One of the obvious trade-offs with financial independence (“FI”) is you work your tail off for some time to achieve leisure time later. A lot of folks fall into the trap of chasing more and more $$ and material things, and well, they’re just wired that way. So instead of reaching some novel retirement at 45 or even 55, they continue to work because I guess it’s part of who they are.
Regardless of whether you find yourself in a mad dash to early retirement or just the “FI” part of the deal, managing your time can be quite a chore. Most regular people in our regular world have a job or maybe a couple of part-time jobs, maybe kids or maybe not. They take vacations: whether a flight to exotic places or maybe just camping a few hours up the interstate.
But the FIRE folk? We’re an odd breed. We do all that stuff too, but we kill ourselves with side hustles, side gigs, blogs, and even cooking from scratch! Where does the time go? And that’s the gist of the post today: time management ain’t easy, but it can be done. You just have to be careful not to get sucked into this game of optimizing every minute and forgetting the joys of long spans of unbridled leisure…
Why Is Time Management So Important?
There’s truth to the old phrase “time is money”. If you can manage your daily schedule effectively, you can reap the rewards. Even your choice of side-hustle matters here. Do you focus only on services that require all of your time and energy (like, a-hem, blogging), or do you look for assets that you can rent and passively manage (i.e., real estate)?
Sometimes you can find efficiencies. If you have a side-gig walking dogs or delivering parcels from a bike, you’re getting your daily exercise while you earn cash. That’s neat. Here’s another example: If you provide tutoring or part-time teaching services, you just might become a better teacher and coach at your day-job (which, who knows, could lead to raises?)
If you volunteer at your kids’ school, you get the benefits of keeping a pulse on the kiddo’s day to day life and you get a little more time with them too.
Time management is so important for aspiring early retirees because time is money, sure. But also because time is life.
Since taking up the cause of early retirement five years ago, I’ve learned (often the hard way) how to manage my time. There’s nothing like having your first kids (twins, no less) when you start on this path. Having kids forces you to get your sh*t together with time management.
- Sleep rules. You cannot eat away at this time believing you’ll be more productive. Stick with 7 to 8 hours if you’re a normal person. Your brain will thank you.
- When you sleep matters. Getting up early is incredibly advantageous. The AM is when your brain is operating at a high clip. Your kids are still sleeping. This magical 5:30 AM to 7 AM zone for me is when I get ahead of everyone else.
- Automation is your friend. Don’t waste time on things that could be easily automated. Paying bills and credit card balances are obvious, but there are other chores too. If your taxes are complicated because you own a small sole-proprietor business, hire an accountant. Hire a Roomba to clean your floors.
- Delegation is your best friend. I have no problem with learning how to manage just about every task you could face in a given day. But you need time to master the ones that matter most. If you’re a manager at work, delegate tasks both small and big. At home, start teaching your kids chores so they can be self-sufficient adults, and you can catch a break.
- Time is the best teacher. But it’s how you organize your time that counts. If you want to master anything, you need to put in the time. The trick is making sure you carve out time to master parenting, being a good partner, and, for example, being a good writer… All while you invest a significant amount of time in mastering your job and getting enough sleep. Easy, right???
Number 5 is the core of time management. We simply don’t get enough time in the U.S. work culture to mess around with the precious hours we have. Finding contentment during your working years means putting in the time and effort on work, but also putting in the time and effort on yourself and your relationships.. somehow.. simultaneously.
Can it be done?!?
For someone like me who still holds a regular job, is raising two kids, maintains a blog and a rental business, I have little margin for error. Work has been quite hectic since the promotion “struck” about a year ago. The rentals have had some “moments“, and the kids are becoming more and more active as they grow up. As kids tend to do…
The first thing that’s a must is SLEEP. Number 1 in that list above is crucial. We’re that odd couple that goes to bed early (around 9 every single night, including weekends) and rises around 5 AM. There are no televisions or personal devices to keep us wired when we’re trying to get Zs (though Mrs. Cubert will sometimes use her phone as a backup alarm if she has an early class to teach).
I’ve also found that there’s truth to what health professionals say about being done with caffeine, eating, and screen time well before bedtime. No coffee after 2 PM for me. But we sometimes fall short when dinner gets pushed to 6:30. And we haven’t given up our magic 8 PM to 9 PM dose of TV for the day. How much better might we sleep then??
As for what I do with my time from 5ish AM to 7 AM? It used to be 100% blogging. But lately, I’ve been putting in work time during that magic timeframe, if only to “stay ahead of the game”. And to keep from burning out, I’ve limited the work stuff to Monday through Thursday, allowing at least three days to attempt to write something post-worthy. We’ll see how THAT goes…
Exercise is just as vital as sleep in my opinion. They kind of go hand in hand. Ever noticed how much better you sleep on days you get a work out in? Not only does your body demand a little recovery time, but exercise helps to clear your mind of stressful thoughts, which helps you sleep too (or so I’ve personally noticed!)
Anyhow, I carve out 20 minutes, from 6:40 AM to 7 AM to get in an abbreviated work out before the kids wake up for school. It’s not much. Maybe five minutes of rowing, followed by some pull-ups, kettlebells, push-ups and so on. I’d love to get in at least 30 minutes each session, but I tend to stall. My own damn fault there.
To supplement this incredibly weak exercise routine, I’ll try to get steps throughout the day. I’ve just got to remember to park the car further out when I drive. Yeah, I can’t wait for the bike-to-work season.
There are many little tricks you can try. If you have the ability/privilege to work from home, you can sneak in a few loads of laundry and get the dishes done between meetings. I save at least an hour or more when I “WFH”, avoiding dreaded commute time.
Time Management at the Macro Level
It’s one thing to solve for too little time in your day to day life. And I’ll be honest – I’m not claiming to have solved my time management woes. The macro-level of time management is how we approach our time on a seasonal and life-long perspective.
Making sure to find the time to use all of your vacation days – That’s a no-brainer. I’ll work hard when I work, but I will be damned sure to use the time I’ve earned.
Now expand that view to your work-life. If you follow the ethos and methods of the Financial Independence/Retire Early dogma, you figure out right quick that there’s a season to bust ass and make money, to free up countless hours in early retirement.
I’m within reach of that goal and will probably ramp-down until I’m done with W-2 style work. But there must be a recognition that it takes some level of sacrifice to build up a nest egg for “phase 2” of life. Thing is, those sacrifices don’t need to come at the expense of what matters in the “here and now”: Your family and your SELF.
If I had to put a bottom-line summary on all of this, it’d be to control for what you can. Find time in the creases to optimize the rest. If you have some decent options for what part of town to live in, maybe consider living closer to the places you visit the most: work, school, church, the grocery store, the gym, etc. All those minutes in errands add up.
(Bonus if you live within walking distance of most of your day to day needs. You can compound your benefit by getting exercise while managing those tasks. Sitting in a car does absolutely NOTHING for you.)
If you own a small house you have less time invested in cleaning, mowing, and maintaining. Back to the macro-level idea — Identify the seasons when you bring your A-Game to work. Take vacations when your mind is elsewhere and less productive (it’s summertime for this guy).
One last tidbit: If you can’t find time during the week to read for at least an hour or two, you have some homework here. Drop a comment if you need some encouragement on this topic, or have ideas to share. Time is money, time is life!