Every minute that passes is irretrievably gone.
That’s why time is the most valuable commodity of all, even more precious than money.
So, how do you ensure you are not wasting your time?
Learn why time is the great equalizer, how some people get much more out of their time than others, and which time-management strategies work best.
Why Time Stands Out
All resources in life are finite, but time takes the crown. Unlike other resources, it cannot be replaced.
When you go bankrupt, there is still a chance you might regain that money one day.
If you lose a friend or a lover, you don’t have to stay alone forever. You can find new friends and new lovers.
You can even recover your physical health. Ailments that would have crippled you in the past are now curable.
But not so with time. Once it’s gone, it’s gone. You could be Elon Musk or Jeff Bezos — yet, all your billions will not buy even one second of your time back.
That is why time is the most valuable commodity.
The Relationship Between Time and Values
How do you know if you are currently wasting your time?
It depends on the individual.
One person might be drinking beer and playing video games all night and enjoy themselves tremendously.
Another person might work 12 hours on their startup every day and have the time of their life.
The difference is values.
The video gamer might value fun, spontaneity, and hedonism above everything else. Therefore, his actions are in alignment with what he believes in.
The startup guy might value innovation, status, and financial success more than anything else. Therefore, he is spending his time well.
A Zen monk might value self-knowledge and enlightenment the most. Therefore, his lifestyle choices are appropriate for him.
As long as people make time for what they truly want, there is no waste. Only if they are deterred from their real values by outside influences — parents, society, religion — will there be regrets.
This is not to say that some values are not more rewarding than others. I very much suspect that the Zen monk is ultimately getting more out of life than the gamer. But he also has to work a lot harder for it. This brings me to my next point.
The Now-vs.-Tomorrow Problem
Many people will tell you, you must cherish every moment as if it were your last.
“What if you had only three months left to live?” they will say. “Would you still do what you do? No, you would drop everything and enjoy life!”
And while I am all for questioning the status quo, this is a naïve notion.
In all statistical likelihood, you have more than three months left. And with that larger horizon in front of you, just dropping everything is not a good idea.
To get to a better place in life, you must first postpone pleasure.
Take your 9-to-5 job as an example. You must first build up a side hustle before you can book your one-way ticket to Bali. Not the other way around.
Your health is another example. With three months left, who cares? Get me some coke. But with thirty years left, you better spend that time exercising and eating healthy.
Beware of the 5 Time Fallacies
If time is the most valuable commodity, why do we still manage our time so poorly?
It’s because we all subscribe to a number of time fallacies. But if you learn to recognize them, you can overcome them.
1. “I will never die.”
Intellectually, we know that we must die one day. But emotionally, it’s a different story. We dismiss our mortality with a vehemence. Only when we run out of time, do we realize our mistake.
Life is like a roll of toilet paper. The closer you get to the end of the roll, the faster it spins.Andy Rooney
2. “I’ll do X, Y, and Z — no problem.”
We like to believe we can do many more things than we actually can in a day.
Hit the gym. Work for 10 hours. Walk 10,000 steps. Cook healthy meals. Practice the piano. Read to the kids. Have mind-blowing sex with our partner.
But the reality is — everything takes much longer than we think. In psychology, this is called the planning fallacy.
This also applies on a macro scale. That YouTube channel you want to build in one year? Make it five. Those 30 pounds you want to lose in 6 months? 24 months is much more realistic.
3. “I’ll start tomorrow.”
Some people will always put off important stuff until tomorrow.
A classic example is saving money. You don’t want to miss out on your shopping spree today, so you tell yourself, “I will still start being more frugal tomorrow.” This way, you get to feel good about yourself, while still buying that $300 pair of shoes.
But then tomorrow, it’s the same story. And so your money-saving plan keeps getting put off.
You may delay, but time will not.Benjamin Franklin
4. Not Connecting the Dots
I have a friend who keeps mentioning how one day he will lose his love handles. But then you see him eating and you wonder what he is talking about.
The problem is that like most of us, he cannot connect the dots.
We are not able to perceive how these future goals must be broken down into daily actions for them to become a reality.
Instead, we believe that somehow along the way things will figure themselves out.
But they don’t.
I oftentimes feel like I have too much to do. But that’s a lie. The truth is — I don’t prioritize enough. I allow too many different projects into my life because I have a hard time choosing.
It’s my fear of missing out. I want to have it all.
But the result is that I don’t give enough attention to any of my projects, hence not succeeding with anything. This further stresses me out.
How To Manage Your Time
To get the most out of your time, pay attention to these tips.
1. Understand the Game
It’s a cliché, but it’s true — we all get the same 24 hours in a day. But not all of us use these 24 hours to the same effect. Some few thrive, while most of us stagnate.
That is for two reasons:
- The high performers choose always high-return activities
- The high performers waste less time throughout the day
The first option is about choosing. Not all things matter equally. For example, learning online marketing provides a greater ROI than doing menial work on Amazon Mechanical Turk.
The second option is about not getting distracted. High performers don’t check their social media every couple of minutes, or pointlessly socialize for hours on end.
Everything comes down to these two basic levers. How good are you at picking high-ROI activities? And how good are you at saying “No” to distractions?
2. Define Your Values
What qualifies as time well-spent will vary from person to person.
If you dream of becoming a singer-songwriter, why are you playing video games all day? You are wasting your time.
But if you are crazy about Esports and are practicing each day for 10 hours to make the cut as a pro player, that is exactly what you should be doing.
It all comes down to what you value most in life.
That begs the question — how do you know what your most important value is?
Your most important value is usually hiding in plain sight. Look at what you have already done in life. What activities do you keep coming back to? Which threads keep popping up in your life?
What you love is already in your life.
You can also ask other people what they think your most important value in life is. Important — tell them to give you the truth, not the sugarcoated version.
If your most important value is a hunger for recognition, people might be reluctant to tell you so. Encourage them to do so anyway. It is better to acknowledge what truly drives you than to uphold some vanilla worldview.
3. Pick One Thing
We have only so much time to spend. And that means we won’t get around to everything.
It’s a hard truth to accept — we cannot have it all. Trade-offs must be made. You must pick one thing, and ignore all other things.
There is a macro and a micro perspective to this.
On the macro level, determine what your most important project in life is, the one thing that excites you more than anything else. Then make this your North Star. Everything else must fall in line with it.
On the micro level, ask yourself throughout the day: “Is what I am doing right now the best use of my time?” If the answer is “Yes,” continue. Otherwise, stop.
This is how you use your time for maximum impact.
4. Monitor Yourself
Most people live their lives on autopilot, never reflecting on where their time goes.
You must be the exception. You must become hyper-aware of how you are spending your time.
The time-diary exercise is great for that.
For a week, track every little thing you do. Use Excel or Google Sheets, or a software like Toggl. Now, every little thing you do gets noted down.
4 minutes eating a cereal bar?
38 minutes working on that presentation?
10 minutes in the bathroom?
6 minutes scrolling your Instagram?
It all gets tracked.
Then, at the end of each day, analyze your entries:
- Was activity X really what you should have been doing?
- Or was it a way to distract yourself?
This way, you will come to understand how irrationally you are spending your time. And that will result in more self-awareness, and ultimately in better choices.
5. Minimize Your Physical Belongings
Consumerism is a colossal time sink.
Reading online reviews. Comparing prices. Checking out. Carrying our purchases home. Unpacking them. Storing them. Returning them.
Then there is the upkeep. Getting your iPhone repaired. Filling up your car at the gas station. Fixing that Windows problem. Picking up your dry cleaning. Dusting off the stuff in your apartment.
It is never-ending. And the more stuff you own, the busier you will be.
Vice versa, the less stuff you own, the more time you will get back. By being an extreme minimalist, I easily regain ten hours each week. That is 520 extra hours a year I can spend on more meaningful activities.
Too many people spend money they haven’t earned, to buy things they don’t want, to impress people they don’t like.Robert Quillen
6. Work Your Way Backwards
Start with the end in mind.
For example, if your goal is to escape your 9-to-5 job and live a digital nomad lifestyle, you need to reverse-engineer this:
- “I need to make amount X to support my mobile lifestyle (airplane tickets, Airbnbs, food, insurance, etc.).”
- “To do so, I need to develop a portable skill set that customers are willing to pay for.”
- “I also need to announce my services to the world, through some kind of marketing.”
- “Finally, I need to get rid of my belongings, so I can move around freely.”
Now translate these milestones into a gameplan:
- “For the first six months, I will study PPC ads for four hours every day. This will be my portable skill set. I will complete several courses, read blogs on the topic, listen to podcasts, and take extensive notes.”
- “For the next six months after that, I will set up a simple website for my future business. I will run my own PPC ads for that website. I will also contact small businesses and offer to work for them for free. Again, four hours each day.”
- “For the next six months after that, I will cold-call ten businesses each day and explain to them how they can profit from my services. This way, I will build a customer base of five to ten clients.”
- “The final six months before the move, I will sell my house and my physical belongings. I will read up on long-term rentals in Bali. I will also get international health insurance, study basic Indonesian, and touch base with digital nomads on the ground.”
This is how you treat time as a commodity — by identifying your goal and then working your way backward.
7. Cut Out Human Timewasters
We all assume that certain people have a right to our time — our parents, our partner, our boss, our friends. When they come calling, you must jump.
On top of that, there is social protocol. If someone asks you nicely for directions, you are supposed to answer nicely. If you can do someone a favor, you are supposed to do so.
But that means your time is not your own anymore. At any point, someone might interrupt and tell you — however nicely — what you will be doing next.
The only thieves who are not punished in our society are the thieves of time.Napoleón Bonaparte
You must shut down time wasters. Make “No” your default answer. Only when what the other person propose aligns with your goals, do you say “Yes.” We are probably talking 1 out of 10 times — if that.
At the same time, it is important to not get angry with time wasters. They might be stealing from you, but it’s not out of malice. They simply adhere to different values. What they consider a useful investment of their time is not useful to you — and vice versa.
8. Cut Out Digital Timewasters
Most time we spend in front of a screen is wasted.
Scrolling through our social media feeds, checking out news websites, watching TV shows on Netflix, swiping left on Tinder — none of that leads anywhere. On the contrary, it makes us feel worse. It’s like a digital hangover.
I am not saying to ditch all electronics. I spend hours each day looking at screens. But the trick is to be a creator, not a consumer.
Be the one to program the app, not the one using it.
Be the one writing the movie script, not the one watching it.
Create helpful content to build your personal brand on social media. Don’t be the one scrolling.
Whenever you find yourself in front of a screen, ask yourself:
- “Am I currently consuming? Or am I creating?”
- When the answer is “consuming” — stop.
- When the answer is “creating” — continue.
9. Assess Your Sexual Relationships
Few things have as much of an impact on your time as your sexual relationships.
The person you share your bed with holds tremendous power over you. When they have similar values, they will “get” what you are doing. Feeling that support, you will accomplish more in less time.
But if your values differ, it will be hell. If the other person wants to nest while you want to travel the world, you will clash. And you will waste a lot of time in the process.
Take a long, critical look at your relationship. Are you really on the same page? Or are you barely tolerating each other?
Never hope you can reform someone to your values. You can’t change people. If the gap is too wide, end it. Find someone more compatible. Then watch your productivity skyrocket.
10. Take a Critical Look At Your Job
Most of us work what the late David Graeber called “Bullshit Jobs.” We create Excel sheets that nobody needs. We send emails that nobody reads. We have meetings that should never have taken place.
We spend half of our hours awake doing things that don’t matter. And you know it.
That is the reality of the 9 to 5 — you are a time prostitute. For eight hours a day, you must turn off your better judgment, and do as somebody else says.
You can’t keep closing your eyes to this reality. You are wasting the most precious commodity there is — your time on earth.
There are alternatives:
- You can start an online side hustle, like freelancing.
- You can become extremely frugal, quit your 9 to 5, and only work odd jobs.
- You can move to a country where your dollar goes much further and only work part-time.
- You can pour everything you have into your startup for 10 years and then exit.
- You can go off-grid and live off the land.
The real question is — will you be able to deviate from your social programming? Granted, it’s not easy. But if you do, your time will be yours again.
11. Outsource, but Do It Right
You can increase your free time by outsourcing busy work to others. This might mean hiring a person to do your outreach, prepare your meals, or walk your dog.
There are several things to pay attention to here.
You should never outsource because you are lazy. You must always do the work yourself first. Otherwise, you will not be able to assess the quality of the person you are outsourcing to.
Price is another stumbling block. People might outsource too early when there is not enough cash flow yet. But you get what you pay for. When you cannot pay much, you are better off doing the work yourself.
The flip side is putting off outsourcing for too long. Maybe you are a cheapskate. Or maybe you cannot let go. Either way, you will remain the bottleneck of your life.
Then there is the issue of quality. Most service providers will deliver subpar work.
The solution is the “Hire fast, fire faster” paradigm. I learned the hard way that you will never know what someone can do unless you try them out. But should they disappoint — and most people will — get rid of them instantly. Repeat until you find the right person.
Nothing is easy about outsourcing. It’s a skill set in itself. But once you master it, it will pay massive dividends. You will have more time to spend on things that matter.