Updated on 09.05.14

Rule #3: Stop Wasting Time.

Trent Hamm

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.

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  1. Studenomist says:

    Quick question: your schedule is near perfection now but how was it when you first made the transition to full time blogging?

  2. Marsha says:

    Good post – I just checked out the GTD audiobook from the library, and I’m eager to listen to it. I’m also attempting to watch less TV so that I use my time more productively.

  3. J.D. says:

    One of my favorite quotes (from Frank Herebert’s Dune Messiah): “Between depriving a man of one hour from his life and depriving him of his life there exists only a difference of degree.” When you waste time, you waste life.

    All the same, I’d caution that it’s easy to go too far to the other side, to waste no time at all. I’m living that life now, and it’s not necessarily fun. I’d rather have some free time — even if it were structured, scheduled free time!

    Moderation in all things. :)

  4. Trent Hamm Trent says:

    My schedule is better now, but it’s still not perfect. My problem is tangents – I’ll burn two hours chasing some minor detail and lose sight of the big picture of what I’m working on. This has been a big problem with research on my current book (but, I’ll admit, it has paid dividends a few times).

  5. Anna says:

    I’ve found that the best time to plan the day ahead is the previous evening, when the successes and/or failures of the day are fresh in my mind, and the pressure of the morning has not yet occurred. When I awake with the day already planned, I can jump right in without delay.

  6. Joey says:

    I’d consider time more valuable than money; you can always earn back lost money. You can never earn back lost time.

  7. Studenomist says:

    @Trent thanks for the reply. The reason I asked is because I have taken less shifts at work this summer to 1. focus my energy on writing & 2. Take summer school to improve my writing. Some of my days off go well and I write 4 articles while other days I start researching something and I end up reading 20 unrelated articles.

    One thing I started this week is writing a to do list as soon as I wake up.

    On my days off from work I try to put together an article in the morning before kickboxing class/workout. After that I come home and do some research for future articles. The evening is spent either with girlfriend, studying, or with my little brother.

    On days that I work I pretty much only have time to wake up, finish off an article, go to the gym, and rush to work.

    What was the hardest task that you guys had to get rid of from your daily schedule? (i.e. a task that is pretty fun but very time consuming)

  8. Working in a creative capacity, and working from home, makes time management crucial. It may not be as much in an office environment where you have a routine to fall back that naturally regulates your time. Being creative means literally creating something that doesn’t exist. As spacey as that can seem to the outsider, it actually requires more discipline than having a job with a proscribed set of responsibilities.

    Trent–You seem to have a naturally very busy mind. Does that create more time management issues or is it mostly an advantage???

  9. alex says:

    Trent, you contradict yourself there. Time is NOT money, because we have an unlimited amount of money- you can always print more- but have only a finite limit of time. This makes time MUCH more valuable than money.

  10. teri says:

    I hope we are aiming for 56 hours of sleep (8 hours a night times 7 nights) rather than 48 (only 6 nights). Sleep is an important part of our lives–it’s a time for the body to repair itself, the mind to refresh (or work through issues, as often happens in dreams), and to prepare to face the onslaught of body-killing things we run into in any given day. It means healthier immune systems, better emotional/spiritual capacity, easier weight control, and ultimately more productivity (not to mention the usual longer life/better health).
    I know sleeping often feels like wasting time, but it isn’t. I also know many of us sleep many fewer than 8 hours a night, but research keeps telling us over and over and over to work toward that 8 hour mark.

  11. I totally agree with #1. When I start my day out with some planning, things go SO much better.

  12. DB Cooper says:

    One of my favorite songs, and one that almost always makes me realize I waste too much time…

    “Ticking away the moments
    that make up a dull day
    Fritter and waste the hours
    in an offhand way
    Kicking around on a piece of ground
    in your home town
    Waiting for someone or something
    to show you the way

    Tired of lying in the sunshine
    staying home to watch the rain
    And you are young and life is long
    and there is time to kill today
    And then one day you find
    ten years have got behind you
    No one told you when to run,
    you missed the starting gun

    And you run and you run
    to catch up with the sun, but it’s sinking
    Racing around to come up behind you again
    The sun is the same in a relative way,
    but you’re older
    Shorter of breath
    and one day closer to death

    Every year is getting shorter,
    never seem to find the time
    Plans that either come to naught
    or half a page of scribbled lines
    Hanging on in quiet desperation
    is the English way
    The time is gone,
    the song is over,
    thought I’d something more to say”

    -Pink Floyd
    from Dark Side of the Moon

  13. Using precious time wisely is an important topic. Thanks for good ideas. Some additional tricks I find useful:

    1. Set a kitchen timer for how long you want to finish a task by. This helps you keep a task within the time that it’s worth spending on it.

    2. Ask “What will I NOT do.”, Not just “What will I do?” When you start a task, what are the ways you’ll be prone to making it take longer? Then refuse to do those things.

    3. Plan something fun or profound at the end. If you have something exciting you’re trying to finish up for, you’ll be more motivated to wrap things up. (For example, not just “spend time with the kids” but, “build a fort with the kids!”)

    4. Use your time waiting time wisely. Take a look at my new post: “6 Ways to Blow Your Mind when you’re Stuck in Line

    To Time Well Spent!

  14. Jimy Shah says:

    Nice article. I have been wanting to start exploring meditation but never got a start. I am going to start it today.

    I am starting many things, after reading your blog, which I wanted to start but never got the motivation to start. Like meditation, keeping personal finance record, grocery shopping list etc. Thanks for writing such simple yet inspiring blogs. The content is just perfect to motivate and not let things go over the top.

  15. Robyn says:

    I was getting caught up in this post then realized I need to stop and go make some vermicomposting bags for my shop! Not that reading tsd is wasting time – it’s not! I always learn something ;)

  16. Paul says:

    I’d argue that time isn’t money. Money is time sure, but not vice versa. I can turn my time into money, but not the other way around. I can’t buy buy back time I haven’t spent with my family and friends because I’ve been working.

  17. Gini says:

    I only one person was motivated by this article then it was a success. From what I have read it has accomplished it’s job. I know I have been motivated to get organized. Ergo,”Successful.”!

  18. Robert says:

    One thing that I personally do everyday to save time and increase my energy is start my morning with a “success ritual.” I wake up, eat a really healthy breakfast, drink 16 ounces of water, workout, and do some meditation. Then I organize and prioritize everything I need to do for that day, focusing on only one thing at a time and turning off any distractions (cell phone, facebook, email alerts) while I’m working. Plus I try to take regular, scheduled breaks throughout the day to rejuvenate and recharge.

  19. Anuj Joshi says:

    “Start your day off with some planning”
    Yes that’s a great way to organize the day’s routine.I have read that so many times in books related to personal development.But I always find it so difficult to keep the discipline going beyond a week.Leading a disciplined life saves a lot of time thus saves money.

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