Rule #3: Stop Wasting Time.

14 money rulesA reader asked me if I could break down my ideas into a handful of principles. After some careful thought, I came up with a list of fourteen basic “rules” that summarize my money and life philosophy. I’ll be presenting these as a weekly series.

I cover time management quite a lot on The Simple Dollar. I write about

Getting Things Done and other time management books. I talk about how I manage my own time and some of the techniques I use in my own life.

Almost always, I’ll receive an email or a comment or two about how this has nothing to do with money. On the surface, that might be true – I’m not mentioning the almighty dollar anywhere. If you dig even a little, though, it becomes clear: time management is the same thing as money management, because time is money.

Step back for a minute and think about it.

Each person is blessed with the same allotment of time – 168 hours per week. Bill Gates has 168 hours per week. I have 168 hours per week. You have 168 hours per week. Each of us sleep during some of those hours, leaving us with perhaps 120 waking hours during a given week.

Out of those 120 waking hours, many of us sell the majority of those hours to someone else in exchange for money. We go to work, we work for a while, we go home, and often, some work comes home with us. Add in the hours we burn thinking about work and our time for ourselves grows ever smaller.

Household chores eat up more of that time, as does personal hygiene. Soon, we find that we’re left with just a small pile of hours in a given week to do with what we please.

Those hours are precious. They’re the ones in which we relax. They’re the ones where we interact with friends and family. They’re the ones where we catch up on personally fulfilling hobbies.

But we pay a hefty price for those hours. We invest so much time in work, hygiene, and household chores so that those remaining hours bring us some semblance of joy. Most of our financial choices are intended to either make those free hours more enjoyable or to make them safer.

Whenever we find ourselves wasting time, we take directly away from those precious hours. We get behind at work, reducing our ability to earn more and thus taking away from the enjoyment of that time or the safety of it. We waste idle time at home and then when something truly worthwhile comes along, we can’t participate – we have too many other things we’re behind on.

To put it simply, wasting time takes away from those valuable hours that we work so hard for. It strips away their quality and it strips away their safety. Time management simply seeks to give us more of those hours – or to make the other hours produce more money.

Here’s an example. Some days, when I sit down to work, I make the decision to dive right in. I’ve got some big idea on my mind and I can’t wait to research it or plan out how I might use it. So I’ll rip through most of an article in thirty minutes or so – and then find myself at a dead end. Where am I going with this? I idle for a bit, then eventually delete the article. I’ve wasted forty minutes.

On another day, I’ll start off by making a list of all of the things I need to accomplish for the day. I’ll decide what posts I’m going to write and list the main idea of each one. Then I’ll take each of those ideas and spend a bit of time fleshing them out – is this even worth a post? Is it perhaps more than one post? What research do I need to do to make it work?

That process might take twenty minutes, but I’ve usually discarded three or four ideas along the way and fleshed out three or four more to the point that I know what I’m going to write. From there, I never find myself “lost” at work – I know what tasks I need to do, I execute them, and I keep on rolling to the next one.

I might have spent the first twenty minutes of my day not moving forward at all on any projects, which seems bad. But the time invested in time management pays off – I don’t have to worry about such details as the day goes on, allowing myself to focus on just getting things done. Thus, by the six hour mark, I’m usually far ahead in terms of my work if I’ve done that planning. The big part? I’ve drastically reduced my wasted time.

The end result? If I’m a couple hours ahead, I now have hours I can add to my personal life. Or, perhaps I can use them to work ahead, giving those personal hours more of a cushion in case something happens. Maybe I can spend an hour getting in touch with others, building relationships that will really pay off over time. Maybe I can work on another project that might lead to more earnings or more readers, both of which shore up the valuable parts of my life.

Time is money, and when you manage your time well, you manage your money well, too.

How do you do that?

Valuable Techniques for Managing Time

1. Start your day off with some planning.

Make a list of what you need to get done today – usually four or so things. Don’t just make a 1, 2, 3, 4 list, though – investigate each one for a few minutes and make sure you have the information, ideas, and materials you need to actually execute each item. That might mean spending five or ten minutes on the basic framework of a task, but doing that now means you won’t burn an hour chasing snipe later on. Also, that list of things to do will keep you from burning time in the middle of the day wondering what’s best to do next.

2. Alternate between multi-tasking and single-tasking sessions.

Multi-tasking works well for some tasks – phone calls, emails, filing, and so forth. Those are tasks that usually aren’t mentally taxing at all, and thus can be done two or more at a time. However, the meat and potatoes of your work usually does require your focus – and doing that with interruptions makes it take longer and reduces the quality of your work. Take a few periods during your day, turn off your communication routes (turn off your phone, close your email program, etc.) for an hour or so and bear down on a task that needs to be done. When it’s finished, go back into multitasking mode and get caught up on your messages and information.

3. Meditate.

This sounds counterintuitive, but it really works. It’s easy, later in the day, to “zone out” – you’re mentally (and perhaps physically) worn out. Many people keep pushing, but they find themselves losing three minutes here and three minutes there because they space off – and this will often spread into the evening’s personal time. Instead, try meditating for fifteen or twenty minutes near the end of your work day. Just sit in a chair and relax – here are several great basic techniques to try. I almost always find myself refreshed and alert after doing this.

4. Write down the things on your mind.

Keep a notebook and pen near you at all times. Whenever something pops into your head that you need to do later or think about later, jot it down immediately. Then, a few times a day, leaf through the notebook and take care of the things jotted down there. Throw down anything and everything – a word you want to look up, a personal task you need to take care of, a person you want to get in touch with. Getting these things out of your head and onto paper means you can spend far less mental energy trying to remember it – and use that energy instead focusing on your current task and getting that done as well as you can.

Find ways to spend your free time that simultaneously help you grow as a person and bring you enjoyment. Reading literature that really pushes your mind is one example. Going for a jog is another example. Almost any social activity falls into this group, too – learning how to interact with more people is invaluable. Such activities bleed back into the rest of your day – they increase your energy at work, improve your mental acuity, and raise the bar on your ability to interact with others and network. Putting forth a little effort to find enjoyable ways to spend your spare time that also help you to grow pays off over and over again.

Remember, time is money – so stop wasting it.

Trent Hamm

Founder & Columnist

Trent Hamm founded The Simple Dollar in 2006 and still writes a daily column on personal finance. He’s the author of three books published by Simon & Schuster and Financial Times Press, has contributed to Business Insider, US News & World Report, Yahoo Finance, and Lifehacker, and his financial advice has been featured in The New York Times, TIME, Forbes, The Guardian, and elsewhere.