Managing Time Like Money

Renegade Skate Park 1

I’ve really been thinking a lot about future vs. present, ever since reading The Time Paradox. Do you live every day like it’s your last, do you save everything for the future, or do you find a happy medium?

One of the conclusions that I’ve come to, which might be blatantly obvious to everyone but me, is that time management should be exactly like money management. It’s the same problem: how do you use a finite resource throughout your whole life for maximum benefit?

Thinking of time like money rules out the extreme ends of the spectrum. We all know what it looks like when someone spends every dollar they get as soon as it’s dropped into their hands, and none of us envy that person (although some imitate him). Saving everything and never spending any money isn’t that great of an idea, either. What’s the point of having money if it gets buried next to you?

So the question, then, is where the balance is between now and the future. To answer, I think about how I manage my money. Here are some point by point analogies:

  • I save most of my money. I don’t have a set percentage, but a habit I’ve developed is to save money unless there’s something that really deserves to be purchased. In terms of time, most of the things I do are geared towards the future.
  • But I don’t save all of it… I know that the money is going to be spent eventually, so I spend some of my money on things that make my life better now. Like everything, this is a habit. If I’m not in the habit of spending money on things to make my life better, will I REALLY ever break that habit and enjoy the benefits of my money? The same goes for time: I know that I’m spending most of my time working towards the future, so I happily set aside time now for traveling, seeing friends, or just indulging random whims.
  • I primarily spend my money and time on high quality things. I feel obligated to say primarily, because while in Tokyo I bought a pair of underwear just because the brand was “Black Man Superstar”. I don’t spend money on big TVs or jewelry or first class plane tickets. I value my money, so I spend it on things I value. My time is the same: I don’t channel surf or go to many movies or argue with people, because none of that is a good use of time by my standards.
  • I spend money when there’s a reason to, not when I have it. If you gave me $100k today, I wouldn’t buy anything with it. There’s nothing I need, and a windfall doesn’t change that. The same goes for time– I’m on a ten hour flight right right now, which could easily be blown on movies and sleeping, but instead I’m working. Going in the opposite direction is the same: if I want to go on a trip and I can afford to do it (both time and moneywise), I just go. No need for it to be a reward for anything.

This seems like the obvious balance to me. Enjoy life to the fullest now, because fifty years from now is just going to be another “now” and if you aren’t doing it today, you won’t be doing it then. Habits only get stronger as time goes on, so if you deprive yourself now with the idea that it will all pay off someday, you might find that that day doesn’t come in your lifetime. Happiness today begets happiness tomorrow.

At the same time, realize that there’s no point in enjoying now if it comes at the expense of later; allocate your time and pleasure so that the next “now” is better than today’s, but that both are great. Don’t spend so much time on recreation that you have none left to spend later on. That’s not any more sustainable than working all the time.

Treat your time like it’s valuable, because it is. There’s time for investment in the future and there’s time for enjoying today, but there’s no time for wasting. Make time for work even when your immediate happiness doesn’t depend on it, and make time for pleasure even when you’re busy.

Combine productivity and play whenever you can. I sometimes forget that I work, because I enjoy it so much. Don’t commute if you can help it. If you can’t help it, listen to audiobooks or language tapes. Push for every moment to be worth something. Don’t worry, argue, fight, or plot revenge. These things make today worse and usually tomorrow, too.


The picture is some kid in Panama in an abandoned building that they filmed some of Quantum of Solace in. He’s probably not the best time manager in the world, but I have surprisingly few photos that involve money or time.

Also, I wrote this on the plane ride back from Tokyo, in case you’re wondering why I say I’m on a 10 hour plane ride. But I DO have a 4 hour plane ride to Austin today.

Thanks to Michael Olivier for pointing out that when converted to an email, these posts look terrible in Gmail. I didn’t have time to fix it for this post, but I’m on it.

I like writing little informal things at the bottom of posts. Could be more where this came from…

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