Budget your time, design your life

We only have a little bit

I once read something like, “You’ll only see a full moon X number of times before you die.” I don’t remember what X is, but it was surprisingly small. And it was true. Or, at least the point was true: We only have so much time.

Replace full moon with, sunsets, the beach, live concert, or your parents, and realize that, in a world of infinite possibilities, experiences, and things to pay attention to, time is finite. We’re here for a blip, and it’s over. How do we make the most of it? How do we use our time in the way that really reflects our values, goals, and desires?

Part of the answer, of course, is better software.

The software we use for managing time—mostly, calendar apps—has barely evolved in decades. This is an area ripe for reinvention, and I could write a few posts in this collection about it (here’s a little one). But let me offer here a more specific idea that I’ve not seen done anywhere

“Time budgeting” is perhaps a prosaic phrase for what I’m actually picturing. What I want, ultimately, is a tool that lets one make better decision about the time they have.


I don’t have the design fully worked out in my head—that would be a process of weeks or months. But the first part is to get a bunch of inputs from the user—essentially, commitments and goals with times attached. For example:

  • Sleep: 8 hours/day
  • Grooming: 30 minutes/day
  • Work: 50 hours/week
  • Exercise: 3 hours/week

There would need to be a hierarchy to get more detail. For example, within the work bucket, you could add:

  • Recruiting: 8 hours/week
  • Strategy: 8 hours/month
  • Staff meeting: 2 hours/week

To be accurate, you’d also want to build in less-frequent commitments, like:

  • Visit parents: 1 week/year
  • Dentist: 2 hours/6 months
  • Spring cleaning: 2 days/years

Ideally, this would be a reporting tool not just a one-time budgeting tool, but that requires some way to input on what you actually did. You can imagine a system for this, but that might be too much work.


The goal is to visualize how you’re choosing to carve up your life. Charts and graphs. Maybe a block diagram that let you zoom in to various levels.

One of the most interesting exercises would be learning how much actual free time you have. I’m guessing for the vast majority of us, it would be virtually none, which is why we’re always feeling like we can’t get done what we want to or thought we would.

Everything is Instead of Something Else

The real beauty of having this app would be when it comes to making decisions about new commitments or setting new goals. If you decide you’re going to start doing yoga, or join a committee, or learn how to juggle, you need to decide what you’re going to not do.

If you had my awesome time-budgeting app, you would enter your new commitment, and it would ask you what you want to take away from: Free time? TV time? Eating?

Likely this will make you think a lot harder before committing to anything and, hopefully, a lot less disappointed that you’ve run out of time.

I could go on, but I only have so much time budgeted to sharing this idea and, unfortunately, none budgeted to making it a reality. (Hoping someone else does.)

CEO of Medium, partner at Obvious Ventures, co-founder of Twitter, aspiring motivational speaker 🤸‍♂️

CEO of Medium, partner at Obvious Ventures, co-founder of Twitter, aspiring motivational speaker 🤸‍♂️