As Derek Trotter once said “Time is Money”.
Since becoming a father I’ve suddenly become even more aware how time poor I am (as evidenced by the lack of regular posts on the site I’m afraid). I work reasonably long hours, have a long commute, like to exercise regularly and have a strong desire to spend every spare moment with my 4 month old son.
I’ve recently been on a crash course in time management at the University of Fatherhood. I’ve managed to squeeze some more free time out of my days so thought it only fair that I share some of the ways I’ve done it with humble readers such as yourself.
Simplify Your Life
The main lesson I’ve learnt is to really analyse the side effects that bringing certain things into your life will/can have. I’m a bit jealous of my sister because for example I’d love a dog like she has. The problem however is new things tend to mean other new things follow closely behind.
Get a dog for example and you also need to get a dog bed, lead, car boot guard, toys and inevitably enlist the services of a good vet. You need to spend time walking the dog (or the hassle of arranging someone else to do it for you like a friend that spends £200/month doing this), playing with it, training it and tending to it’s various needs and acts of destruction. All of that extra stuff/activities costs not only money but a huge amount of time to research, buy, repair or replace/think about.
My sister is a classic case of someone who is always stressed and extremely time poor, primarily as a result of lifestyle decisions she has made. On top of two kids there is a constant stream of livestock passing through their lives. Last time we visited this included 3 dogs, a litter of puppies, 1 (enormous) rabbit, about 20 chickens, outdoor koi/goldfish, indoor tropical fish and a guinea pig. I dread to think how much time she spends walking the dogs, cleaning out the rabbit/pig/fish, feeding the chickens etc each week. On top of this she’s recently decided to start studying again to further her career and to renovate their house (which isn’t really needed in my opinion).
She is always stressed and complaining about the lack of time. I’m not trying to sound smug but I have almost none of the things mentioned above (things that drain her time) in my life. This means I’ve got a huge amount more time to spare than she does. She has so much going on in her life that it makes my head hurt when I go to visit. Sitting down over a cup of tea for a 15 minute catch up is virtually impossible.
As an example, I recently converted the koi pond in our garden to a vegetable bed in order to save both time and money. By getting rid of the pond I was able to eliminate all the time I spend feeding them daily, cleaning the filters weekly, researching problems and worrying about their health. Sure I now have to tend the vegetables but they are far less demanding than 7 hungry koi carp!
Sometimes it’s better to forgo a want in exchange for the time you’ll save1.
Don’t be a slave to screens
Since fatherhood my smart phone has been heavily neglected. When I get home, would I rather be looking at photos of other peoples sprogs on Facebook or enjoying the fabulously gummy smiles of my own in the real world? That’s an easy question to answer.
I’ve slowly been cutting down the attention I pay to social media and all things smart phone over the last year or two. Previously I found myself constantly checking the thing every few minutes. It was reducing my ability to concentrate for more than 2 minutes on anything. I found myself taking it everywhere with me, ‘just in case’. In was so attached to the damn thing I that I was constantly concerned about battery life and paranoid about being out of juice to the extent that I went out and bought numerous spare chargers which were dotted all over the house and portable battery packs to minimize the chances of a power out situation.
When I analysed my usage the reality was that I make/receive very few calls over the course of a week. Emails were checked far too frequently, social media was scanned obsessively and for some reason I needed to get up to date with the latest international news about every hour.
I’ve both saved huge amounts of time and improved my concentration by neglecting the phone. I’ll happily go out at the weekend and leave my phone. Sunday evenings are often spent searching the house trying to remember where I put it down on Friday night. I deleted the social media apps and frankly don’t miss them. I now mainly use it to listen to music, podcasts and audio books during my commute…things that bring me real enjoyment or help me learn.
The same goes for TV. I’d say we watch about 2 hours of TV a week, almost always something we have pre-recorded. It still amazes me how people can devote 3,4,5,6 or more hours a day glued to the box. A great way to see if there are gains to be made are to unplug your TV for a week and see how much extra time you suddenly have when your default evening behavior isn’t to slump down onto the sofa after dinner.
Combine exercise travel
Gone are my days of heading out of the house at the crack of dawn on a Saturday morning for a 4-5 hour cycle ride. These days my riding is almost exclusively combined with my need to travel from home to the train station and back every day.
By cycling a slightly longer way each time I’m able to get around an hours good riding in every weekday. Travelling by car would only save me around 20 minutes of time each day so for an hours good exercise each day, 20 minutes lost is a great return on investment of my time.
With the winter weather fast approaching I’ve already concocted a plan to avoid cycling on icy roads (bikes with 23 or 25mm slick tyres and even a hint of ice are a REALLY bad combination). When the weather gets really iffy I’ll most likely drive part of the way to the station and run the rest.
Just Do Something
More often than not it’s not that we actually lack time but instead suffer from a perceived lack of time. That to do list you store in your head seemingly grows and grows to such an extent that it seems like you’re never going to finish the tasks on it. We can easily get overwhelmed by it to the extent that we’re unable to find the time to do anything because we’re so busy worrying about our lack of time!
To try to combat this every morning I try to decide on three things that I’ll achieve that day. Some are ‘important’ some are not, it doesn’t matter. I try to make them tasks that are clearly actionable/measurable and can be completed quickly. For example this morning on the train to work I decided to:
1. Call 3 painting and decorating firms to get a quote to repaint one of my properties (something I’ve been putting off doing for far too long as it will only end up in a hefty expense for me).
2. Sort through and (hopefully) eliminate the 3 cardboard boxes of junk that have been lurking at the back of the garage staring at me since my most recent efforts to tidy it up.
3. Send a gift to one of my tenants who recently had a child 2
The point here is not to necessarily complete all of your to do list but rather to reduce the pressure that adds to your perceived lack of time.
Learn to Let It Go
Our minds are constantly thinking. If allowed your mind will usually get busy worrying about all sorts of things. That big presentation at work. Your neighbours nice shiny new car. What to get the kid for Christmas. The inclination is for the mind to focus on problems in your life and churn them over and over.
A while ago I realized that this constant mind churn made me believe that I had even less time, as mentioned above. I was finding it harder and harder to switch off and more and more time was spent worried about how time poor I was.
I’ve recently began to read up on and experiment with meditation/mindfulness. Contrary to what most people think this isn’t about emptying the mind of thoughts and entering some kind of empty mental eutopia. It’s more about recognizing the thoughts, not trying to control them but instead simply being aware of them. By doing so I’ve found I’m more inclined to accept them and not worry about them so much.
It’s early days for me with this kind of stuff but it seems to help me be more relaxed and feel I have more time to just coast along and enjoy life, even the mundane bits like sitting in meetings at work.
I’ve written before about how cycling gives me similar mental benefits. The more I study this stuff the more I’m convinced that we could all benefit from conditioning/training our minds in much the same way that many of us strive to look after our bodies through exercise.
Don’t Forget the Get Rich
The great thing about the things above is that as well as saving you time, most of them will also save you cash. For example through cycling to the station I’m able to keep us a one car family (unlike most of our friends who’ve recently had children). By watching less TV I’m able to devote more time to things like investing and learning skills that can earn or save us money. By keeping our lives and possessions simple (e.g. not getting a dog) we’re able to save ourselves numerous additional future expenses that would be hard to measure.
1 Our plans to get a dog are on hold for a few more years until we have the time to devote to it.
2 See, not all landlords are bastards 😉