Learning how to manage and control your time is integral to success. And if we’re being honest, time management is really about making smart choices and accepting that there are only so many hours in a day. After reading an article by the Harvard Business Review regarding a time budget, I decided to go through my own work schedule and see exactly where my time was going in an effort to potentially spend it better in the future. Here’s exactly what I did and maybe this can work for you.

1. Make a rough outline of your current schedule.

One way to informally start your own time budget is to jot down what you do throughout your day and include what you normally do at different times of day. If you already have a schedule that’s like a routine, I want you to still record what you normally do so you can track how long it takes.

2. Create a time planning sheet

After you type and store the information digitally or print out a daily planning sheet, even if it’s just to do this exercise in order to quickly write it down.  You can get a free one at Calendarsthatwork.comWhen you go to the site, click on “daily planning” in the left column (sidebar) and then click on “full-day planner”. A small image of the planner will appear. You can preview it more closely. You can also enlarge it to take a closer look at it before printing it.

The format of the page will default to “full page.” Keep it that way since you’re only planning one day to get a sample schedule. You might want to change your start time if you’re day starts before 8 am since it will be automatically set to that time by default. I personally get up at 5 o’clock so I click on the link that reads “starting time” and then selected 5 am from the drop-down menu. You might not be able to change the date that will appear at the top of the schedule as a free sample PDF but it’s minor for this exercise.

3. Print out the calendar

After selecting your start time, click on “sample calendar.” There will be a few options to choose from in terms of how you get the free day planner. I personally clicked on the PDF and printed it just to write out a draft.  It’s a quick and dirty way to keep track. Once you print your calendar, start plugging away at filling it out. Be sure to include the hours spent eating, commuting and any other regular tasks that are a part of your day but aren’t necessary your actual work time.

If your schedule tends to be the same on most days and you can readily write down where your time is spent, do that. Follow what you have listed as an outline and tweak it throughout the day and even during the week to see how accurate it is. Sometimes you might follow the same routine but misjudge how long it really takes to accomplish something. Pencil in the details as best as you can or fill it out as you go. You’re shooting for an average. This will allow you to realistically see how you spend your time.

Once you fill out your schedule completely, see how well you stick to the timeframes through the week. It might need some tweaking along the way but it will help you to be more realistic about what you can accomplish. For instance, if you’re trying to juggle the multiple parts of running a business on your own versus a location independent worker who might just have a role in a company.  It can be trickier to stick to a schedule than working. You might also find ways to save time if something can be done more efficiently.

The Bottom Line

Just like a budget that tracks your money, a time budget tracks your time. You can check in on how you spend it using a simple day planner. You can get a better handle on your time, be more productive, and say no to projects or other commitments when it’s something you can’t fit into your day.

Karen is a Nationally Syndicated Personal Finance Writer who sharpens her skills at US News Money. You can also find her placing clients on podcasts and reading about home office organization, productivity and habits.

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