Every household is busy in one way or another, if they’re doing things that matter. Perhaps there are families out there who are attempting to accomplish too little and could use a jump-start of sanctified ambition to “excel in…good work[s]” (2 Corinthians 9:8). But this article is for the rest of us, whose households easily and regularly cross an invisible threshold into “too busy.” Too busy to rest. Too busy to meditate. Too busy to worship.
What follows is one pathway to tackling a family schedule that has gotten out of control.
How We Get There
How do our families get “too busy”? Usually, accidentally but willingly. We don’t set out to be that “frenzy family” always on the brink of burnout. “But it’s just one more little commitment, one more itsy-bitsy ministry opportunity, one more teeny-weeny night this week.” And by twenty-seven one-more-thing’s, we find ourselves (and our wives and children) trapped in a frenetic family calendar fueled by adrenaline (that won’t last till Christmas) till next Christmas. Yet we went willingly. The choices that led us here were our own.
One reason we got here is by failing to see time as currency.
Time & Money
Time is a lot more like money than we think. First, we have it in limited quantity, and it’s always passing—like a bank account that loses $1.00 every 60 seconds. James reduces our entire lifespan to “vapor that appears for a little while, then vanishes” (James 4:14); Paul teaches that time must be “redeemed” or bought back (Ephesians 5:17). It may seem obvious that our family’s time is, by God’s design, limited in quantity. But then we fail to see how that extra commitment, that new role, that extra side job, will actually eat time on the calendar.
Second, just as He calls us to steward our money, God calls us explicitly to steward our time (Ephesians 5:17). Christians have typically applied God’s call to steward finances by budgeting—whether the budget has three categories or thirty. Yet, whereas household finance seems to get all the blog buzz and book lists, household “time budgeting” gets nary a cricket-chirp by comparison. Yet this currency, time, is every bit as important to steward.
The Time Budget
These truths suggest we could approach scheduling more like budgeting. Meet the “Time Budget.” Just as in budgeting we assign “a job for every dollar,” so in scheduling, we assign “a job for every hour” or time block. It’s about determining your family rhythms before you let the calendar fill up, and then populating the calendar within those parameters. Ready to take the bull by the horns and tackle the beast of an unruly family schedule?
To build a weekly family schedule, we must first identify its component time blocks. Like monetary bill sizes, these components are fairly standard for any family. Though we tend to think one week is made up of 168 usable units (hours), functionally we have only about 35 distinct blocks of time in our week as a family—and for 7 longest blocks, we’re asleep!
Defining your blocks is like identifying your income for a budget. We all get the same amount, every week. Now, what will our budget categories be?
Here is the tough part. To what activities will you devote each block of time? Here is where your unique values as a family will come into play—and hopefully where you can purpose to lead your family in a schedule that honors God’s ways in your home. You and your wife will need to talk through and discuss this over time.
These scheduling steps are ideally sequential:
1. Schedule your “have-to’s.” Identify things beyond your control that have to be on your calendar, like work schedules, school day obligations, etc. (But beware. We usually have a few imposters in our “have-to” list that are not as essential or as necessarily long as we have always assumed.) Enter these on your calendar in the time blocks you have already established.
2. Schedule your sleep time. Protect this in your schedule now, or Steps 3 and 4 will encroach upon this need for rest! Enter these sleep blocks on your calendar.
3. Schedule your daily habits and routines. What meals will you plan share together as a family? What routines (mini-schedules) will you repeat every morning when you wake and every evening at bedtime? Now calculate and estimate how much time each of these will take. Put them all on the schedule.
4. Schedule your weekly habits and routines. What are the things you will do once or more every week? What evenings do you want to protect for family time? How often each week do you want to open your home to others? Now enter them on your calendar, following as much as possible the time blocking already established.
You probably won’t make it this far without you and your wife having to re-evaluate something or lightly argue a certain component’s value for your home. This is the necessary hard work of budgeting, but it’s worth it!
This time budget will not make all your choices for you. But it will significantly inform and direct those decisions. Imagine two scenarios, which demonstrate the function of the time budget:
- A new family has joined your church on Sunday. You and your wife want to have them over, but you have just exited a busier weekend. But since you never schedule anything for Tuesday nights (“Home Night”), you have an evening to recover. You offer that family Thursday night instead—one of your two standard evenings you offer for getting together with others.
- A new committee at church is looking for a regular evening meeting time. You don’t offer Tuesday as available; you have already established it’s your home night.
Wise or Righteous?
I confess I am a time management and productivity geek. (How did you guess?) Some people are planners by nature, and it’s not always a virtue. Scripture puts planning in the category of wisdom (Proverbs 4:26; 22:3), not quite the category of righteousness. Probably most pointed is Paul’s application of our union with Christ: “Pay careful attention, then, to how you live—not as unwise people but as wise—making the most of the time, because the days are evil” (Ephesians 5:17-18).
The Bible’s call to wisdom about our time is clear; but we can differ in application. But the way of wisdom for our family schedules will always involve some form of planning ahead. So if your family schedule is out of control, tackle the beast! Give time budgeting a try.
Growing Fathers Team
Caleb serves as Director of Worship at Northwest Valley Baptist Church in the Phoenix Metro area. He also heads the music department at Arrowhead Christian Academy, where he directs choirs, teaches a Bible class, and coordinates upper school chapel services. He and his wife, Heidi, have two young daughters, Charlotte and Anna.View all posts by Caleb