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Personal time management for fun and profit

Personal time management for fun and profit

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?

What’s the point of taking control of your day if you’re doing it to someone else’s agenda? As the Warren Buffett of personal time management, Stephen Covey, warns:

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:

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.

One book I’d recommend reading first is the The Four Hour Work Week by Tim Ferris (here’s the US link).

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.

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{ 10 comments… add one }
  • 1 UK Value Investor March 26, 2010, 4:13 pm

    5 hour work day, I like it! I’ve run a similar system myself for the last few years whilst working from home. I work for an hour, then take half an hour off, then back on for an hour followed by a two hour lunch. Then I repeat the morning sessions in the afternoon for a four hour day. I find that if I work straight for 7-8 hours a day I just loose focus and productivity. By forcing myself to take long breaks I’m refreshed and willing to work hard and fast in each of the 4 one hours sessions and end up doing the same amount of work anyway.

    As Ferris Bueller once said, “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it”.

  • 2 Budgeting in the Fun Stuff March 26, 2010, 4:36 pm

    Even though I’m still a cubicle monkey, I’ve been trying to come up with ways to efficiently handle my office work and blog work without leaving a zero balance for family and friends.

    My schedule includes finishing my office work with a couple of hours to spare. I write my future posts in those hours and keep up with the blogs I read daily. When I get home, I schedule my new blog posts, answer all my emails and comments, and submit Blog Carnival Entries if necessary. With luck, that will leave me an hour or two with my husband and dogs every evening during the week. It also leaves me most of the weekend for family and friends.

    I’d love to cut down to 25 hr work weeks, but freelancing isn’t in my immediate future. Congrats though!

  • 3 Money Funk March 26, 2010, 6:40 pm

    Guppies, huh? LOL.

    I agree. Budgeting in the Fun Stuff, it can be done.

    I am cubicle monkey, as you put it, who does the work, work much like Monevator – from 9 – 2. Then I do the lightweight stuff afterwards, as i can’t just leave work at two. My brain is only good until 2p. After that its either burned out or just plain not focusing.

    That is a great schedule, Monevator. I find it to be very efficient in my workplace. Now, if I can eventually do that for my own business and actually take that time off after 2p. Would be perfect.
    .-= Money Funk on: Top 20 Biggest Money Wasters (w/ Fun Giveaway) =-.

  • 4 Valentina March 27, 2010, 8:40 am

    25-hour work week sound great and something I would like to aspire to. Although I have left the 9-5 a long time ago (and developed a good residual income) I found internet marketing along the way and blogging in earnest a year ago. This is like a whole new business for me and I am learning most of it “on the job” so to speak, so I have to juggle the business, the education and then I still need to pay some attention to the business that pays me a residual – which sadly has been on a bit of a decline due to my benign neglect.

    So, I guess what I’m saying is that right now I am working my derriere off. I am not complaining though and yes, I do get time off to play 🙂
    .-= Valentina on: Wordpress Direct Review =-.

  • 5 Financial Samurai March 28, 2010, 5:33 pm

    25 work week? I’m jealous! However, I think 25hrs a week should TOTALLY be feasible for everyone. A focused 25 hrs = a wasteful 45-50 hours perhaps!
    .-= Financial Samurai on: Interviewing Is Like Dating – Hubba, Hubba! =-.

  • 6 Roger, the Amateur Financier March 29, 2010, 1:06 am

    Sounds like a good plan, and 25 hours a week sounds like a decent work week. Being unemployed, I’m sort of working at this from the other side; that is, trying to find enough productive work to fill twenty-five productive hours (and having trouble with a complete lack of outside structure in my life). Good advice, and here’s hoping I can put it all into play.
    .-= Roger, the Amateur Financier on: Book Review: Rich Dad’s Guide to Investing =-.

  • 7 Bytta@151DaysOff March 29, 2010, 6:41 am

    “Surprising my mum with a long afternoon phone call” -> this one goes hand in hand with that cute baby vs cat wrestle youtube video I saw this morning 😀 … another 10 minutes wasted (you can’t watch it just once, c’mon).

    At the risk of sounding like a broken echo, I actually thought about this last weekend. While I have little problem doing full time work now, the idea is to make enough money to buy income-producing assets. Once it’s set up, my husband and I plan to each work part time. Short term pain for long term gain.
    .-= Bytta@151DaysOff on: Day 25: Being 37 is Sexy =-.

  • 8 Nate Chastain April 3, 2010, 1:49 am

    Whomever “The Investor” is (author of this article), I think he/she is a pretty smart character. Too many people believe that to be productive, you have to empty a towering inbox every day or file reports. That, to me, is exactly what productivity is NOT about.

    I think productivity is the resourcefulness that emerges when a person seeks to avoid doing something they’re not interested in. This is discussed in the article above, but I just want to crystallize an idea:

    If you live in Buffalo and notice that your porch is getting covered with snow, “old productivity” (GTD, for example), would suggest that you put “shoveling” on a to-do list. It also suggests that when you finish shoveling, you’ll feel a sense of accomplishment.

    If this were an isolated task, then I might agree. Like I said, though, this is Buffalo. Suppose it snows two days later and the exact same “productivity system” takes over. Suppose you hate shoveling? Suppose you hate the snow, period?

    Well then, I think “productivity” is calling up a neighborhood kid to do the work for you, shoveling your porch on a weekly basis, or getting the hell out of Buffalo and moving to Florida. These are all “productive” responses because they minimize the amount of time that you have to spend doing things that you don’t want to do and increase the amount of time can spend on things you care about.

    If you decide that you only want to spend three hours on work each day, you WILL find a way to fit the work into that period of time, through some combination of delegation and ingenuity.

    Let me just offer this example up as proof of how crazy your applications of this can get: Tim Ferriss, the author of “The 4-Hour Workweek” decided that he wanted to go on dates, but didn’t want to spend any time with the online dating Web sites – they were too much of a hassle. So, he hired a company from India to build his dating profiles, screen his potential dates, and schedule dates for him. He outsourced his online dating. Before I heard that story, I had thought that outsourcing only worked for writing or programming work. If there’s something you don’t want to do, you can almost always find someone to do it for you.

    Having said all of this and wasted all of your collective time with my rambling, I would love to continue this conversation further with any of you through e-mail (nate [at] cumalu.com). Also, if any of you need help getting your time (and your life) organized, I’ve started a time management consulting company. It’s relatively new and don’t feel comfortable charging a fixed rate. At the completion of the 30-day program, my clients pay me whatever they felt the service was worth. Considering that I’m posting here and thus haven’t yet starved to death, I should be able to convince you that it’s worth your time.

    Apparently this blog is where all of the intelligent people on the Internet are hiding. There are some thought-provoking comments here, and a very well-written article as the anchor. I enjoyed reading all of this.


  • 9 Deb Bixler April 20, 2010, 11:39 pm

    It is so important to take time for personal. Many home business owners start working from home to improve the quality of life and then when working from home get so caught up in their business they forget to prioritize the reasons they started working at home in the first place. I included the article in the blog carnival at http://www.BestBlogReview.com
    .-= Deb Bixler on: Over 100 Entries = Direct Sales Sweepstakes =-.

  • 10 Demian Kasier April 7, 2012, 12:37 pm

    A heap of the problem is that people are unable to practice time management in a work situation. They are often tied to fixed hours and breaks. Reducing productivity and focus.

    If employees could choose there own work system in which they work optimally, I think they could do a lot more in a lot less time.

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