Wasting money is bad. Wasting time is worse.
If we waste money or overspend, it’s a set-back that we can recover from. Money is within our control.
Although the ever-growing inequalities in our society make this more difficult for some, there’s usually a way to earn more money. Additionally, we can cut back our spending or decide not to spend money at all… at least for a period of time.
Time, however, is finite.
Time is the one commodity we can’t stop spending
No matter how hard we try, we can’t stop spending time. The hours, days and years will keep ticking away regardless of what we do with them.
We each only get a certain amount of time in this life, and we’ll never know how much is left.
Although we cannot control time itself, we can control how we spend it.
Wasting time is one of the things we are most likely to regret, so it’s important to spend it wisely.
Wasting time: The dark side of early retirement
Like most things, early retirement has it’s pros and cons. While I feel like there are more pros than cons, there are still downsides to leaving a successful career in your 30’s.
One of the dark sides of early retirement, is that a sudden increase in free time can trick us into feeling like we have all the time in the world. When something feels abundant, we are more likely to take it for granted and waste it.
As I reflect on my second year of early retirement, I realize that I’ve been wasting a lot of time.
When my spouse and I both worked, we felt like there was never enough time in the day to do what we needed… let alone what we wanted.
I retired into a pandemic and full-time parenting, so that extra time didn’t fully register until our daughter went to school this year. All of a sudden I had six glorious hours a day to myself. Time felt abundant.
When there’s nothing that you have to do during the day, it’s easy to let simple tasks drag out. The reality is that most tasks will take the full amount of time we allow them to.
Over the past two years, I realize that I’ve subconsciously adjusted my habits and schedule to fill my available time. So much so, that it still feels like there isn’t enough time to do everything I want.
This year’s focus: Wasting less time
Although we’ve recently loosened the reigns on how we spend money, I want to do the opposite when it comes to how I spend my time. Afterall, time is the one thing that you can waste but cannot buy.
So, my focus for my third year of retirement is to better control how I use my time.
I feel like we’ve done a pretty good job optimizing how we spend and manage our money. Now I want to optimize how I spend my time.
But first, confession time…
I started down the path of figuring out how to better spend my time, because I’ve been considering taking a part-time, seasonal job in my trained field.
Prepare to call the “retirement police”!
I know it’s crazy and I swore I’d never go back. But here’s the thing. It’s been over two years since I’ve left the corporate world and I still feel like I’m struggling to find purpose in early retirement.
To be clear, I have not been bored for a single moment of this time. I have plenty of hobbies, interests, and a young child to keep me busy.
Lack of purpose is not the same thing as boredom.
I thought that blogging would fill the gap that work left behind, but it hasn’t. Writing is fun and cathartic, but blogging also requires other tasks I don’t enjoy.
Additionally, despite seeing a dramatic increase in traffic this year, blogging hasn’t provided the sense of accomplishment I’d hoped it would. Okay, with one caveat… being selected as a finalist for two Plutus Foundation Awards last year was awesome! It motivated me for months. If you enjoy this blog, please consider nominating me for the “Best FI/RE Content” award again.
While I love my new autonomy, I’m still craving the intellectual stimulation and social interactions I used to get from my career. If I could have all of the positives, none of the negatives, and work way fewer hours, I’d consider going back.
Maybe a break from the grind and change of pace was all I actually needed. Or, maybe I just haven’t found my true calling yet.
Nonetheless, this dissonance is a clear sign that I need to change how I spend my time to live a more meaningful life.
Where does all the time go?!
The best way to control something is to track it!
I’m a firm believer in this strategy when it comes to managing money. Why couldn’t it work for managing time? So, in typical nerdy fashion, I made a spreadsheet.
In this spreadsheet, I mapped out how I spend or would like to spend my time by task for a year. Some tasks occur daily and are non-negotiable, like sleeping and eating. Others occur only certain times of year, like doing taxes or walking my daughter to school. Others are purely optional.
After I came up with a total for each task, I mapped those hours out across each month of the year.
Initially, I just wanted to see how my schedule would be affected if I spent an additional ~450 hours working the aforementioned remote-seasonal-part-time job.
What I found is that I’d still have some free time, just not as much during the months I worked.
However, without this job, I supposedly have lots of free time! So, why does it feel like there’s never enough of it?
The answer: I’m wasting too much time!
What do you value?
Although we have a strong marriage, we’ve been working through the exercises in this book during our regular coffee dates. These thought exercises have helped us to reflect upon and define our values both as a family and as individuals. Reflecting on these things has helped me in many ways.
Defining our values and goals also makes it easier to assess how I should spend my time going forward.
If something does not align with my values, our family values, or contribute to our definition of success, than perhaps it isn’t the best use of my time.
I want to make sure that the time I’m spending on a task aligns with the value I attribute to it.
Do we really need another personal finance spreadsheet? Probably not, but I enjoy making them. I recognize that I spend too much time managing our finances. While, there is value in these efforts, the amount of time spent significantly exceeds that value.
Even worse is wasting time on things that provide little to no value, like watching too much TV. Fortunately, I haven’t done too much of this in early retirement.
Changing how I spend my time
This year, I’m going to use my time spreadsheet and our written values to be more diligent about how I spend my time.
Using time to fulfill purpose
I’m currently considering avenues which might provide a sense of purpose and intellectual stimulation, without sacrificing my autonomy. One option I’m exploring is using my business/accounting skills to volunteer at a non-profit that aligns with my values. I just have to find an opportunity that fits.
Or, I might go back to work or consult on a very part-time basis.
Making money is not the priority. Mr. RFL has that covered. Although, if I’m being honest with myself, I’m still struggling to separate making money from “providing value” and “worthiness.” I know this is our society’s conditioning talking though, so I’m actively working to shut it up.
Being efficient with time
Additionally, I want to make sure that most of my time is spent on tasks that add to our collective family values (or my own).
This means being more efficient with the time I spend in any area, in addition to wasting less time on things with no value. Doing so will allow me to spend more time on other things I value. It’s a win-win.
For example, health is important to me. Because of that, I previously believed that any time I spent cooking nutritious meals or working out was time well spent. It’s not a bad way to spend time, but it’d be even better if I could find ways to optimize that time.
Could I spend less time and get the same results? Probably. Meal planning, shopping less frequently, and batch cooking might all help to achieve these goals while reducing the amount of time I spend in the kitchen.
Changes I’m making
A few things I’ll spend less time on based on the results of my time spent vs. value exercise? Cooking, Reselling on secondhand markets, social media, managing our personal finances, and blogging (sorry!).
One of the things I’m going to spend more time on is learning piano. I’ve always wanted to play an instrument and I think the challenge will provide a sense of mastery and accomplishment. Continuous learning and growth is one of my own values, as well as a shared one for our family.
I’m also going to try and shun my spending guilt to buy back more of our time, when it makes sense.
Ultimately, time is more precious than money. Because of that, we should be more careful about how we spend it and who we spend it with.
Have you ever tracked or planned out your time?
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