My friend Sydney posted a heartbreaking story this week about a man he met on an airplane. The man had recently lost his wife to pancreatic cancer. They had planned their retirement together and now she was gone. He told Sydney, “all I have now is this money that I don’t need.” Devastating.
What Sydney’s story illuminates is a truth I think many of us ignore because it makes us focus on our mortality: we don’t have much time in this world.
My biggest fears in life are outliving Mrs. Lott or leaving her unprepared for life without me. This story hit very close to home for me as my wife and I have gotten very serious about our finances and have been putting away a decent amount of money for our old age. But we’ve also been short on time for each other and have really been skimping on fun the last few months.
Another anxiety I have is not getting my own creative work done. After coming home from a hard day at the copy mines, I often just want to relax and watch Vikings. This is exactly what you shouldn’t do if you want to achieve anything worthwhile.
All of the above issues are made worse by misspending time. Though it’s hard for me to imagine having more money than I need, the man on the plane’s life reveals the truth that all we really have is time and it’s so valuable we should be in absolute terror of misspending any of it.
What I’ve been working on lately is a time budget. With my regular financial budget I get to tell my money what to do instead of letting it fly out of my account without attention. When you put your focus on something, you’ll naturally conserve it a bit.
The first step in making a time budget is taking a real hard look at what you do in a day. For instance, I get about six hours of sleep. I’m at work for at least 8 hours a day. My commute runs 30 minutes total, per day. Walking and feeding the dogs takes an hour of my day (thanks for the help Mrs. Lott). I’m ashamed to admit how much time I spend dicking around on the internet when I get home.
Once you have a pretty good idea where your time is going, you have to figure out what your goals are. Start by figuring out what you’d like to be doing on an ideal day. Here’s a quick glimpse of my first draft:
- Read 4 hours and write 4 hours, total 8 hours (I got this from Stephen King’s essential book, On Writing).
- Martial Arts class, 1.5 hours
- Weight training/Crossfit, 1.5 hours
- Sleep, 7 hours (6 is working for me, but 7 would be better)
- Eating, 2 hours (this includes all meals and snacking)
That leaves me with about 4 hours. You’ll notice here that I don’t include a job. In my fantasy schedule, I’m researching and writing for a living. If you were to drop in an eight hour work day in there I’d be at a four hour deficit (my version of a Tim Ferris book, I guess). This means I’d have to give up something I enjoy, which is what adulthood is all about.
This doesn’t included any time with friends. It doesn’t account for the insane amounts of bullshit my wife adds to my plate. It doesn’t include any freelance copywriting. It assumes nothing goes wrong. Something clearly has to give. There is simply no room for waste if I want to live the life I’m interested in living. There is no Pokemon GO time. There is no hours of arguing on the internet time. There is no time for power watching Netflix.
I enjoy all of those diversions immensely (except Pokemon, fuck that), but when I lay them out on paper against what I wish I was doing, they seem very unappealing. There’s nothing really standing in the way of me living the exact life I want, except my own time management and a very minor amount of financial achievement (I’ll do another post on lifestyle design soon).
So what to do? Take a look at your time and ruthlessly remove anything that’s wasting it. When I did my first budget years ago I realized I was spending $175 a month on cigarettes and about $200 on coffee. That was the amount I needed each month for the motorcycle I wanted (back when I was down with making payments and not paying cash). I quit smoking and started making coffee at home. Then I fucking got that motorcycle.
It’s that simple.