People sometimes make fun of me for getting up at 5am…
But I tell them it’s part of my “pay myself first” rule.
“Paying yourself first? Isn’t that an old money rule from one of those finance books? What’s that got to do with getting up at 5am?”
Well, as you probably know, the pay yourself first rule exists because most people are bad at money management. When paychecks come in, their money goes straight to everyone else — bills, rent, food, luxuries, etc. — and they have little left over to save for themselves.
I think it’s the same with hours in the day.
When most people wake up, they immediately give all their hours to everyone else — work, family obligations, traffic, chores, etc. — and at the end of the day have very little (or very low-quality) time for themselves.
My theory is that getting up early is like paying yourself first with time. Paying the first few hours of every day to yourself ensures that you’re never ripping yourself off later. That’s why you don’t often hear early risers complain about running low on spare time. Because they schedule it first thing, daily.
Other Money Rules that Translate to Time Management
This epiphany came to me a few years ago when I started to refine my work/life balance. I was reading a lot of finance books at the time and couldn’t help but notice how well classic money advice applies to time.
Here are a few classic money rules, and their equivalent time rules…
Track Your Time. It Will Surprise You
Finance nerds know that the first step toward improving your money situation is to track your spending. If you don’t know where your money is going, it’s hard to set specific goals and cut back in areas.
Well, it’s the same with making better use of your time.
If you don’t know how much time you *really* waste on some activities, it’s difficult to make adjustments. Most people think they know where their major time sucks are, but have you ever tracked it to be sure?
I remember hearing once that the average American watches an average of 4 hours of TV each day. 🤮
So one day I started writing down all the times I watched TV over a period of a few weeks… I was embarrassed to learn that I averaged about ~2 hours a day for that tracking period!
Sure, it’s half the national average, but dang, it was way more than I thought I was watching. More importantly, it’s way more than I wanted to be spending! TV rarely brings me value, and tracking this gave me the wake-up call I needed to make a change. (I’m proud to say that these days I’ve reduced my watching to only 1.9 hrs of TV a day. 🤣)
Tips on How to Track Your Time
- Track your screen time (on iPhone it’s settings → screen time → see all activity). This breaks down how long you spend on each app. Check it weekly and watch the trends.
- Count how many family dinners you have each week.
- Count the hours you spend playing with your kids.
- Track your TV-watching hours.
- There are a bunch of work-time and productivity tracking apps designed to track work activities.
After tracking for a while, are you happy with what you see? If your answer is no, make changes! If yes, keep doing what you’re doing. :)
Budgets for Money = To-Do Lists for Time
I’m a big fan of the value-based budget. It’s when you design a budget so that all your dollars are spent on things that you find valuable in life.
For time, you can do the same with a value-based to-do list. Higher-value activities go higher on the list, and lower activities go lower (or not on the list at all).
Following a daily or a weekly to-do list makes sure you’re getting the things done that you need to do, and that you get the most value from. 📝✅
Max Out Your Vacation Time, Just Like a 401k
You hear investors say this all the time… “I wish I started investing earlier in life!”
The reason FIRE peeps try to max out their tax-advantaged retirement accounts every year is that the opportunity only lasts for that year. You can’t go back and make 401k contributions for prior years. There’s a contribution limit that resets each year.
Well, time also is limited, and vacation opportunities pass every year. You can’t go back in time and join that kayaking trip your friends took without you three years ago.
This is why I encourage people to use up all their paid time off and vacation time. Max it out every year like your 401k and enjoy the journey!
Wasting Money and Wasting Time
You’ve probably heard this one: “Stop buying things you don’t need, with money you don’t have, to impress people you don’t even like.”
My time-equivalent saying is: “Stop doing activities you don’t truly enjoy, with time you can’t get back, to be like people you don’t want to become.”
Donations and Volunteering
If you have an abundance of money → give some to those less fortunate. Even $1 a month helps.
If you have an abundance of time → use it to help someone else. Even 1 hour a month helps. :)
Diversify Your Life, Just Like Your Stocks
The reason I buy and hold broad index funds is because I want exposure to as many stocks as possible. If I own a tiny piece of everything, I get to enjoy all the good and bad stuff that individual stocks go through. Over the long run, there are more goods than bads out there.
This is the same reason I’m trying to say “yes” to more experiences in life. The more new things I try, the more golden moments and memories I’m making. There are more good things than bad things out there — I just gotta try them all to find out.
“If you think adventure is dangerous, try routine… It’s LETHAL!” – Paulo Coelho
We talk a lot about money here. How to save, invest, and spend it wisely.
But I think it’s equally important to manage our time wisely. What ways and rules have you found to better “invest” or “spend” your time?
Joel is a 35 y/o Aussie living in Los Angeles and the guy behind 5amjoel.com. He loves waking up early, finding ways to be more efficient with time and money, and sharing what he learns with others. Rise Early | Retire Early!