Budget Your Time Like a Restaurant Orders Its Fish


When it comes to managing time, it is essential to set a budget. It starts by taking inventory, and for that, let’s have a quick look inside your favorite restaurant.

How does a restaurant chef know how much food to buy per week? How much meat and fish? How many pounds of vegetables? With experience and review, s/he can observe the eating habits and traffic patterns of customers, and can expect, with 90 percent accuracy, that certain times will be busier than others – Friday lunchtimes or Sunday dinners, for example. The chef can buy supplies accordingly and then actually influence the customers’ meal choices by creating a pleasing menu around that inventory. The restaurant business does not allow for lost revenue from wasted food, so an effective future is effectively created, based on reading the stories of the past.

If you have been at your current job for more than five days, you already have a good sense of the types of tasks that you can expect to face in any given day. These might include:

  • Scheduled meetings
  • Preparing your store, department or office to open for business
  • Phone-calls
  • Email and texting
  • Office interaction and chat
  • Focused self-directed work
  • Administration
  • Travel
  • Dealing face-to-face with customers/managers/employees
  • Giving presentations

It’s up to you to identify and quantify these predictable tasks that are specific to your job or business.

But what do you really know about your predictable tasks? If someone were to ask you how many meetings you actually attend in a typical week, or how many phone-calls or emails you deal with, you would probably shrug your shoulders and say, “It depends on the day.”

But if you were pressed harder for an answer, what would it be? Two meetings a day? Four? Six? How many phone-calls? Two, twenty or 200?” How many emails? How many texts? Maybe then you could come up with a reasonable number.

Next, how long does each of these tasks take? How long is the average meeting? How long is the average phone-call? How long do you spend reading and responding to each email? Perhaps Mondays are different from Fridays, in terms of what you have to do, and certainly one phone-call or email will differ from the next. But the point is, these are the things that fill up our days in a candid, uncontrolled manner; and “candid” is one thing that should be avoided, the “candid zone” is where awareness of time quickly disappears.

When you take the time to proactively quantify how much time your predictable tasks will take you on a given Monday, a given Tuesday, based on your past experience, you can predict with reasonable certainty how many hours per day must be set aside for them in the future. You know there will be phone calls, email and meetings next Monday, so why not reserve and defend the time for them now?

For example: if you generally spend two hours a day returning emails, then set up a recurring activity in your calendar – a two-hour block, specifically reserved for emails. It doesn’t mean you will deal with them all in a single contiguous block, but it dos mean the time for them has been reserved – budgeted for – and that is a vital component of time management. Budget for the predictable tasks in a realistic and tangible way.

You are then able to deal with people and tasks in a more proactive way, exactly like a restaurant handles its customers. By knowing what you have in stock, you can influence the expectations of your colleagues just like a restaurant influences the choices of its patrons. It’s all about knowing what you have in your hands – how much time you have available to accept new requests, and when you need to defer others to later times or dates.

Time management is about being proactive. Inventory knowledge gives you something to stand on while you do this.

This is an excerpt from my book, Cool Time: A Hands-On Plan for Managing Work and Balancing Time. If you would like a copy, hop on over to my Books page. If you would like me to come and speak to your group, contact details are available on my Speaker page. Either way, you will win back time and money. It’s just practical common sense.