When it comes to financial independence we're always looking at how to more efficiently budget and spend our money. We look at every little nook and cranny in order to maximise our savings rate, and we sometimes force ourselves to go through incredible frugality all in the name of an eventual better life. But what about the way we spend our other precious commodity... how can we more efficiently budget and spend our time?
Everybody in the world has 24 hours each day yet some people achieve vast amounts more than others. While some of these ultra-achieving people are blessed with great focus, having money, and are willing to go to the extremes such as only sleeping for a few hours each night, much of their success actually comes down to being really deliberate with how they spend their time. If the common person were to be similarly deliberate by budgeting their time, it turns out that they could also achieve a huge amount for themselves. Ultimately, the reason for being money-poor or time-poor comes down to the same thing; spending unwisely.
Sleep: 8 Hours
Sleep is really important for our long term health, both physically and mentally, so it obviously gets the first mention.
All too often you hear about top entrepreneurs only sleeping for something like 4 hours a night and spending the remaining 20 on work. But let's be honest, their limited sleeping hours isn't the sole reason for their success; most of it is down to their focus, purpose, and discipline in what they're dedicating their life towards achieving.
In other words, just mimicking their sleep deprivation isn't going to get you the same results... so don't mimic.
Only when you've learnt how to make your sleep cycle an effective base for the rest of your schedule should you think about doing what hyper-productive entrepreneurs do.
Put 8 full hours of sleep in your weekday time budget so that you're waking up the next day with a proper night's rest and the right amount of energy to spend. Once you've read the rest of this budget you'll realise that you'll still have plenty of time in your day to get things done.
Don't have enough time for 8 hours sleep?
Stop scrolling through social media.
Stop watching television or browsing online videos.
Stop going to sleep late because you think it's too early (like 10pm) and you don't want to "lose" the rest of your evening.
While there might be legitimate reasons for some people not being able to get a full 8 hours as suggested, maybe they have young children to take care of and so forth, for many of us this simply isn't the case.
We're just wasting our sleeping hours by doing meaningless things in our evenings that serve little purpose towards our long term success.
Work: 8 Hours + 1 Hour of commuting
We might all want financial independence but, until we reach it, work will play a big part of our weekday schedules for a number of years to come. It's what brings in the income while we work on breaking free from the rat race.
Our jobs will typically have scheduled working hours, 9 to 5 for example. But that doesn't mean we shouldn't be budgeting our time for work. My suggestion is 8 hours, plus an extra hour for commuting.
By setting a budget for your working time you start to draw clearer boundaries on what you should be doing with that time. It also allows you to realise if there's something you should be trying to change in your work environment, be that yourself or the place you're working in.
Not enough time to fit in all the work you need to do?
Well firstly, if you're someone yearning for financial independence then you have you ask why you need to do so much work.
There are going to be legitimate reasons, like with anything, but if you're not clear on what those are then you're really just making excuses for not taking control of your time.
It's not enough to say "there's so much work to get through in a day".
Are you actually wasting a whole load of time doing pointless things that don't achieve your objectives, causing you to work more time than you need to?
Here are some prime suspects: Immediately responding to e-mails, allowing other people to interrupt your work by asking for favours, trying to multi-task, attending too many meetings, lacking an effective way to self-manage your to-do list.
Everyone is able to be busy, but not everyone is able to be productive and effective.
But I work 10 hour shifts?
Fine, I understand that not everyone is going to be working a 9 to 5, but there should be some sort of counter-balance to a longer shift. For example maybe you only work 4 days instead of 5.
In such cases you can adjust your time-budget accordingly so that you can still fit everything else in. After all, you have a third day off from work each week to catch up on the things you missed.
My commute is more than an hour a day.
Sometimes the commute is a limitation due to our circumstances, but in this day and age it should be more possible to get flexible working arrangements. Maybe a day a week working from home, or a flexible schedule where you show up a little later and leave a little earlier in order to make the time fit your schedule.
In exchange for that flexibility however, you offer more productivity and effectiveness in the shortened time-frame where you're working.
If none of that is available, then you want to consider if there are more suitable jobs elsewhere. Staying and believing you have no other choice is often a self-imposed limitation, especially if you're doing nothing each day to change that situation.
It may take a few months or even more than a year. But if you're taking small actions every day you'll eventually be able to have a work environment that better fits your time budget.
Learn: 1 hour
Read a book, draw some art, learn some words of a new language, cook a new recipe, write a poem, perfect a tennis serve, code a simple program, practice some salsa steps.
Whenever we think or talk about learning we often equate it to the same old mundane schooling that we suffered through as kids, and that discourages us from doing any further self-development.
But learning can come in various forms, with certain approaches or styles better suited to us than others.
Pick something you're interested in and spend an hour a day learning it. Don't rush. Be deliberate.
The hour your spend is equivalent to tiny investments that you build up and compound over time, ultimately becoming a great asset in your personal wealth.
Can't find enough time for an hour of learning?
The reason I told you to get to sleep earlier is so that you can wake up earlier.
If you start work at 9am and it takes about 45 minutes to commute in, plus 15 minutes to get ready, then you have about an hour each morning if you wake up at 7am.
Spend it learning.
Obviously do so sensibly, you wouldn't bake a new crumble that early in the morning... but you can do many things such as read a book, learn some new words in a language, or code a simple function in a programming language.
Still not enough time?
Then just do half an hour, or combine it with your commute time.
Listen to audio books. Listen to instruction videos. Listen to conversations in the language you're learning.
Don't listen to the radio or music, wishing you were still asleep in your bed.
And then put some of it to practice when you do have some time in the evenings or on the weekend.
Exercise: 1 hour
Work on both your mind and body. I am someone who believes you should spend an equal amount of time exercising as you do learning.
Much of this is going to be light exercise such as stretching, walking, or doing bodyweight movements such as press-ups and sit-ups.
But mix in a couple of harder and heavier sessions throughout the week. A day for squats, a day for deadlifts, and a day for bench-pressing. Or, if you're not into weights, do some running, cycling or swimming.
By doing regular exercise each day and finding a good balance between intense and lighter sessions, you'll not only find yourself with a stronger and healthier body but also a stronger and healthier mind.
Don't have enough time to exercise?
I already mentioned you could fit in an hour of learning if you woke up at 7am. If you wake up at 6am, meaning you're going to sleep at 10pm the previous night, then you'll be able to fit in the workout at home.
It's not like you're training to be the next gladiator, so don't make excuses by thinking you have to be at a gym with all of the heavy equipment or facilities.
Just have some basic weights at home and a yoga mat, or put on some running shoes, and use those to get a bit of a sweat on.
That's really all you need, because it'll be more than what most other people are doing.
Cooking and Eating: 1 hour
We often make ourselves so busy that we leave little to no time for good nutrition. We end up spending money on getting take-out, or simply heating up a ready-made meal in the microwave.
Or we just go with processed foods that's quick and easy to put together.
Needless to say, this is not going to bring you any long term benefits in terms of your health or your money.
And regardless of if you "have time" or not, you still need to eat. Which means it's important that you properly budget some of your time towards it.
An hour each day is all you really need.
With an hour each day you'll eventually learn how to be efficient with your food preparation so that you're not spending a huge amount of time simply cutting onions or waiting for the water to boil.
Don't have enough time to cook?
Think ahead when cooking and try to prepare meals for the next day or next few days. Then use the hour time-slot on those days to do more preparation so that you have a bunch of ingredients ready to use for the day where you need to cook again.
Bit by bit you will get ahead of schedule so that you have a healthy time buffer which means you can actually spend more time eating.
This mostly applies to dinner.
For breakfast you can always put the coffee on while you're learning, or have it brewing while exercising.
And the 8 hours you've scheduled for work should include time for lunch.
Family Time: 1 hour
If you're in a relationship or have kids, or your parents are still around, dedicate an hour of your day to them.
Talk about their day, what made it interesting, what made them happy, what made them sad.
Our lives are often so busy that we forget to be present with our family, often leaving them by the wayside. We're only half focused whenever they chat with us, as though the world inside our phones or whatever screen we're looking at is actually more important.
But it isn't.
Disconnect with technology.
Then reconnect with family members.
Obviously if you need to use technology to get in touch with family because they live in a different city then do so. The whole point is that you're spending your time with them.
When you have a great relationship with your family, what's going on in the rest of the world doesn't matter too much. At least not in those precious moments.
There'll come a day where you wish you had more.
Don't have enough time to spend with family?
Firstly you need to wake up.
If you don't have enough time for your family you really need to take a long hard look at everything else that's consuming your time, and making a decision on what you need to get rid of.
But if you really find it hard to let go of those other things, then you have three easy options to combine family time with.
You can learn something together, which would count as your hour of learning.
You could go for a walk after dinner together, which would count as your hour of exercise.
Or you could cook and eat together.
Whatever the circumstances, to me it appears difficult not to have at least an hour of your day for family.
Self Reflection: 1 hour
If you never leave time for self reflection you'll eventually discover that you've become a bit of a stranger to yourself.
You'll forget your life's ambitions, what you wanted to see, what you wanted to do, what you wanted to stand for, and who you truly are as a person.
And this is all too easy a trap to fall into.
I'm not saying you need to be someone who does lots of big things in life in order for it to be "worth living", because you might be completely happy with just a few simple things.
But I do think a large majority of people shuffle through life aimlessly, counting down the days, with no real end purpose to it all.
They do the things they do purely based on how society and their life's environment has pushed and pulled them over time.
So set aside some alone time where you can really focus on reconnecting with yourself, and have internal conversations.
There might not be always be something to discuss and you could simply enjoy the moment where you're beholden to nobody else. But very often in these self reflective moments will you discover the things that you're not entirely satisfied with in life, and come to realise that you are the only one who can do something to improve it.
Don't have enough time to self reflect?
If you're not able to dedicate even a little bit of time to yourself, then are you really living?
I truly believe that the only reason you don't have time to self reflect is because you're wasting time on other meaningless things. The very same things that are stopping you from getting enough sleep.
But if you truly don't have an hour, then give yourself 15 minutes.
The same 15 minutes you spend in the shower, or while you're exercising alone, or while you stop for a coffee break at work.
The time is there, you simply need to make it.
Miscellaneous Tasks: 1 hour
Life will always have little errands that you need to run or tasks you need to do, and it's impossible to avoid them all.
You'll need to shop for groceries at some point.
You'll need to take the kids to school and pick them up.
You'll need to shower or go to the bathroom (Yes, you should budget time for this also).
Go to the bank, post mail, clean the house, go to the doctors, meet with teachers, take the car to the mechanics, find a plumber, paint the fence, mow the lawn.
The list could be endless and on some days there'll be more tasks than others. So just plan an hour of your day dealing with these.
Not enough time to fit in all the tasks you need to do?
Similar to work, people will rarely not spend time on miscellaneous tasks. They might complain about having no time to do so, but in reality they'll spend more time than they need to.
If anything, work and miscellaneous tasks are probably two of the main causes for people not having enough time for anything else. Personally I'm pretty sure too much time wasted on "doing nothing" is somewhere in the mix but anyways...
The point is that people let these sorts of tasks take over their time, leaving little leftover for anything else. But there comes a point where being busy with tasks is no longer the same as being productive with tasks.
Prioritise, plan, and perform.
If you have too many tasks to do today: What actually needs to be done today and what can be done tomorrow instead?
If you have tasks to do but none of them feel urgent: Pick one or two and just get them done, it'll make your overall schedule less hectic in the future.
There's going to be times where you can't plan ahead, like the tap suddenly leaking heavily.
But if you have an hour each weekday to do various miscellaneous tasks, you basically have about 5 hours a week to get it all done. Surely that's enough to let you stay in control so that they don't eat into the rest of your day...
Free Time: 1 hour
After all's said and done you still have an hour of free time left in your day.
To be clear, this is after 8 hours of sleep, 8 hours of work, an hour of commute, an hour to learn, an hour of exercise, an hour for cooking and eating, an hour with the family, an hour to self reflect, and an hour for miscellaneous tasks.
This is the time where you're allowed to watch television, or play some video games, or listen to music, or read a novel.
This is the time where you catch up on social media and reply to messages from your friends.
This is the time you can simply sit down and do nothing to relax.
Because if you get through everything else in your time-budget you'll know you've certainly earned the free time.
Like I said at the start of this article, you never needed to sacrifice your sleep in order to be effective at work, get in some self development, and have free time left over.
You only needed to have a clear budget for your time and follow it.
Life Is Imperfect (Final Scribbles)
Here's the thing about budgets; on paper they look perfect and easy, but in reality we all know that's not the case. Life simply isn't that predictable or perfect over the long run.
With a money budget we sometimes have unexpected spends that take us over, or we slip up a little and buy something we didn't really need. Maybe we ordered a pizza once too often in the month which meant we went above our budget for take-out food.
With a time budget the same sorts of things will happen. We'll end up working late, we'll get stuck in traffic, we'll need to queue for an hour at the bank, or queue for the squat rack at the gym. Or, maybe that series was just too addictive and we watched an extra two episodes.
That's all right. That's normal. That's human.
When you overspend on a money budget, what do you do?
So do the same with your time budget.
Half an hour of learning, half an hour of exercise, half an hour of self reflection, half an hour of family time. This would mean you get an extra 2 hours of time back into your budget to spend in other areas if you really needed to.
It may be less time that what I'm recommending, but it's certainly better than nothing which is what most people out there are "investing" in terms of their time.
And if you invest nothing, you'll almost certainly get nothing in return.