every day? Give this more time.
9 a.m. - Settle in at work. Answer urgent messages--but at a set hour, move on.
10 a.m. - Write up report. No interruptions! Set this slot aside for focused thought.
12 p.m. - Lunch with friends. Your reward for staying on target all morning: getting some great gossip.
3 p.m. - Cushion time. Budget a few daily or weekly blank spots, to catch the unexpected.
5 p.m. - Work on blog. If you don't block out time for personal projects and dreams, they'll never happen.
8 p.m. - Family game night! The ultimate goal: to prioritize time for activities you love.

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