Plan Your Day the Smart Way to Minimize Spending

It’s a pretty simple routine.

Almost every morning these days, I spend about 10 minutes planning out the specifics of my day. I pull out my calendar and see what I need to do that day, then start filling in the gaps with things I need to do. I’ll assign a few one-hour blocks to writing. I might fill in an hour-long gap for a trip to the grocery store. I might fill an hour with household tasks. You get the idea.

I try to order things so that there’s some flexibility involved. For example, I’ll often separate writing blocks with something that’s “important but not urgent” around the house so that if I get into a writing flow, I can just rearrange without thinking about it.

Mostly, though, the goal is to maximize my time efficiency for most of the day so that I can enjoy unstructured time later on. If I’m smart with my time use throughout the day, I can easily afford an unstructured block of time with my family or involved with a hobby (or both), either that day or sometime in the near future.

In other words, spending 15 minutes making a good daily schedule ensures that I have time for “important but not urgent” tasks – the things that really deserve time and attention but are easy to put off because they’re not blaring in your face.

What’s interesting is that I can see how this kind of planning is saving me money, much like a grocery list saves me money in the grocery store.

Money? Isn’t a daily plan about saving time?

Five Ways Smart Daily Planning Saves Me Money

By organizing errands by location, I save on gas. During the time I spend planning the day, I’ll evaluate everything that needs to be done outside of the home and group them by location. That way, if something really needs to be done in a specific place, I’ll bundle other tasks that need to be done near that place together with it. That saves significantly on fuel costs and maintenance costs.

By thinking about and acting on “important but not urgent” tasks, I end up making financially smart moves sooner rather than later. I’ll take action on financial planning, insurance, home and auto maintenance, bill paying, and so forth because I’ve actively put aside time for it when it needs to be done rather than putting things off because things are currently “good enough.”

By thinking about my plan for the day in advance, I avoid temptations. When I’m on a tighter schedule, I find it’s much harder to slip in a stop at a tempting store or to idle for a while on an ecommerce site. If I know I have something that I need to do and that it’s penciled in for the next hour, I’m much more likely to move along than if I don’t have anything planned for the next hour.

By keeping myself busy, I have less time for idle thoughts. Not only do I have less time to actually act on temptations, as I mentioned above, I have less time to even start thinking about those temptations. I simply don’t give myself time to think about wanting more stuff.

By keeping my time organized, I usually have time left over for frugal projects. I have time for things like making a quadruple batch of lasagna or a giant vat of soup. I have time for things like making homemade laundry detergent or homemade bar soap. Those are tasks that are easy to push aside because a person is in a time crunch and simply throw money at a more expensive product in the stores.

My Strategy for Daily Time Planning

As I said at the beginning, each morning I get up and put together a plan for my day. Here’s how I do it.

I keep a normal calendar. During the normal course of my life, I keep a calendar using Google Calendar. It works really well, particularly when it becomes part of your daily routine to study it and see what you need to do today and what’s coming up.

I keep a robust to-do list, too. My to-do list is a long one. It’s full of important tasks and projects, along with lots of things I’d like to do and things I eventually need to do. I use Todoist to manage my to-do lists.

Part of managing this list is that each task has several contexts. By context, I mean that any given task has a location, a set of supplies that I might use, people that might be required to do it, and so on.

I use tags for these contexts. For example, some of my tags are @home, @ames, @desmoines, and @computer for designating where I’ll do stuff; @sarah and @kids designating things that require specific people; @arduino when I have out my Arduino materials and @homebrew when I have out all of my homebrew stuff; and so on.

Those contexts are really important, as you’ll see below.

I start with my calendar. When I’m coming up with the day’s schedule, I start with the stuff that’s actually in my calendar. Those things already in there are appointments where other people are expecting me at a particular time, so they take priority.

I fill in the gaps with the big “urgent and important” things I need to do from my to-do list. I try to identify the three big things I want to accomplish today, things like writing a full article for The Simple Dollar or cleaning my office or some other significant task. I then fill in the gaps in my calendar with those three big tasks.

Often, two of these tasks are work related, while the third one is related to some self-improvement goal, like going for a jog or something like that.

I fill in remaining gaps with “important but not urgent” tasks, finding room for at least a few each day. This usually leaves several holes still in my schedule, so I fill in those remaining holes with other things that I need to be working on that perhaps aren’t as urgent as the “three big things” for the day.

Often, these things take the form of the “next step” in major projects that I’m trying to tackle. It might be something like writing the first draft of a chapter for a novel or writing an article in advance to cover the time I’m away for upcoming travel purposes.

These types of tasks also take the form of “blocks” of time devoted to sets of small tasks, like housework tasks or home maintenance tasks.

One big thing I try to do here is to schedule tasks with the same contexts back to back. This is particularly true regarding location, but I think about other contexts, too. If I drag out all of my homebrewing stuff, I usually want to take care of every task I’ve thought of involving that stuff, for example, like making a batch, taking inventory of my supplies, thoroughly cleaning everything, and so on.

I also try to schedule more flexible tasks next to ones that have overrun potential. For example, if I’m going to pencil in an hour of household tasks, I’ll put that next to an hour of writing so that if the writing goes long or I get into a good writing flow, it’s going to be just fine.

Living by a Schedule

What I often wind up with is a schedule like this:

6:30 AM – 7:00 AM – Exercise
7:00 AM – 8:00 AM – Writing
8:00 AM – 8:30 AM – Make breakfast; eat with family
8:30 AM – 9:30 AM – Writing
9:30 AM – 10:30 AM – Clean office and bedroom
10:30 AM – 11:30 AM – Writing
11:30 AM – 12:30 PM – Lunch and family time
12:30 PM – 1:45 PM – Finish up grocery list/meal plan, drive to library, then drive to store
1:45 PM – 2:30 PM – Buy groceries
2:30 PM – 3:30 PM – Drive home, unload, and put away groceries
3:30 PM – 4:30 PM – Email and communication
4:30 PM – 5:30 PM – Family time
5:30 PM – 6:00 PM – Supper prep
6:00 PM – 6:30 PM – Supper
6:30 PM – 8:30 PM – Family time
8:30 PM – 9:30 PM – Study
9:30 PM – 10:30 PM – Household chores

That’s a pretty good example of a day. I have three blocks of writing – one for my current responsibilities and one for the future. I have time for email and communication as well as a bit of research time at the library. I’m devoting some time to exercise and personal study, too. It’s a day where grocery shopping happens, so a couple of hours are devoted to that – on other days, those hours may be devoted to other tasks, such as writing.

What saves money here? One, I keep my shopping time within a strict block, so I’m not tempted to meander and find things to spend money on. Two, I’m busy enough so that I don’t really have time to daydream about what I want or be exposed to media to clue me in to new “wants.” Three, I’m doing grocery shopping and my library stop on one synergistic trip in order to save gas. Four, I’m planning time for meal prep in there, so meals can be made at home even with a busy family.

Those things add up to real, tangible savings. They also add up to a much richer life.

Try scheduling your days with a bit more precision and see where it leads you. You may end up finding things work out much better than you expect.