Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Being Frugal with Time

When it comes to our family rubles, I search out signs of waste and do my best to eliminate them.  I look for ways to avoid pointless spending, and ways to better stretch our precious grocery, utility, and entertainment funds.  I optimize.

But when it comes to my time, I'm a different person.  I waste hours in front of the computer or the television.  I don't try very hard to allocate my precious hours to the most fulfilling or worthwhile activities. I procrastinate. What's up with that?

The Problem

Now that I work from home, all of my hours seem to fit into one big chunk.  I wake up, I make some coffee, clean myself up (maybe), and sit down to work.  I get some work done, take some calls, review my projects, and spend some break time looking at blogs and websites I like.  At the end of the workday, I just go to the living room and chill.  I'll make dinner.  Play with the dogs.  Watch some tv (okay, maybe three hours of tv).  Maybe I'll workout, I'll play kickball, I'll hang out with friends if it's board game night or Bachelorette Fantasy Football night.  I'll read a bit, wash up, brush my teeth, and that's the day, man.  Most days we're hanging out with someone in the evenings, so we're being social, but I wouldn't say that I'm getting a whole lot "done".  I like my job, I do things, but the stuff of my days aren't making it into my obituary.

There's something about having my whole day occur in the same place (and sometimes in the same clothes I slept in) that really puts things into context.  On some days, my whole 24 hours happen in my house, so I'm more cognizant about how I'm spending those hours than I was when I moved around from home to the office to home to the gym to home to a friends hose and back again every day.  I think the moving around made it seem like I was more busy and efficient than I really was.  Now that I've gotten rid of my commute, I'm seeing what I do with those gained hours: nothing.

What might my life might be like if I were as as diligent about tracking and allocating my time as I am when I track and allocate my dollars?

The Goal

This is a hard goal to define, because it's hard to quantify or measure.  Since I'm only going to get so much time before I, you know, die, I guess I want to stop wasting it -- to seize the day and all that.  The problem with that kind of goal is that it's an unrealistic standard: live one day like that and you're a hero.  Living every day like that just isn't going to happen. (Right?)

I need to take an incremental approach.  Instead of aiming for the Dead Poets Society standard, I just want to get better.  I want to better use my time than I do right now.

The Plan

First things first: I need a baseline.  I need to get some concrete idea of how I'm spending my time before I can improve it.  Like they say, you can't manage what you can't measure.  So I'm going to use a paper planner to chart out, hour by hour, what I'm doing, for a few weeks.  It'll be a like a budget, but for my time.  Once I've tracked my hours, I can make a plan on how to improve how I spend them.

Here are some initial ideas on what I think might work:
  • Map out goals for the week based on important roles, starting with the most important (Covey method).  Then block off time to work on each goal.
  • Follow Penelope Trunk's advice: For God's sake, do the first thing on your to do list first.
  • Use tools like Google Calendar for recurring activities that matter (calling friends, exercise, personal improvement hobbies, reading, date nights or walks with the wife), so that my phone gives an audible reminder when I should start a task.
  • Evaluate my week in retrospect: how well did my spent time match up to my stated goals?  I'll aim for an objective benchmark: e.g. - 50% of stated goals achieved.
  • Maybe, and I hate to even utter this, get rid of DirecTV.  I'm really hoping the four bullet points above get me where I need to go, so I can (within reason) still watch crap tv.
Trying to relate this back to personal finance, one of my goals is to have sufficient time to do the things I want, just like I want to have sufficient money.  They're symbiotic: I want to make enough money so, in the not too distant future, I can have more free time.  But like having sufficient money, more free time is not a goal in and of itself.  I mean, what good is all this free time if I'm just going to waste it?  Time, like money, is just a resource.  The trick is in what I do with it.

*Photo by julianlimjl at Flickr Creative Commons.


  1. I definitely like to be productive with my time but sometimes I just like to zone out after work. I love Penelope's Trunk's advice. I often make lists but don't do the first, most important thing on the list. I don't use google calendar but I do set up alerts on my phone to tell me to do certain things. As for TV, I don't have cable TV and with it being the summer there isn't anything to watch so I have no excuse for wasting my time watching it.

  2. Hi, Andrew. I find it impressive that you don't have cable, odd as that sounds. You're right: there's not much on right now. Maybe I need to suck it up and just get rid of the subscription.

  3. This is helpful. When I start working totally from home in January, I'll have to refer back to this!
    Cat @ BudgetBlonde

    1. Thanks, Cat! Please share any tips you pick up when you go virtual -- I'm new at it as well and would love any help I can get.

  4. Oh, I can totally relate. I've been working since 8 and I'm still in my pajamas! I'm not super motivated today since it's the Friday of a holiday weekend and all.

    Anyway, our lives became entirely more productive when we cancelled our cable tv subscription. Seriously. I don't turn it on for days at a time and I have a lot more time to get things done now.

    1. There's a part of me that knows you're right, Holly. The tv subscription needs to go.

  5. It sounds like you are just enjoying life a little bit more. I love data and tracking every moment of your day sounds like a smart plan. But just be sure to leave a few hours in there for unproductive things like reading and playing with your dogs! Isn't working from home the best!

    1. That's a good tip: I should leave some time for unproductive but important things like playing with the dogs, which might also be what life is all about anyway.

      I do love working from home but I think it's a bit of a test: the extra time & freedom gained is great, but I'd like to do more with it.