No, I am not talking about monetary budget.
Of course, keeping an eye on how you spend your money is important. But people often feel the pain when they overspend. The feedback is immediate. They have to act or suffer the pain of insolvency.
What budgets I am talking about today are time and attention. These are the resources that people often lavish while they should be stingy with them. It's easy to see if you are overspending money but it is not so obvious that you are wasting your time.
In fact, how you spend these resources is the biggest factors that makes you a successful person or a punk.
Wasting an hour a day on computer game or social media does not make you insolvent in a day or a month. But this creates a bad habit that when you add up over a long term, it affects your ability to achieve meaningful work.
Everyone has the same amount of time everyday. This is the only equality that God can guarantee. It does not matter if it is Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos or a person from a rural area, everyone has the same amount of time. Yet, no two persons spend them in the same way.
Unlike money, you cannot earn your time back. A dollar spent can be earnt by various way but a second spent will never be earnt back. And because time is a resource that no one can bring it back, lots of people regret wasting their time in their youth. How many time do you hear people saying: "I wish I did this when I was ...."?
Since you cannot earn your time back, you have to spend this finite valuable resources on things that matter to you the most.
The root of time wasting activities is bad habits. They might look harmless at the beginning. A minute social media break from work seems to be a reasonable thing to do until it becomes a repeated behavior that distract your concentration.
You probably are not going to get rid of your bad habit but being mindful about the time constraints makes you think twice when you are spending time on trivial things.
How do I get my time back? There is no way to get your lost time back but there are many ways to create meaningful time in the future.
Step 1: Be mindful that you are wasting your time
The first step to fix a problem is to acknowledge that you have a problem and identify the problem. If you are wasting your time on social media, gaming or porn you have to be self-aware of these habits. It does not help you fix the problem yet but it is an important step.
Lots of people even do not know that they are wasting their time on something. They never review how they spend their time every day. All of the actions occur like a scheduled program.
This is the result of formed habit. When a behavior becomes a habit, you do it automatically without thinking about it. The first time you brushed your teeth, you had to concentrate to do it correctly. Now you can do it while your mind is on other things. The same principle applies to browsing social media.
Sit down and think about how you spent your time last week or last month. It's best to have some kind of time tracking but if you don't want to install them, have a reasonable estimate of how much time you spend on each activity.
Here is an example:
- Wake up at 7am. Check Facebook messages till 7:15.
- 7:15 - 8:00. Brush teeth & breakfast.
- 8:00 - 9:00: commute
- 9:00-6:00pm: work (which should be broken down more)
- 6:0pm - 8:00: dinner with friends
- 8:00 - 10:00: Netflix & relax (or drink)
- 10:30pm: sleep
Your time breakdown should be more details than above but you have a high level view of what activities you have in a day. Identify activities that you can get rid of to make rooms for more important ones. Compress activities that are not important to get open space.
For example, you want to start reading with a schedule above you can move checking Facebook till the end of day instead of morning. That saves you 15 minutes. Wake up 15 minutes earlier add another 15 minutes. Prepare your breakfast from last night to save you another 15 minutes. Now you have 45 minutes for reading in the morning.
Make a list of things that are important to you the most. Keep this list as short as possible since you will not have enough time and mental strength for a long list. Put that list on the back of your conscious mind that makes you pause and think before you spend time on any other activities.
Step 2: Getting rid of bad habits you identify in step 1
Now we know that the root cause of wasting time is bad habits. But removing bad habits is a lot more difficult than it sounds. Most people struggle at this step. No wonder why motivational sessions & workshops are so popular.
To save your time, here is a few common methods to fight bad habits and build good habits that I gather:
- Personal commitment: Tell someone that is close to you (either your spouse or your close friends that do not judge you) that you want to get rid of/build up a habit and you want them to be your tracker. When you tell someone that you are doing something, you have more obligation to do it. And since you are the person who initiate the commitment, not someone tell you to do so, you have to take the responsibility if you fail to deliver
- Make it hard or impossible to do: A few years ago, when I noticed that I was spending too much time on gaming, I decided to reset password of my game account to a random password and changed login email to a different one. Since I did not know the password and not control the login email, I could not login my game account.
If you want to limit social media usage, tell someone to change your password every week and only gives it to you on Friday night. If anyone wants to contact you on urgent basis, tell them to call you or at least send a SMS.
- Make it easy for good habit: Lots of people go to gym after hearing motivational speeches but quickly quit after that. Why? Because act of walking/driving to a gym and exercise for 40 minutes is beyond their mental strength is maintain regularly.
The key to building good habits is consistency and not intensity. Intensity will come later once you form a habit. This is actually an easy part since you already get hooked to the activity. The hard part is building consistency. To do that reduces your intensity at the beginning.
Instead of reading a book/half a book, read only a page or few pages. Instead of going to gym, just put on your shoes and walk around your block. Instead of building an entire program, just write 10 lines of code. But make sure you do it everyday. Don't break your streak.
Anyone can do this without much mental strength. The goal is to build your momentum of doing something. When an activity is repeated, your brain is wired to do it without using will power. Your habit is formed. Increasing intensity is an easy part and I leave it for you.
Step 3: Be creative on how you can save your time
If you are still time deprived after trying all the method above, you might want to be creative and come up with new ways to save more time. Here are a few tips that buy back time.
- Outsource menial tasks: Calculate your hourly income rate and outsource tasks that cost you significantly below your hourly rate. This can ranging from hiring someone to pick up food to hiring someone on Upwork with skills you don't have. Reinvest your saved time to get more income or return in the long run.
If you are a college students, this might not be an option for you. However, if you are earning more than 100k/year, you should use money to buy time back since you can always earn your money back. It's a no brainer.
- Question if everything you do is the most effective way to do it: if commuting takes you more than one hour each day, propose with your boss with your boss to work from home once per week.
Work hard on this day to show your team that you can get more things done while working remotely. Saving more than 1 hour of commute not only saves your time but also your mental strength.
Look around for activities you do and check if you can improve its efficiency. Focus on the output of your work instead of time you spent on it. When you cut down time on something, it means more time you can take advantage of.
- Set deadline to most of your activities and stick with it. A bad product launched is better than a perfect never-launched product. Don't seek perfection since it will drag on for ages. Finish your activity in the allocated budget and move on. Life has many important things to care about. You will get better in the next iteration.
Being stingy with your time is a blunt way to create a meaningful life. You have only 70 or 80 years of your life in billions of years of the Universe. Your time does not matter to others and to this Universe. It only matters to you.
The moment you realize that you cannot get any lost time back, it's the moment you become a different person. You want to do things you care about and not to satisfy other's need. Time budgeting is more about transformation of mindset than its actual mechanism.
In the second post, I want to discuss our attention budget. Even you have time to do something, your ability to focus varies differently. Having an appropriate moment of focus might affect the output of your work.