How To Budget Next Year’s 2,000 Working Hours


Laura Vanderkam

December 30, 2014

There are 8,760 hours in a year.

If you work full time, you’ll spend about 2,000 of those focused on your job. Sure, you may spend more than 40 hours at the office most weeks, but you likely take breaks. You take major holidays and sick days off too. Even if your total is higher, it’s not that much higher, and whatever you intend to accomplish professionally will have to be achieved, more or less, within that time.

So how do you intend to spend next year’s 2,000 hours?

I find this a fascinating question, and one we often don’t think about as we plan our years. Time passes whether we’re aware of how we’re spending it or not, so we often spend it mindlessly. That’s why, if you believe the stats, you could spend 560 hours (28%), on email. Each recurring meeting doesn’t seem like a big deal on its own, but they stack up. Twelve hours a week cost 600 hours per year. Spend an hour a day reading random stuff on the web and you’re down another 250. Before you know it, there’s little time for deep work of the sort that attracted you to your profession. The meaningful stuff gets relegated to the scraps of time after everything else is done.

No wonder people feel disengaged.

But there is a better way to approach work. It’s to think through how you’d like to budget your 2,000 hours with an eye on your professional goals.

The first step is to get clear on what those goals are. You can set them quarterly or annually if you’d like. But having a clear sense of purpose will help with allocating time in the same way that knowing you want to buy a house or send a kid to college keeps people focused when it comes to finances. Try writing next year’s performance review now, and see where that leads.

Next, estimate how long each goal will take. Estimating is hard, but it is also the key to using time well. Maybe a big goal for 2015 is to write a draft of a book for which you’ve already done the research. You can write about 500 words in an hour. To write 75,000 words will therefore take you 150 hours. If you’re not sure about how much time things will take, try tracking your time to discover how long similar tasks take, or try asking lots of people for their best guesses.

Then, create a budget. In a year, you could definitely spend 150 hours on a writing project, 200 mentoring, 200 reaching out to bring in new work, and another 500 on day-to-day tasks. But you could not also spend 1,200 hours on recurring meetings in addition to those goals. If your calendar shows you that booked up, you’ll need to cancel or revisit something. You can allocate these hours how you wish over the year (maybe concentrating the writing earlier and the mentoring later) but try to get a sense of how much time you should spend on projects, week to week.

Finally, be bold about sticking to your budget. If you’ve allocated 100 hours for renewing ties with old contacts, and you want to spread that goal over the entire year, then you should be aiming for at least two hours per week. Block those hours into your calendar. Plan your weeks around your goals, rather than waiting until you’ve filed all your emails. If Friday comes and you haven’t done the tasks you’ve budgeted, then cancel other things. Get up on Saturday morning and put in the time. It might help to set up an accountability partnership or group to hold you to this budget. You check in weekly to see how it’s going.

Otherwise, before you know it, the calendar will say December 2015, and you’ll wonder where your 2,000 hours have gone. They’ll have disappeared as they often do, rather than moving you, day by day, toward the career you’ve always wanted.

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