for where’s waldo fans, take a closer look at today’s header photo. it’s one of my favorite pictures of me. :-)
several of our blog friends are currently doing cait flander’s mindful budgeting program, and we’re seeing a common theme when they’re talking about what they’re learning: they now know what they’re spending their money on, but before they started keeping track, they had no idea where all the money went. (we know we can relate to that sentiment! we certainly had no clue how much we were spending on restaurants back when we lived in the city, before we got serious about saving.)
as it happened, i was reading des’s post at half banked about mindful budgeting, while at the same time having the thought late in the work day that i’m sure we can all relate to: “it’s 6 o’clock already?! where did the day go?”
then it struck me: where did the money go? where did the time go? these are not such different questions.
in the personal finance blogosphere, we all talk about money a lot. and we talk about time, too, in that most of us want more of it, and that’s why so many of us are working feverishly toward early retirement. but we tend to talk about the two as separate things, when really they are the same. money is a representation of time, earned for time spent working, and spent to better enjoy our time. we even use the word “spend” to describe how we use our time, because, like with money, we only have so much of it at once.
all of this got us talking about how we think: we’ve been so focused these past few years on changing our habits and mindsets around money, but what about time? are we being as mindful about spending our time as we’ve become about spending our money? and should we think about budgeting our time the way that many people think about budgeting their money? the question is even more urgent, in many ways, than questions about money, because money is an infinite resource, whereas time is truly precious and limited.
for us, the answer is that we want to get a whole lot more mindful about our time and how we spend it. and we don’t want to wait until early retirement to do that, which tends to be our fallback answer to things we wish we had time for but don’t, at least for now. (“we’ll read proust when we retire. we’ll run another marathon when we retire.”) but waiting to value our time is antithetical to this whole notion. so we want to start treating our time as our most precious asset now.
what we want out of our time is the same thing we want out of our lives: meaning, love, adventure, fun. we want to engage in projects that contribute good to the world. we want to cultivate and strengthen our relationships with each other, with family and with friends. we want to explore this great big world of ours. and we want to act like overgrown kids, try new things and get silly.
we get resentful when we feel like our time is wasted, just as we resent wasted money. when a whole workday has passed without feeling like we got anything done. when we’ve done the digital equivalent of pushing paper. when we’ve been stuck in airports for hours on end, or sat mindlessly on the couch because our minds were too scorched by work to have a real conversation with each other or even to read a book. a lot of that resentment over wasted time is work related, even though we feel thankful that our jobs do actually contribute some good to the world. but work is not to blame: we are. we are not being intentional enough about how we’re choosing to spend our time. we procrastinate. we let ourselves lose focus. we complain. it’s the time equivalent of blowing our money on take-out food full of empty calories, or buying poorly made stuff we don’t even want. we know there’s a better way.
spending our time mindfully
we’re bad at adhering to a financial budget, preferring to pay ourselves first instead. could a similar strategy work with time allocation? or, maybe, as we’ve argued with spending, you don’t really need a budget if you spend your money consciously, and you know your weaknesses (hello, whole foods impulse buys).
a key difference between time and money is that the default with money is not spending, and it’s the reverse with time. if you just sit on your butt and do nothing, you’re not spending money, but you are spending time. this is where we want to focus our efforts. identifying these moments, especially during the workday, when we waste time, and as a result, work spills out into our nights and weekends, consuming ever more of our personal time. in an interesting paradox, to get more personal time, we need to do more work. or, rather, smarter, more efficient work.
we’re not really ones for resolutions, so this post isn’t going to be a listicle of all the things we’re going to try in an effort to avoid wasting time. instead, we think it’s the mindset shift that’s critical, and that’s something we’ve had success with around several pain points in our lives. for example:
- the word “busy” has become its own sort of status symbol, and we noticed that when we described ourselves as busy, we felt busier. recognizing this, we decided to shift our thinking to a different frame. now, when we feel overwhelmed, we tell ourselves, “we have plenty of time.” shockingly, it’s made a huge difference. we no longer feel those heart palpitations or those beads of sweat, that crippling anxiety, that comes from feeling like there’s too much to do and too little time. try it: “i have all the time i need.” (deep breaths help too.)
- when we were early in our journey to become more money-conscious, we realized that we were doing really well at avoiding the big purchases, but were struggling to convince ourselves to avoid the little ones. because we’re fortunate to earn two more than decent incomes, a lot of purchases seemed inconsequential in terms of what we earn in a month, or a week or even a day. so again, we changed how we thought about it: instead of relating prices to what we earn now, we started thinking about them in terms of how much freedom that money buys us in the future, when our “earnings” will be significantly lower. using a rough, back-of-the-envelope calculation, we determined that our all-in cost for being retired early is about $100 a day. so now we have a different way to think about purchases: is that $50 meal worth giving up a half day of freedom? is that $200 pair of replacement ski pants worth two days of freedom? changing the question has been truly transformative.
we’re sure there’s a way to shift our mindsets around using our time better, but we haven’t found the answer yet, since it’s still a new question for us. there will certainly be some element of retraining our brains to see mindless surfing not as a relief from work, but as something that’s detracting from the things we’d like to be doing in the evening or over the weekend. maybe it’s thinking about wasted time as debt: sure, we might be happy to spend that time doing something dumb now, but we’ll have to pay it back later, when we’d rather not. stay tuned for what ends up working for us.
in the meantime, we’d love to hear from you guys! have you found any great strategies for shifting your mindset around wasted time? do you have some analogy that works for you, like our equating every $100 to a day of freedom? and even though this post isn’t about productivity, we’re always open to new and better tools that help you get more done. we’re big fans of evernote (the free version of course) and, more recently, todoist, thanks to a recommendation from thias at it pays dividends. please share your brilliant ideas!