Time budgeting

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Time budgeting is analogous to budgeting income and expenses in a financial budget. Like a financial budget, a time budget must be balanced; that is, the total time we plan to use must equal the total time we have available. In developing a financial budget, we must plan both income and expenses, both of which are sometimes variable and unknown. A time budget is somewhat simpler because the time we have available is fixed, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 15 weeks in a semester. Here we only need to consider how we are going to divide the available time among all the tasks and activities that are competing for it.

The intent is to allocate time to the activities relative to their importance to you or your department. A time budget does not necessarily need to estimate in detail how long each individual task will take. Rather, a time budget allocates the total time available collectively to perform tasks and activities of a certain type over a given period.

Not knowing how long each activity will last, we don't know how many activities we will be able to perform, only that we are placing a cap on how much total time we will spend for the period considered. In budgeting time for a particular project, data from time logs previously recorded can be useful.

As with financial budgets, we may end up spending more or less than we budgeted on a given activity, but overall we cannot end up with a surplus or deficit. If we spend more or less time than budgeted on one item, one or more other items will have to make up the difference[1].

Real-Time Budgeting

Budgeting is characterized by five streams of decision-making that depend on one another for key pieces of information. The streams do not follow each other in a logical sequence. To make the key decisions in any one stream, we may have to look backward, to the last time the decision was made in another stream, or forward, to anticipated decisions, or even sideways, to decisions being made at the same time.

Much of this information is tentative; it can and does change as the budget moves toward implementation. Budgets continually readjust, in real time, to account for information coming from the environment and from each decision stream.

Real-time decision-making allows the streams to be disrupted or interrupted and repeated. Budgeters have to have contingency plans to deal with missing information or late decisions. They may push up the urgency of decisions that are causing roadblocks by linking them to other urgent matters.

The overlap of decision clusters allows solutions in one stream to resolve roadblocks in another stream. A solution in the revenue stream may unlock a problem in the expenditure stream; a change in process may solve problems of linkage between the streams[2].

Proxy Time Budgets

The major possible alternative to a traditional time use record for people who cannot respond for themselves has been attempted very infrequently: the time diary, or yesterday interview by proxy. For exactly the reasons dealing with lack of ability to respond, cited earlier, proxy reporting to structured questions has been a familiar surveys performed by the US Bureau of the Census and the National Center for Health Statistics ask an informant to provide data when a sampled individual cannot respond to the interview.

There are clearly problems with proxy data and especially with mixing subject and proxy data, which recent research is investigating. Many sources of bias cannot be modified by the use of proxies, but there are some instances in which proxy reporting call fill gaps. A notably promising example is the case of a physically or cognitively impaired person who is under the care of another, more competent person, such as:

  • caregiving spouse,
  • household member,
  • hired companion,

Proxy data are obviously more suited to factual material of the type usually included in activity taxonomies than to subjective processes[3].


  1. C.K. Hansen 2011, p.41
  2. I.S. Rubin 2019, p.423
  3. W.E. Pentland, M.P. Lawton, A.S. Harvey 2001, p.113

Time budgetingrecommended articles
Level of awarenessInvestment committeeLine item budgetJob classificationDirect costingContribution analysisDepth interviewTime period conceptCash Budget


Author: Sylwia Jurkowska