Time and Money Goals, Aligned

There are productive things I could be doing instead of _____.  Many things fit in that blank: watching sports, Facebook, sleeping.  But there are also things that might not be a productive use of my time, and they cost money, too.  I’m talking about going out to bars or restaurants, taking trips on the weekends, or other things of similar nature.  I definitely wouldn’t characterize these as time wasters – I like doing all of these things and spending time socializing.  But they can also get expensive and detract not only from my bank account but also from my future goals.

I enjoyed my trip to the Berkshires last weekend, and I’m sure I’ll have fun in NYC this weekend.  But I’m still longing for more time to develop my personal skills and projects that align with my long-term goals.  There needs to be balance.

Strategy: Minimize social activity during the most productive times, but maximize fun when least productive.

Lately, I’ve really buckled down with my time management and started saying “no” to activities that suck up otherwise-productive time. I could easily be talked into going out for drinks on a Wednesday night if I have nothing important to do.  But the fact is, I have things I want to do.  My goals and ambitions to launch an empire based on this blog and freelancing is going to take a lot of time.  In Karol Gajda‘s How to Live Anywhere, he says to get rid of all distractions during periods of intense work.  I’m not talking about skipping my mom’s birthday here.  But partying it up on a Wednesday is a small sacrifice, especially considering I do fun things almost every Friday and Saturday night. The weekend nights are when I know I have the smallest chance of getting work done.  Unless I have something super-important to do, I’ll happily concede Friday and Saturday nights to fun.

I’ve realized that my time goals also keep my financial goals in balance.  By passing on Wednesday night beers, I’ve not only banked the time, but I’ve also saved $20.  Even more importantly, I can even add a third degree of greatness to the equation: with the saved time, I’ve advanced towards a better financial future, even if it’s only in the slightest degree.

I don’t think anyone should give up their entire social life for any kind of financial gain (that’s miserable).  But I think just about everyone could use a little more balance.

What could you do if you converted 10 hours a week from areas that don’t really improve your life and instead focused on making money or other financial goals?  Could you start a side business like freelance writing or web design? Could you improve your personal budget and spending habits by reading Dave Ramsey or Get Rich Slowly? I know we’re all “busy” but 10 hours is nothing – it’s one hour each weekday and then five hours over the whole weekend.  I’m convinced it’s going to take at least this much time to get out of the rat-race world and live a life that I find fulfilling.

Next time you’re invited out for a midweek adventure, think about how much it’s really worth to you.  Success in your long-term goals might just be dependent on these choices.

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photo by: gogoloopie

Top Five Wasters of Time AND Money

time-money-wastersAs I typed away on my first blog posts in January, my (now-former) roommates sat out in the living room playing hours of video games. They had three game systems and about 40 games in our apartment, so they never seemed to get bored of their options. As I watched them sit and play night after night, I couldn’t help but think of the amount of money and time that is wasted by stuff like video games. These types of things not only suck up time, but you have to spend money to do them at the same time.

Video games are expensive, with systems costing up to $400,  single games up to $60, and other add-ons that can take costs into the thousands. Video games can also be incredibly addictive, with some World of Warcraft players ending up in rehab for gamers (yes, that exists now).  It’s very easy to lose track on time while playing, too.  I bought a Playstation 3 a few years ago.  While I enjoyed it, I soon realized how much time I spent playing it. I ended up selling it after owning it for less than a year.

While this isn’t meant to be an all-out assault on video games or other things we do for pleasure, I think most would agree that video games are money and time wasters. Here are some other things we buy (and do) that cost a lot of  money and time.

Online shopping

Online shopping is often easier and cheaper than going to the store, but there are still downsides.  In my experience, online shopping leads to more impulse buying.  On a whim, I can simply jump on to Amazon.com and make a purchase any time of day.

From the time side of online shopping, I’ll get caught up in trying to find the best deals. I could browse shoes at Zappos for hours.  Once I find a shoe I like, I check other online shoe websites to compare prices and see if I can get a better deal.  I then search Google for coupon codes to use on the websites.  A lot of times I won’t even end up buying anything after getting frustrated because it’s taking so long to find the perfect purchasing opportunity.

Going out to bars

Don’t get me wrong: I love going out for a drink with friends as much as anyone.  But I have an issue when it becomes too frequent.  I don’t think anyone will argue that drinks are 2-5 times more expensive at a bar than when enjoyed at home.  Cover charges and tipping add on to the cost, too. Besides the money, going out for drinks always takes more time than I originally plan for.  I get talked into staying longer.  I drink more than I originally wanted to. I stay up later at night. I don’t feel like working after having a few drinks. Yes, it’s fun, but ultimately it costs me time towards working on other things that I want to do.


Commuting isn’t the same as purchasing an item, but it can still be really expensive.  Driving to and from work has always been my least favorite part of the work day, and I’ve decided that I never want to spend two hours of my day in a car.  Driving 25 miles each way to a job can cost $150 a month on fuel alone. Besides the gas, there’s really no safe way to be productive while driving a car.  It’s basically a time sink and an easy way to lose 7-10 hours of free time a week.


Closely related to video games, television attracts even more people.  Cable is ridiculously expensive.  The average customer pays $75 a month, with some people paying over $100.  If you invested instead of paying for cable, you’d have a huge pot of money (and probably a much smaller gut) at age 65.  Combine the price with the average American who watches almost 3 hours of television per day, and television takes the prize as the most damaging double-waster of all.

I understand that no one is productive 100% of the time, and we all need downtime for rest.  I think all of these activities are perfectly fine in moderation.  It’s when they’re taken to an extreme that they really get expensive and stand in the way of goals, too.

Do you have any time and money wasters to add to this list?

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photo by: Rebecca Pollard

The ‘One Touch’ Time Management Strategy: Cutting Down the Little Tasks

one_touch_time_management_strategiesI’ve been experimenting with different time management strategies lately, especially with small but frequent tasks that are total time drains.  I’m still planning my time around the workday, but reading emails and blog posts has been killing my free time. While I use Google Gmail’s Priority Inbox (highly recommended) to try to streamline the process, I just can’t seem to shake some of these emails.  I’ll read half an email, “star” it, then (hopefully) come back later to finish reading it.  The problem with this: when I come back, I have to start dealing with the email all over again.  I often run into the same issues I had dealing with the email the first time around.  It’s all a vicious cycle of email inaction.

This is where the “one-touch” time management strategy comes in and saves the day.  Instead of taking multiple stabs at dealing with an email, I only get one chance.  Once the email is open, I have to completely deal with it right there; there’s no going back.  It either gets 1) a read and replied to, 2) just read, or 3) deleted/archived.  Then it’s gone and out of my life.

While I’ve perfected this strategy on email, it works on lots of other tasks, too.

How to Implement the One Touch Approach on Anything

1. Identify the problem. No need to spend much time breaking the problem down.  It’s simple in most cases.  For example, let’s say is “how should I deal with the email I just received asking about plans for this weekend?”

2. Determine how long it will take to deal with this problem.  My one-touch method incorporates David Allen’s Two Minute Rule in Getting Things Done.  The Two Minute Rule says that if it’s something you must do and it will take you less than two minutes, do it right away.

3. Once beginning to deal with the problem, follow through until the process is complete.  In this case, replying to the email takes less than two minutes, so I would respond and send my message immediately. Once I do this: process complete. One touch success.

If it takes longer than two minutes, I don’t have to deal with the problem right away.  If the email I received involved paying a credit card bill instead, I would have the option to save it for later.

However, once I commit to solving the problem, I must complete the action 100%.  In the case of my bill, I would check to see what I owe, read over my statement, log into my online billpay account, and pay the bill.  A fragmented approach, such as simply reading my statement but then not paying the bill until later, would result in wasted time, a cluttered email inbox, and possibly forgetting to pay. I don’t want any of these things to happen nor do I want email or any other small tasks to pile up.

Where One Touch Works

Here are some examples of how I’ve implemented one-touch time management strategy.

1. Doing all of my dishes at once after eating dinner.

2. Hanging up clothes right after taking them off.

3. Click to unsubscribe email newsletters I don’t read.

4. Read a entire web page or blog post at once.

Overall, I find this strategy is best when a problem is realized and a response of some kind is definitely necessary, as in my email example.

The targeted tasks are rather insignificant, but that’s the whole idea. We encounter these little productivity roadblocks dozens of times each day, so blasting through them quickly and efficiently keeps the annoyances from piling up.

Have you tried similar time management strategies? Have you noticed a difference in how you handle small tasks? Share your story below.

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photo by: gagilas

February Money Challenge Recap: Matching Goals With Engagement

Gmail email webpageI’m wrapping up my money challenges from the last month.  It was an interesting experiment, especially considering that I didn’t really do much thinking and basically decided to do it on a whim.  My quality of life stayed about the same, but I learned some things from all of my efforts.

Here’s a recap of each challenge:

Challenge #1: I will only drive a maximum of once per week. This turned out to be harder than I thought, and it really wasn’t a well-designed goal.  First off, I went on several weekend trips in the last month and most of them required driving.  While the good news is that I carpooled on almost all of these, the bad news is it led to multiple driving trips a week.  However, I rode my bike just about every day to work.  Within New Haven, I didn’t drive on any trips where I could have walked or biked instead.  I didn’t execute this goal perfectly, but I would still call it a mild success.

My Grade: B

Challenge #2: I will not check email from 6 to 10 pm. I employed some outside help from LeechBlock on this one.  Still, I did admittedly cheat a few times.  I sent emails when I felt they were important and that I would forget them later.  I also realized that a lot of the reading and other work I do requires that I have access to my email archives.  I found it tough to be perfect on this one, but I would definitely say that I saved time.

My Grade: B-

Challenge #3: I will plan out my time and what I need to get done each day. I feel like a had a lot of success with scheduling my time, and I was probably more productive the whole month by implementing this goal.  I religiously planned my evenings on Mondays to Thursdays.  But I didn’t always do this on the weekends, mostly because a) I don’t do as much work then, and b) what I’m doing is much less predicatble.  My planning wasn’t perfect, but I think this is one challenge I’ll convert to a regular practice because I know it helps.

My Grade: B+

Challenge #4: I will not purchase any “things.” I definitely thought this was going to be the toughest of the four, but it actually ended up being the easiest.  I only (sorta) broke this rule once: I spent $3 on an mp3 album on Amazon.com.  This was more of a memory lapse rather than defying my own rules.  Other than that, I thought about buying several things, but didn’t actually go through with it.  Obviously I can’t do this forever, but I think it’s important to realize that I can live just fine without buying things most of the time..

My Grade: A

Challenge Observations

The one thing that sticks out in my mind about the whole challenge: to succeed, I need to be fully engaged and seriously want to accomplish my goals.  Perhaps this is a bit cliche for life in general, but I don’t think my heart was really in all of these goals.  Yes, I do think they’re all worthtrying harder at and would improve my life if I did, but they aren’t the most important things to me.  I want to cut back on driving a car, but I don’t care enough about it to let it derail my other plans.  I think checking email less is generally a good idea, but I think there were times when I made exceptions to my own rule and it really didn’t make a difference.

I’d really like to stick to only one goal at a time.  This goal could certainly be more challenging and significant that the ones I tested here.

I definitely plan to continue on with my challenges, starting again in mid-March when I return from Spain.  Right now, I’m almost 100% certain I’m going to stop using credit cards for a month.

Other ideas? Let me know in the comments.

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photo by: Artur Oliveira Gomes

New Money Challenges: Testing My Financial Willpower

I’ve always liked setting challenges for myself.  Perhaps it’s a strange obsession that I have with self-improvement, but I find it interesting to see how I do when I’m truly testing myself.  Many of the challenges I’ve come up with in the past have been a bit informal.  I’ve told myself I needed to lose weight and have succeeded in doing so many times.  I forced myself to quit spending so much time reading Yahoo news stories and the Facebook news feed.  I even convinced myself to go without eating meat for a week, which turned into 6 years (and counting).

I’ve gotten a little bored with finances lately, so I’ve decided to spice things up with some new ideas.  Here are a few challenges I created for myself for the next month (until March 4):

I will only drive a maximum of once per week.  Excessive driving is one of the things that I truly dislike about car ownership.  Once I had a car around again, but biking and walking trips plummet.  It’s so easy to jump in the car when it’s cold outside or my destination is just a little too far for easy biking or walking.  But, in reality, a lot of people get by in New Haven without a car. It’s tough at times, but if I really want to get somewhere, I’ll find a way, car or not.  Allowing myself to drive once a week will ensure that I plan out my one trip really well and grocery shop or whatever on just that one trip.  In case you were wondering, if I ride in someone else’s car, that counts as my one trip.

I will not check email from 6 to 10 pm. Okay so this isn’t a direct financial goal, but email is a time waster that impedes financial goals.  I’ve been trying really hard to find a better system for reducing email since reading The 4-Hour Workweek.  This period is my prime time for working on my personal and professional development, along with writing.  If I wasted less time dealing with email, I’d have more time to work on these things instead.

I will plan out my time and what I need to get done each day. This goes along with my post on my job and scheduling around my 9-5 workday.  I’m still amazed at how much I get done when I come home from work contrasted to how little I seem to get done on days off.  Having a structure in place is what drives me to work the most.  In order to accomplish this goal, I’m going to use an idea from David Risley.  I’ll plan out each day the night before so that I make sure to manage my free time well and get everything I need done.

I will not purchase any “things”. I’m trembling and pondering this one nervously as I write it.  Will there be something I desperately need?  What if something breaks? I’m going on a trip to Spain in March.  What if I need to buy something for that? Despite my reservations, I feel slightly reassured because I actually completed this challenge accidentally back in October. I just didn’t realize it until I looked back at my spending for that month.  But I want to see if I can do it again, consciously this time.  So, no buying anything non-consumable: no books, CDs, DVDs, computer equipment, or other toys.  I’ll have to rely on borrowing or just get along without it until March 4.

I’m normally not big on attempting multiple challenges at the same time.  I feel that lowers the chances of success, as some goals distract from one another.  But I feel like these challenges are separate enough that I can attempt them without interference from one another. So on we go.  I’ll provide updates throughout the month, and I’ll (hopefully) be reporting successes instead of failures.

Here are some other challenges I’m thinking of for future months:

– Purchase everything with cash only

– Read news for less than 5 minutes a day

– Don’t make excuses for anything I know I should do but don’t due to laziness

Do you have any challenges you think I should attempt? How about some goals for yourself?

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Photo by: Global Jet