How often do you sit in a meeting, finish a movie, or finally get to the front of a shopping line and think, “Well, that was a waste of time”?
I just read a good article from the Harvard Business Review on common time investment mistakes by Time Management Coach and Trainer, Elizabeth Saunders. Saunders has a unique job: she works with people to completely change how they spend (or rather, invest) their time. She has some good ideas on how to avoid wasting your time and has a new book out called How to Invest Your Time Like Money, which I’m looking forward to reading.
Her article contains the following list of time investment mistakes. You’ve heard them before, but they are a good reminder of what we shouldn’t be doing.
Time Investment Mistakes
- Not paying attention: Know where you spend your time.
- Letting others steal your time: You don’t have to go to that meeting or see that acquaintance.
- Deprioritizing family and friends: It’s worth the effort to see those you really care about.
- Skipping vacations: More about this later.
- Neglecting your health: A no-brainer, yet this is tough for us in the United States because we don’t have a good health culture.
- Wasting time to save money: Sometimes it pays to pay for something.
- Never knowing yourself: Pay attention to what you want to do.
I’m sharing this because these reminders came at a really good time for me. I’ve been trying to plan a 10th Anniversary vacation for my husband and I this year; the first vacation without kids in nearly five years. What would have been a simple trip pre-kids, has quickly become a logistical nightmare to get the kids to Grandma’s with enough money and time left over to enjoy the trip. I was about to give up when I read this article and realized that we really do need to make this time investment in our marriage. It may cost us up front, but it will pay dividends later in memories and our health too.
How to Start Investing
My favorite time management trick is to pay yourself first. Block time first thing in the morning – before you even check emails – to do your most important thing. If you’re useless in the morning, then block time during your favorite time of day to do something you care about. Maybe that’s spending time with your kids or working on a conference submission. Maybe it’s exercising or meditating or writing. Whatever it is that day, make the time to do it. The investment will be well worth your time.
Bonus Article & Tip: As I was researching Saunders work, I came across another article on Inc.com about what extraordinary time managers do, including lose the perfectionism and ruthlessly prioritize. Love it!
In the first few months of my career, when my husband and I were fresh out of college, a dual income family without kids, I put only enough money into my 401(k) to get my company match, which was 6% at the time. As a software engineer going from my $8-an-hour job in the campus computer labs to an entry-level, salaried engineering position, it felt like we’d won the lottery. We were rich!
I quickly became very interested in saving more. Time, with its magical compounding interest, was on our side and I wanted the option to retire early. Now was the perfect opportunity to start saving more – and we did – but we were saving to buy things we thought we needed like a second car and a house.
When I got my first raise, I did something that many savings experts suggest and I’ll be very thankful for when I turn 59 and 1/2. I formed a habit that I’ve kept up to this day.
Every time I get a raise, I raise my retirement savings at least 1%. Next time I get a raise, I’ll save 50-100%.
This way, no matter what is going on with our finances, we sneakily increase savings on a regular basis. The additional money is pulled directly out of my paycheck so I don’t notice the increase and I still enjoy the feeling of getting a raise in take-home pay. My first raise was around 3.5%. So, I increased my 401(k) savings to 7% and still made an extra 2.5% take-home. It’s easier to save when you never had the money to spend in the first place.
I’ve been doing this for almost 10 years. Sometimes I don’t get raises (like when we have historic economic collapses), but I’m up to 12% going directly into the 401(k) and we’ve also got Roth IRAs.
We’ve moved funds around and had them split almost evenly between Roth and traditional accounts (not knowing whether we’ll be in a higher or lower tax bracket in 25-30 years). This month, I decided to move more money to a pre-tax account so we could have a bit more in our paychecks to save outside of a retirement account (it made a huge difference – I’m getting $60 extra each paycheck). I’m not worried about recalibrating back to the 50/50 Roth/traditional split because every time I get a raise, I’ll increase our Roth contributions by at least 1% until we’re balanced. It’s a simple trick that takes one minute to accomplish each year and we’ll reap the benefits later.
We all know the “pay yourself first” rule when it comes to budgeting and that’s a spectacular practice to follow. Now, extend it to your time. One of the best productivity tricks in the world is to spend the first hour of your day doing your most important task.
Before you check email, pick the most important task you have today and do it.
This rule was highlighted in the book, Eat That Frog!: 21 Ways to Stop Procrastinating and Get More Done in Less Time. Block the first hour or two on your calendar every day and train yourself to knock out your highest priority item. If you’re not sure what that is, pick the thing that will best drive you toward your long-term goals. Failing that, pick the task that would make you stay at work late until you finish it.
You’ll gain momentum for the rest of your day and you’ll feel amazing once your most important task is behind you.