As I wrote in my last post transitioning to a non-work life is hard. I think a lot of what makes it difficult is having all of that unstructured free time and figuring out what to do with it. We all have visions of early retirement and what we would do with all of that time. I know that I did and I was severely mistaken how that looked when I actually did have all that time to myself to do whatever my heart desires.
Today I’ll be talking about intentionality with your time. Like being intentional with your money, if you’re not intentional with your time it gets away from you. You can rack up all kinds of “time debts” and stress yourself out in new ways you didn’t even know existed. The beauty is that just like monetary debts, you can free yourself from these time debts by being intentional with your time. Here’s what I’ve noticed over the last 6 months and how I’ve racked up and cleared a lot of time debt with myself.
You’re probably asking yourself, “What the F*** are time debts?” I see time debts as things you need or want to do yet, push off for some meaningless, worthless task that distracted you. For instance, let’s say in the morning, I plan on reading blogs, commenting, and checking in with the PF (Personal Finance) community before I go do other things. Easy Peasy right? Nothing to stress about and it’s an easy task. After Mrs. SSC heads to campus at 7am, I sit on the couch and slowly sip my coffee and flip thru the news on my phone. Then I flip thru Twitter, because it’s PF related too right? I get an email pop-up and it reminds me I need to research brush hauling companies, and while I do that I get spun off researching used trucks and next thing I know, it’s an hr and a half later… I’ve done nothing of what I planned.
What I did do was create a time debt that I’m going to have to pay back to myself by taking from some other planned activity later in the day or the next day. That sounds a lot like surfing the internet or getting distracted, so what’s the big deal, right? I thought the same thing until I noticed I was adding stress into my life creating lots of these time debts. Like credit cards and student loans, they don’t magically disappear, they just compound and get bigger and bigger. Eventually, you have to pay them off. Especially like credit cards and student loans, they just add an additional background layer of stress reminding you that they’re there. I find it very annoying. How can we pay them off or avoid them altogether?
Spending Habits Apply to Time Too
I found that how I spend time is VERY correlative to how I spend money. In the past, I had no issues acquiring debt, and I would spend money like a drunken sailor. I’ve reigned it in quite a bit, but I can still spend all of my “allowance” money every month and wish there was more around. Yikes! How am I a PF blogger?! When I initially had free reign over my time, I found I also spent it very freely and very unintentionally. Actually, it was intentional, but more selfish intentional. For instance, I’d be in the yard cutting down trees, and chopping them up until the kids got home. Then I’d keep on until Mrs. SSC got home. Instead of having dinner started and time with my family, I still needed to put up tools and take a shower. I’ve not only created a big-time debt for me but also my family, because I’ve just stolen their time for me to do yard work and they have to cover dinner and other responsibilities. Damnit, now I’m a time thief?! Argh!
I found that exactly like finances and spending, I had to be intentional where I spent my time and where I was stealing time from others. Instead of having this looming feeling of guilt that I’d stolen time from the family, I could stop working by 3pm, because it will be there the next day, and be cleaned up by the time the kids get home. It sounds like a simple concept, but man, it was really hard for me to implement.
Habits are HARD to Break
I started thinking, how can I quit creating these time debts and being so sloppy and un-intentional with my time? I tried making a schedule and putting it on Google calendar but all that did was give me more things to dismiss during the day when the reminders would pop up. This wasn’t helpful for me in establishing new habits with spending time, so I gave up and quit trying. Ok, I’m kidding, I didn’t quit, I just kept trying new things. I found that using Google Calendar was good for setting schedules like kids snack day, dr appt’s, vet appt’s, school events, volunteering, training, FIRE MM’s, etc… but what about that pile of free time I had in between all of those?
How do I keep from building time debts doing stupid shit like playing phone games instead of doing something more productive and constructive? I have to be intentional about it and use discipline. Gah!! Not discipline… Why can’t it just be easy and happen without work? Well, that’s not how life works unfortunately, trust me I tried. For instance, yesterday, I walked 16,000 steps and ate an apple and I didn’t lost one pound!! So frustrating! It should all be easy, but it just isn’t. If you’re not willing to put in the work to make the change, the change won’t happen. Not with spending time currency, real currency, or trying to lose weight.
I also found that a change in mindset was needed. Instead of feeling guilty about some of the time debts I’d create for myself, I’d just acknowledge that I wasn’t a good steward of my time and work to do better. I would note what I was unintentionally spending time on and curb it. Deleting phone games is easy – thumb down, move to trash, and done. It took time, but I noticed patterns and worked to create patterns I liked better.
Track Your “Time” Spending
Time and Money are so similar, it’s eery. After realizing this, I realized I needed to track my time. What were my time thiefs, what were my time equivalent of daily $6 latte’s, or $250 monthly gym fees that aren’t being used. Paying attention to these will tell you a lot about yourself just like tracking your $$ spending will. Just like tracking $$ spending, tracking your time spending shows lots of patterns and you can use that information to adjust your schedule to something you’d want to spend your time on and not fritter it away unintentionally. It reminds me of someone that used to say, “That’s a future Mr. SSC problem”. Guess what? I’m future Mr. SSC and I still don’t want that problem.
I found that a lot of my time debts came from phones and tablets. Who would’ve thought?! Shocking, I know! I also found that I needed to set alarms on my watch so that when I’m busy into something intentional, I make sure it doesn’t bleed into stealing time from someone else. My hobbies created a lot of time debts for me with housework, groceries, dinners, etc… Like I mentioned before, seeing those patterns helped with setting boundaries and like finances, learning to better manage my time.
New Patterns Emerge
I settled on a hybrid version of a rigid schedule and calendar reminders. While I still use calendar reminders religiously, and couldn’t be effective without them, I found other things that helped me develop better time spending habits and have settled on this type of schedule.
I put things into days like, Monday’s are for cleaning, Tue/Wed/Fri is for hiking/running, and Thur is for volunteering at the kids’ school. The rest of the “free” time in those days is where I put all the other stuff like groceries, yard work, wood working, music playing, etc…
I also found that I am more of a list person. If I have a list of things that need to be done during the week, and I am MUCH better at getting them done within the “free” time frames that don’t steal time from others. I find it hard to be a set schedule person because some days I may feel like woodworking, and not cleaning. Ok, I never feel like cleaning, but I can bump it to a day that I’d rather be inside or that most of my day is chewed up with other time sucks. By being intentional, I am aware that if I bump cleaning to a different day, it will cut into hiking, which will cut into woodworking, which will bump it into the next day. I ask myself, “Is it worth it to not clean today, when it might mean I can’t do woodworking tomorrow? What am I going to do instead of cleaning that is better than woodworking and make it worth it?” I found that just framing it like this to myself helped a lot too.
Now I can keep a more fluid schedule, a list of “must-do’s” for the week, and have a general idea of what my “wants” are and be able to spend my time more effectively. Get it? Spend… Time… Groan…
Time is like money, and like money, I was not very good at managing it effectively. I racked up a lot of time debt and had to figure out how to clear it all and get into better time spending habits. I did it by tracking my spending of time, finding my time sucks and eliminating them, or at least acknowledging they are there and being aware and intentional toward any “wasted” time going towards them, and finally finding a good time management strategy that works for me. Like personal finance, your strategy will be different from mine, but I think it’s worth looking into and figuring out. I found it took a lot of background stress and noise away.