Updated on 10.09.08

120 Minutes

Trent Hamm

A few days ago, Seth Godin posted a brilliant piece on his blog entitled Is Effort a Myth? In it, Seth addresses the issue of luck:

And that’s the key to the paradox of effort: While luck may be more appealing than effort, you don’t get to choose luck. Effort, on the other hand, is totally available, all the time.

A while back, I wrote on a similar theme, arguing that luck happens to those who provide the most opportunities for luck to grow in their life, and pointing out ten things anyone can do to improve their luck.

Seth takes a bit of a different route to a similar conclusion. He argues that the people who get lucky are the people that put forth the extra effort, and he offers a four step plan for making it happen for you:

1. Delete 120 minutes a day of ‘spare time’ from your life. This can include TV, reading the newspaper, commuting, wasting time in social networks and meetings. Up to you.

2. Spend the 120 minutes doing this instead:
* Exercise for thirty minutes.
* Read relevant non-fiction (trade magazines, journals, business books, blogs, etc.)
* Send three thank you notes.
* Learn new digital techniques (spreadsheet macros, Firefox shortcuts, productivity tools, graphic design, html coding)
* Volunteer.
* Blog for five minutes about something you learned.
* Give a speech once a month about something you don’t currently know a lot about.

3. Spend at least one weekend day doing absolutely nothing but being with people you love.

4. Only spend money, for one year, on things you absolutely need to get by. Save the rest, relentlessly.

All four points are valuable life lessons, but I wanted to focus in on the first two because the point there is near and dear to my heart.

If you can devote two hours a day to improving yourself and doing something to change your situation, your life will improve. Period.

All I have to do is roll back the clock two years to provide some proof of this. In October 2006, I was recovering from our financial meltdown, dreaming of a career as a writer and of owning our own home, but not really doing anything about it. I was twenty eight years old and I realized I was watching my life drift by.

So I started The Simple Dollar, and I started devoting about three hours a day to it at first. It took me a few months to find my writing legs – many of my early posts sound quite a bit different than what you’d read from me today. But I kept hammering away at it. I worked on getting better at brainstorming and quickly transforming those ideas into something readable. I learned how blogging worked. I interacted with a lot of readers and potential readers and learned what they were out there seeking.

Two years later, it’s changed my life. I’m now doing it. I’m writing full time, something I barely dreamed about two years ago.

Now, I’m left thinking about the next big thing I want to tackle. Can I pencil off two hours a day and do something big like that again? I’ve had a lot of ideas floating through my mind as of late, but Seth’s post kicked me in the rear end and got me thinking.

So, how can you do it, too?

Finding 120 Minutes
In Seth’s words:

Delete 120 minutes a day of ‘spare time’ from your life. This can include TV, reading the newspaper, commuting, wasting time in social networks and meetings. Up to you.

What can you delete from your life? Don’t just blow off the question. Think about it for a minute.

I know that the single biggest thing I could delete from my life is the time I spend browsing political blogs and websites. It’s almost an obsession for me at times, and I don’t get anything out of it except for more indignant and angry. If I really wanted to be politically involved, I could spend that time campaigning for the candidate that I want – or doing something to personally improve myself.

Seth names several other options. Television is a big one for many people. I know one guy who finishes each day going out to the bars for two hours – and he doesn’t even get a drink. He just hangs out with the boys. I know another woman who spends at least three hours a day reading absolutely trashy romance novels.

It’s often the people who waste that time that wonder how come others are successful and get promotions. Are they lucky? Or are they just committed to the details.

Look around your life. Look for the things you can eliminate. If you can come up with two hours a day, you have a serious block of time to commit to success.

Using 120 Minutes
So what are you going to do with that time? Seth’s suggestions:

* Exercise for thirty minutes.
* Read relevant non-fiction (trade magazines, journals, business books, blogs, etc.)
* Send three thank you notes.
* Learn new digital techniques (spreadsheet macros, Firefox shortcuts, productivity tools, graphic design, html coding)
* Volunteer.
* Blog for five minutes about something you learned.
* Give a speech once a month about something you don’t currently know a lot about.

That’s a very good list of things, but they all assume an entrepreneurial goal. I suggest something a little bit different.

A boy dreams big dreams of what lies beyond by kretyen on Flickr!What’s your dream?

We all have one big thing we would like to change in our lives, or one big thing we’d like to accomplish. After some reflection, I’m starting to settle on my next goal, something I’d like to accomplish in 2009. I don’t want to talk about it yet, but I know what it involves.

What could you do with those two hours a day to carry you closer to that goal?

You want to improve your career? Spend two hours a day mastering basic skills related to what you do and absorbing more information. I have several friends in life sciences. One of them spends two hours every single day reading and re-reading the latest scientific papers that come out. He does this in the evening, after his lab work is done. Do you want to guess who’s slowly starting to seem like the expert on his field of research in his lab? Do you want to know who’s starting to make a name for himself at meetings?

You want to improve some aspect of your life – perhaps you’d like to lose some weight? Start walking. Seriously. Walk for an hour. If you can cover a mile in twenty minutes, you can walk three miles. Get up a little earlier and do this before work instead of sitting there dead-eyed watching the Today Show and dreading work. When you get home, instead of flopping in front of the television, put on some walking shoes and a jacket and go for a very long stroll.

You want to become a respected member of the community? Volunteer two hours a night. Offer to take tickets at high school athletic events. Go to city council meetings. Go to school board meetings. Leap at the chance to participate in things. Join a civic organization or two and get involved with them. You’ll start seeing people over and over again and eventually you’ll start to get to know a lot of them. Before long, you’ll see the rewards of that effort – when you go out in your town, tons of people will shout out hellos to you and when you need help, you’ll have tons of helping hands.

If you can find that 120 minutes and you can use it every day to make a change, you can have that dream. The only difference between you and the person actually making it is the willingness to sacrifice that time each day.

Is your dream worth giving up that hour of television?

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  1. Finding the 120 Minutes for me is the easy part. Sustaining that effort for a period of time long enough to show fruitful results is the difficult part.
    Inertia is great, but momentum is better!

  2. Jules says:

    Today my 120 minutes was spent sleeping :-)

    Most of the time I spend it writing.

  3. michael says:

    A wise man (okay, it was actually Adam Corolla, of all people) once said: “The only difference between successful people and everyone else is that successful people make themselves do what they don’t want to do.”

    I’ve found this to be entirely true.

  4. Carrie says:

    Great points! It’s amazing what you can accomplish when you start paying attention to how you spend your time and plugging the holes.

    I do have a nit to pick, though.
    “I know another woman who spends at least three hours a day reading absolutely trashy romance novels.”

    I write romance novels, among other things, during my 120+ captured minutes. I’d hate for people to stop buying my books!

  5. Michael says:

    This post motivates me. I’m about to cut an hour out of my daily driving and I spend about an hour lost in idle thought I could lose. I have some ideas — who knows?

  6. Shanel Yang says:

    Love this post, Trent! I spend all my time — not just my spare time — doing exactly what I would do if I only had one year to live. Magically, that makes me tremendously happy. : )

  7. Your Friendly Neighborhood Computer Guy says:

    Wow, very cool post! I came to a similar revelation recently, which is why I started my blog and why I’m working on starting my own business. The one thing I’ve neglected…and Seth made it clear that it’s important, is spending a WHOLE DAY with loved ones! I’ve been so busy trying to fit productivity into my life, I’ve forgotten about the people that matter. I’m off to clear my Sundays!

  8. Anna says:

    Carrie! You go, girl!

  9. Melinda says:

    Your link to Seth Godin’s post gave me a 404 not found error. I googled it and found it here http://sethgodin.typepad.com/seths_blog/2008/10/is-effort-a-myt.html

  10. Cyllya says:

    Mmm, I already try to do that with ALL of my “spare time.” I have trouble doing anything for fun without taking a hit to my self-esteem for not working hard enough.

    My problem is becoming too miserable to motivate myself to do anything useful and instead using that time on useless things.

    I wonder if I should try harder to make myself do things I don’t want to do, make myself have fun so I don’t get burnt out, try to vary my work activities more, or what?

    (For the record, some of the work is fun and really is toward a goal I want.)

  11. PJ says:

    I’m all for taking advantage of any ‘extra’ time you have laying around, but if you spend the day shuttling kids and yourself to and from school, work, and home, as well as prepping meals and doing a bit of house cleanup… taking an hour or two to do something you really enjoy is, IMHO, a necessary sanity-saver. Stressing out on how to be maximally productive during that time seems like a bad idea. Not that you can’t enjoy being productive, but I guess I’d just like to hilight that you should try and *enjoy* whatever downtime you have – don’t we all get enough stress from work and home obligations?

  12. I’ve got the weekend day down…I’m one of those weird Sabbatarian Christians(lol), and so my Sundays are always spent worshiping and then doing restful things.

    I’m always astounded at the amount of time people waste watching TV…and then those same people wonder why I can manage to get so much work done in a day. I wouldn’t be able to if I watched three hours of TV every night.

  13. drizad says:

    “Is your dream worth giving up that hour of television?”
    This post really struck the chords in me. Have been closely monitoring and reading your blog for the past few months, and really, I think I am in the same shoe as you.

    Keep up the spirit, Trent!

  14. Susy says:

    Some friends and I were just talking about this last night. We decided that taking the iniative and using your time wisely to better your life is what separates the “haves” from the “have-nots”. I think being proactive helps build self-esteem and confidence which spills over into other areas of your life making you more successful. Feeling entitled to everything without doing anything leads to depression and feeling of being let-down and feeling un-lucky.

  15. dlc says:

    I like the guy who´s hanging out two hours at the bar every night. I mean: he doesn´t even spend money. And, supposedly, he´s having fun with some nice people. Sounds like a great way of using these two hours!

  16. Sara says:

    I have recently gained a group of really close friends, and we have started having “communal dinner night” every tuesday, where we coordinate a menu, and then everyone cooks and brings the food over to my house for dinner. Its great because a lot of us have kids, so going out to eat would be not just more expensive, but also more stressful if we had to try and curb the kids chaos. But, we let them all run and play in the living room while the adults socialize over dinner, and everyone has a great time. Our first dinner (two weeks ago) was 7 adults, and 4 kids – next week is going to be 10 adults and 6 kids. We keep growing the group each week :) So thats where I’m spending time with my loved ones. Not only that, but Saturdays and sunday mornings are days that I have off of work, and child free – so I get to spend a lot of quality time with my boyfriend, and my friends. Then Sunday night through Thursday mornings its just me and my son while my boyfriend is at work. So yeah, I have the quality time thing down :)
    I waste my time playing stupid internet games, checking redundant social networks, and multiple emails. I really don’t watch much TV.
    I have recently started really organizing my life. I was always pretty lazy about cleaning the house, and stuff like that – but now I have a scheduled day for cleaning everything, and a day that I go grocery shopping – all that jazz. And I actually feel much better after having accomplished something than I do if I just sat around “enjoying downtime”. And I think one of the problems too, is that people don’t do things that actually make them feel energized with their downtime. They just numb their brains for a little while, and then feel drained afterwards. Excercise may seem like a chore, but it will make you feel better afterwards . Especially if you don’t think of it as exersize for the sake of exercise. Do something that’s fun, and just so happens to be active at the same time. Put your favorite music on really loud and dance around. Play tag with your kid – or fetch with the dog. Pack a picnic lunch and hike to a nice spot to eat it. Go swimming. Just because your brain says your having fun, doesn’t mean its not exercise.

  17. Kristine says:

    I used to run through all the things I COULD do when I had a free moment, and that mental process would make me feel overwhelmed and indecisive.

    But rather than schedule every second, When I have in-between time that would sucked away with tea and surfing, I look at my ongoing list of small and big projects in progress, and pick what I feel like doing that moment! Productive, and it feels a bit like shopping for success.

    BTW- this blog is one of my few time indulgences- I am a strady reader- sometimes agreeing, sometimes not!

    The family day is a wonderful thing. I try to to do the same thing here- with a list of things we CAN do home or out(seasonly revamped), then we don’t spend that precious time trying to come up with ideas! And the foresight helps us pick lo-cost options as well!

  18. LC says:

    I realized I was spending a few hours a day watching TV, mostly home decorating shows. I enrolled online and now two years later will graduate soon with a graduate degree. Same amount of time per day, and since it was online, I was still available for my family if they needed me.

  19. Molly says:

    3. Spend at least one weekend day doing absolutely nothing but being with people you love.

    I absolutely agree with this. I used to try to clean on the weekends, and get my husband to help me. Our apartment was bothering me so much. We never got to hang out or spend any time together. Plus we’d argue about having to clean. Now, I just ignore it from the time my husband gets home from work on Saturday til Sunday morning. Sometimes I don’t even wash the dishes. Since we had our son 20 months ago, I’ve been getting busier and busier. I have to schedule things and actually do them in the time allotted or I get ovehwhelmed. When Monday comes, it takes most of the day, but at least I don’t feel like I’m spending my life cleaning.

  20. Robyn says:

    I too saw this post at Seth’s site and was very inspired. It’s interesting bec I quit my job 3 months ago to start my own business, and I also set up a couple blogs and a website, and learned a ton of new stuff in the process, by using more than 2 hours a day on my new projects. Now I’m pretty comfortable with my new routine but find myself now spending too much time on stuff I’ve already established. So now the challenge is to shift away from that fairly new process and focus on stepping up my business and/or finding new projects.
    Incidentally, I just posted an article on my blog about a trip I was able to take 10 years ago by following the practices written about here and following what Seth wrote about this week. I’m trying to figure out a way to do something similar in the next year or two.

  21. Kevin says:

    Your link to Seth’s blog is bad.

  22. Gayle RN says:

    Great picture of the Sleeping Bear National Lakeshore, which is one of the most beautiful places on the planet.

  23. Matt says:

    These are great suggestions. To add an another real motivating lens for one’s own life. It really inspired me to check where I am and where I’m going. Take a look at the late go getter Randy Pausch in his “last speech.”


  24. Bella says:

    Very touching article!
    Two hours a day… I guess I’d sleep less… Get up earlier…

  25. Susan Mclaughlin says:

    This is my first time posting, but I became a fan of this site a few months ago. Time does a number on me Life is so busy it is hard to find time for anything.My life has gotten extremely busy, as I’m sure all of you can relate. I put in allot of overtime in the last six months which literally keeps me from getting on my computer.
    During this time, I have also begun to further define my life, values, goals and plans. Back in August one day, I was out of laundry soap, and short on money. I had been trying to cut back on my spending because money seems to get tighter every day.
    I went to my trusty computer and goggled in home made laundry soap. In my search I found a sight called thesimpledollar.com. This sight contains a program called “Fix Your Budget in 31 Days”. Ok, you’re saying…another gimmick. Basically the program cost 2.00 and you download it. I thought this might be something that could help me to adjust my spending and relieve some of the stress that I have been feeling lately about my financial situation.I know this sounds like a commercial, but stay with me.
    So I bought the program. I figured 2.00 would be a small price to pay for help to get my life going in the right direction. I have been working on the program for 2 months now. I guess I am a bit slow when it comes to taking things in. So far, this program has been the best thing I ever bought for just 2 dollars!
    It is helping me to become more focused on what I really want my life to be like, and is showing me how to achieve it. It has a different approach than most budget programs. It starts with creating a set of core values. From these core values, I have created matching goals to achieve living these values. Then, making a plan to achieve these goals.
    The results have been amazing already. I have made so many improvements on how I am living my life and how I am spending my money. Of course I still have a long way to go. But my stress level has gone down dramatically. The peace of mind that I seek is becoming more and more a part of my everyday life.
    I am slowly becoming the person that I want to be and moving in the direction towards the life I want to have. One that when all said and done, will be one that I can be proud of having lived. One that is full of quality memories that I can take with me when I die. When I am no longer on this earth, I hope that the people that knew me will remember me because of the positive influence I had on their lives.
    We all spend our lives, acquiring material things, but in the end, none of that will be part of our eternal futures. What will be, is our memories, how we lived our lives, how we treated other people, and finally, weather or not we believed in God.
    I try to squeeze every second out of my days and make it mean something. For me, a good day, is one where I was productive, and achieved much.
    I just want to say thanks to you Trent, to this site and all the wonderful people that contribute.
    One tip I want to share that I do to get more out of my day, is that when I find articals on line that I like, I print them and take them with me for “reading material” when I’m at work or the doctors office etc, instead of reading magazines or reading nothing at all. When I’m finished witrh them, I share them with a friend.
    May God Bless you all.

  26. Lisette says:

    My dream is to work at a newspaper or a television show- on a national scale.

    It kind of bugs me that watching TV or reading the newspaper is considered “wasted time” per this post.

    Since when is being informed a waste of time?

  27. Maggie Shaw says:

    I finally signed up to get my personal trainer certification, a goal I’ve had in mind for quite some time. Any spare time I used to have will now be spent studying.

  28. Debbie says:

    Very good post. Can’t say I’ve gotten a whole 120 minutes more a day but am striving for more me learning time. I now listen to books (Strangest Secret, etc) or finanical self improvement on my iPod to and from work. It’s already made a big difference and that is just 45 minutes a day.

  29. I’m totally doing this already – but then I’m out of a job. Every action HAS to be productive, either monetarily or otherwise. I just wish I’d done it earlier – I thought I was – but you can always squeeze a little more time and effort out – even besides the extra lazy-jobless-bum time.

    I just wish I was less tired from all the doing-useful-stuff. I don’t think there’s any solution to that. Sometimes you have to pay the price to get the prize.

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