Photo: Sharon McCutcheon
Time is money, the old saying goes, usually said with intent to spur one to action, or criticize a lazy day of binge-watching and self-care. But if we actually treated our time the way we treat our money — as a thing of great value that we trade for the sustaining and comforting things of life — we might find more value in those “unproductive” periods.
Life goes by quickly — I can’t believe we’re already entering into summer! — and unlike money, once it’s spent, we can’t do anything to get more of it. But we can be thoughtful about how to manage what we have. Here are six ways we treat money, and lessons we can take for how to treat time as well!
If we’re lucky, we have a retirement plan through work, and every year HR sends out an email reminding us of this important benefit, and how we should be investing in our future! Money gets taken from our checks and invested into accounts that, if all goes well, will one day pay our bills when we stop working – at least in theory. The idea is that by giving up a little money now, we’ll get much more back later when we need it. We can invest our time for future returns, too!
I’m reminded of one of my favorite quotes from Gretchen Rubin, “go slow to go fast.” She recounts that when she’s in a hurry and tries to rush to get things done, inevitably some mistake is made, or some accident happens, that will then cause greater delays and slow her down even more than she originally would have been. Instead, she says, “go slow to go fast.” If you’re in a hurry, that’s the time to take a breath and be extra deliberate. Slow down, make sure that you’re not rushing through and more liable to knock something over, miss a step, or forget something important. You may be a few minutes behind, but take care, so it won’t turn into an hour!
Another good standard is the “two minute” rule. If anything needs to be done that will take two minutes or less, do it now! Those little tasks can pile up, and keeping track of everything that needs to be done can be a real drain on memory and concentration, which slows us down and takes attention (read: TIME!) away from the rest of our lives. Instead of letting little tasks pile up, just do it now, or for a bigger project you’ve been procrastinating on, set a timer and just do it for two minutes!
Investing a little time up front, saves us time in the long run.
Saving is like investing, but we’re usually not expecting to get more than what we put in. We set big goals for our money, whether it’s to buy a car, own a home, or go in a big vacation, and then try to put away a little at a time until we have enough!
Ways to save time might include flex-time or 4/10s at work, combining errands, or even spending money to pay someone else to take some things off you plate.
Many of us also have a bank of days, whether they are vacation days or PTO, that we accrue each year. Just as financial advice warns against “leaving money on the table” by not taking advantage of employer match programs for retirement accounts, you shouldn’t leave that time on the table either! Taking vacation is good for you, good for your job, and good for your time management! Even if you can’t take a long trip away, you can take one day here and there to rest, recharge, or just take care of those nagging tasks that are piling up!
Save your time for a trip, a side project, or a special day, but make sure you do spend it!
Most of us have a monthly budget, and even if we aren’t literally tracking every dollar, we have a pretty good idea of how much we have to spend in each category. The top categories are always our non-negotiable expenses, which will include some version of food, shelter, clothing, and transportation; everything else, including our precious smartphones, comes in secondary to meeting those basic needs for ourselves and our families.
Obviously, for most of us, spending time at our jobs to pay for those necessities is non-negotiable. But you may have more room for negotiation than you think! Many organizations now offer some version of flex-time, or 4/10s, or you may be able to work from home one day (or more!) a week. Many Americans border on workaholism though, and those other essential priorities get lost.
Build into your time budget the time to make delicious and healthy meals, and turn your house into a welcoming and comfortable home for yourself and your family. Take a day to make those doctor’s visits, bring old clothes to the donation center, and get the car tuned up (that isn’t just my to-do list, right?).
Recent research on spending money says that we’re generally happier if we spend on experiences rather than stuff, and when we spend on others rather than on ourselves. I would argue that the same is true of time! Boredom has been identified as a precursor for depression, and the human brain craves novelty on a regular basis. So spend your time doing new things, exploring new places, and spend your time with the people who matter to you most. Always spend the time to go to recitals, games, graduations, weddings, and funerals. These are the big, important events of our lives, and it matters that the people who love us are there for them.
And do spend time on yourself too! You spend 99-cents on an app or a piece of candy, a ringtone or to download a book. You’ll spend $5 on a latte or a lipstick or to stream a movie. Just because. Find the equivalent of a dollar in time, and treat yourself to those little moments. Just one minute of deep breathing, or two minutes of meditation, can restore calm and focus to a hectic day. Put your phone on speaker and call your mom or your best friend while you run errands. Listen to a favorite book or podcast during your commute.
Track your time or look back over your calendar and see where you can budget for those essential “fixed expenses.”
10% to charity
Most religions have some version of the tithe, which is the requirement to give a certain percentage of your income to charity. Just as important, though, are your volunteer hours! Non-profit organizations can always use a helping hand, whether it is participating in a community event, staffing a fundraiser, serving on a committee, or directly working with those they serve. In most communities, a quick online search will lead you to at least one volunteer service opportunity on any given weekend. It’s a great way to engage in new experience with your loved ones, too, if you bring the family along!
Get out of debt
Almost all of us have some debt, whether it’s a credit card, student loans, a car payment, or mortgage. It’s usually included in our non-negotiable budget items. We can owe time, too. When was the last time you called your mom, or your best friend? When was the last time you got a solid eight hours of sleep? Or got to workout? Or had a date night? Call a sitter, leave work early, cash in a vacation day. This is your life, make sure you’re living it!
That other old saying is that only two things are certain in life: death and taxes. If you’re able to, register to vote, find out where your polling place is, and go do your civic duty!
The top five regrets of those at the end of life consistently have to do with how they spent their time, and we often have more choice and flexibility about how we spend this very precious resource than we realize. Treating time like money may not make us any less busy, but it may well guide us to making the more personally meaningful choices about where we spend it.
Kiyomi Appleton Gaines writes about work, life, culture, and fairy tales. Read more at a work of heart and follow @ThatKiyomi on Twitter