Most writing about personal time management focuses on getting more done to make more money. And that’s certainly one potential benefit.
But shouldn’t a personal time management system be just that – personal?
You don’t want to climb the ladder of success only to find it’s leaning against the wrong wall.
As a ten-year old, you could never have persuaded me to work more efficiently at school, which I hated, if the outcome was squeezing in even more lessons.
But if you’d told me that by working efficiently I could have finished school at lunchtime to go bike riding and hunting for newts, you’d have gotten tomorrow’s homework yesterday!
Getting your time back
I suppose the authors of personal time management books know their target market. Their techniques are reached for by desperate office workers with 100 item To Do lists – workers who have no possibility of going home early.
I bailed from corporate life a decade ago, so my situation is different. There have been many benefits and a few downsides to freelancing, but the one I’d like to focus on in this post is taking control of your time.
When I first left the office, my daily earnings soared. Without the distractions of the office and its politics, I could focus on doing the stuff that made money, and I did.
But after a while most freelancers get caught up in new distractions, and I was no exception.
At least the new distractions were more pleasant wastes of time!
Instead of putting my heart into doomed projects or spending a week training a colleague who couldn’t go places on a rocket ship, I now wasted time:
- Preparing ingredients for a slow-cooked dinner
- Lifting weights
- Surprising my mum with a long afternoon phone call
- Reading about Warren Buffett
- Elbows deep in my aquariums
All good stuff, but of course it doesn’t put food on the table – unless you like eating guppies.
When you waste time as a self-employed freelancer, you soon have less money in your wallet. If you’ve got any self-control, the threat of poverty stops you going too far off-track.
Eventually a balance is struck between taking advantage of the freedom of enjoying daytime TV working for yourself, and the ever-present need to make money.
My 25-hour work week
To really exploit this self-determined outcome, for the past few months I’ve been experimenting with an unusual personal time management regime.
My mission: To schedule and complete whatever work is required to hit my daily earning target by 2pm each day.
This means I work a five-hour day.
- Between 9am and 2pm, no distractions are allowed except making snacks and coffees, which double as a screen break.
- After 2pm, I can do whatever I like. I can earn more, or I can go to the cinema, or walk by the canal, or even go back to bed if I feel like it.
So far I’m succeeding most days, and when I hit my target and down tools, it feels great. In fact, it makes me wonder why I didn’t always work like this!
Making personal time management personal to you
Doing my five-hour workday experiment I’ve learned a few lessons, which may be useful if you want to try something similar.
- This routine is personally tailored to my body clock – When I wake up, I could cure cancer or solve the national debt. After 2pm, I’m flagging. My 9-2 structure captures my best hours; yours are probably different.
- Stick to the plan – Experience has shown this regime only really works if I’m a stickler for the hours. If I try to play with the schedule, or do one solid day in exchange for taking the next day off, it falls apart.
- Employ yourself – I’ve mentioned before how I boosted my salary with a job letter to myself. I’m my own employer, and this letter sets out my salary, workload, targets, and benefits. It’s close to my desk, and if I stray I read it and refocus.
- Freedom of billing – I have a lot of flexibility in how I earn money and charge my clients. This is vital for efficient personal time management. My clients don’t expect me to be at work at 4pm, and so it doesn’t matter to them that I’m not. I am paid for delivery, not by the hour.
- Compromised on income goals – Being honest, I’m earning maybe 10% less now than when I followed a conventional working week. It’s not so much a lack of time that has reduced my income – more that I avoid commissions or clients where I don’t think I can meet or surpass expectations under my new routine. In particular it loses me some lucrative stuff where I’d be paid to manage others.
Higher productivity makes time as well as money
I may be earning a little less overall with my new personal time management system, but my productivity on an hourly basis has soared.
Accounting for the slight drop in income, my productivity has jumped around 50 per cent.
The payout comes in a great deal more free time, rather than in money. I’m working 25 hours instead of more than 40 under the old conventional way, which means 15 more hours to do as I please.
This is a ‘big win’ for less effort. Rather than trying to micro-manage every hour of an 8- or even a 10-hour day, my system grabs most of the benefits of personal time management with just a couple of major rules. It’s a classic 80/20 payoff.
Create your own work week
Ironically perhaps, I spend a lot of the free time I’ve generated sitting at the same desk working on my own passive income streams, in particular this money and investing blog, and my side trading portfolio.
I’ve found that after a couple of hours doing something completely different I get a second wind, provided I’m working on own projects.
Since these projects also make money, my actual projected annual income hasn’t fallen much.
But I prefer to account for the still modest blog income and my investing income separately from my freelance earnings, which as I say have dropped a little.
I appreciate for many readers, this is all academic. Despite the trend towards homeworking, most people can’t follow what I’m doing with my personal time management to get more free time back. They’re stuck in office jobs where they are paid for showing up.
If that’s you and you don’t like your job, you may want to change your situation.
True, his book is rather sensationalist and tilted towards the hyper-competitive field of making money by selling crap on the Internet.
But Ferris is also oddly inspiring, and I’d say the Four Hour Work Week is a great primer in applying personal time management to suit yourself, rather than the hours that society keeps, or the hours that suit your employer.