Are you the master of your own time?
Most people are not. They have to work set hours, can only take certain days off, and get a limited amount of vacation time each year.
They lack freedom of time. Their employer decides how they structure their day, not them.
But it doesn’t have to be that way.
Learn what types of time freedom there are, how you can go about achieving them, and why you need to watch out for freedom porn.
How We Spend Our Time
Let’s assume you work for eight hours a day. Let’s also assume you sleep for eight hours per night.
That leaves you with eight hours to yourself — a meager third of your day.
However, we haven’t yet taken into account the myriad of chores we have to keep up with:
- Going to the bathroom
- Taking a shower
- Preparing food
- Doing the dishes
- Doing laundry
- Cleaning the apartment
- Keeping fit
In the end, you are left with virtually no time to yourself.
Work = Time Prison
So, who is the villain here?
Obviously, you need to sleep.
You also need to take showers, eat, and keep fit.
That leaves work.
Your 9-to-5 job is the reason you have no time. By selling our hours to our employers, we put ourselves in time prison. Our lives pass us by while we are busy filling out Excel sheets.
The Two Carrots
To make sure we keep showing up at our cubicle, there are two carrots being dangled in our faces:
But both of these are not worth it.
1. Money Is Overrated
We trade our time for money. In our minds, money trumps everything.
But this is shortsighted, for several reasons.
First, what is the point of making lots of money if you have no time to enjoy it? Do you really think being old and rich will make up for missing out on your best years?
Second, money is recoverable, time is not. If you lose all your money, there is a chance you will gain it back later. With time, there is no “Later.” Every second that passes is gone.
Third, money is a poor indicator of happiness. Despite what most poor people imagine, many rich people are miserable.
Money is overrated. Yet most of us are thoroughly ensnared by it.
2. Retirement Is a Sham
The other carrot our employers use is retirement.
One magical day far off in the future, we will get control over our time back. We’ll be able to sleep in, sit at the beach, and sip cocktails all day — or whatever it is you want to do.
There is a flaw with this logic, though. Having freedom of time when you are retirement age is not the same thing as having time freedom when you are young.
A lot of the things that you enjoy now — playing sports, having sex — you won’t enjoy anymore (or at least not to the same degree).
This is by design. The corporate world doesn’t want your late years when you are fragile. They want your best years when you are brimming with energy.
The Two Sticks
Besides the two carrots, there are also two sticks to keep us in time prison:
- The hand-to-mouth deal
- The circle of consumption
1. The Hand-To-Mouth Deal
As an employee, you are guaranteed a constant cash flow. Every month, you receive an amount X. This ensures your immediate survival.
However, your employer will not pay you what you are actually worth.
For example, a salesperson might make their employer multiple times what they are being paid. The employer will pocket this surplus.
This is the deal we strike — immediate survival for waiver of profit.
As a result, we have little wriggle room. We make enough to support ourselves but not enough to take a prolonged time-out.
It’s a hand-to-mouth deal.
2. The Circle of Consumption
Then there is the circle of consumption.
Because we are so frustrated with our 9-to-5 jobs, we at least want to have some fun when we are not working.
So, what little extra money we make, we right away squander.
We buy all kinds of crap we don’t need — dresses, electronics, sports cars. On the weekends, we blow through our money at expensive clubs. We spend thousands of dollars for two weeks at a resort in Tulum.
But to pay for all of this, we have to — you guessed it — work again.
It’s “consume” so we don’t go crazy from work.
It’s “work” so we can keep consuming.
It never ends.
The 3 Types of Time Freedom
To get out of the time prison, you must understand which type of time freedom you are aiming for.
The three options are:
- The freedom to choose your working hours
- The freedom to shift time from work to leisure
- The freedom to work very little overall
1. Choosing Your Working Hours
This type of time freedom allows you to set your own working hours.
You can start at 9 o’clock in the morning, like a “normal” person. Or you can start at midnight and work into the wee hours. Or you can do anything in between.
With this option, it doesn’t matter when you work as long as the work gets done.
This is the easiest of the three options to pull off. All you need to do is to set up some kind of digital service business, e.g., start working as a graphic designer. As long as you meet the client’s deadline, they won’t care when you do the work.
2. Shifting Time Around
Here, you want to be able to allocate time from work to leisure whenever you see fit.
For example, you might decide to work fewer hours next month because you want to get ready for your first Muay Thai competition.
The same idea applies to sabbaticals. Instead of slogging away, you might decide to spend the next six months traveling South America.
Compared to option 1, this is more difficult to pull off. Most of your clients will not be thrilled if you randomly disappear throughout the year. We will discuss ways to mitigate that later.
3. Working Very Little
With this option, you are free to work very little overall. Each morning when you wake up, you decide what you will do today. Every day is wide open.
There are two different ways to accomplish that.
First, you can radically bring down your cost of living. When you have virtually no expenses, you don’t have to work a 9 to 5.
Second, you can set up an automated income stream. If you have enough capital to start with, you can invest it in real estate or the stock market, and then live off the dividends.
Of the three options for time freedom, this is the most difficult one to pull off, especially if we are talking about passive income. Most people don’t have the initial funds.
How To Put This Into Practice
Depending on your preferred type of time freedom, you must implement a certain lifestyle:
- Choosing your working hours –> freelancing
- Shifting time around –> agency work or content businesses
- Working very little –> frugality, automation, or investing
For this option, you must set up a digital service business. Services you could provide include copywriting, graphic design, video, editing, developing, etc.
With any of these gigs, it doesn’t matter when you do the work, as long as you meet the client’s deadline.
You are now free to set your own hours.
Note that with this model, you are still trading your time for money.
But it’s a step up from a 9 to 5, as you are keeping your own profits. You can charge more per hour than what an employer would pay you.
2. Agency Work or Content Businesses
To be able to shift time from work to leisure, you have two options. Either you become a freelancer who exclusively works for large agencies, or you start a search-based content business.
a) Become a Freelancer for Large Agencies
When I refer to large agencies, I mean several million dollars in revenue.
Why this large?
Because large agencies will be the most forgiving if you tell them that, unfortunately, you can’t take on this project because you are going on a plant medicine retreat in Peru for the next 4 weeks.
Despite the inconvenience, they will take you back, simply because they have so many projects going on, and rarely enough freelancers to fulfill them.
This doesn’t fly with small agencies. They prefer working with the same few freelancers. If you regularly sit one out, they will start looking for somebody more reliable.
This goes double for direct clients. They are even more unforgiving. If you are constantly off doing fun stuff, they will stop taking you seriously.
There are drawbacks to working with large agencies only. They pay okay, but never as much direct clients. Also, you can’t influence what type of client you get to work for.
b) Build a Search-Based Content Business
Examples of this option are niche websites or YouTube channels.
The idea is to generate as much free traffic as possible. A certain percentage of these visitors will then convert into buyers. You monetize by pushing affiliate products or by creating your own products, e.g., courses.
Once you have produced enough evergreen content — usually in the range of several hundred articles or videos — you can take time off. Even if you don’t put out any new content for several months, traffic (and sales) will keep coming in.
Also, these businesses scale. It doesn’t make a difference if you sell your course to 10 people or 1000 people per month. With this business model, you are no longer trading time for money.
There are other drawbacks, though.
First, you can’t keep coasting forever, or the search engine will eventually send you less traffic.
Second, it usually takes several years before you start seeing money from a content business. Few people have the patience for that.
3. Frugality, Automation, or Investing
Let’s look at your options if you want to work as little as possible.
a) Radically Cut Your Costs
British writer Robert Wringham detailed this approach in his book “Escape Everything.”
To get his time back, he cut his cost to about $500 per month. This allowed him to only work odd jobs. Most of the time, he was free to do as he pleased. He would read, take long walks, meet up with friends, etc.
I have tested this myself.
In 2019, I lived in a tiny apartment in Leipzig, cooked all of my meals at home, and rode my bike everywhere. I only spent around $700 per month.
As a result, I hardly had to take on any freelance work and could completely focus on a passion project of mine.
It was a serene, wonderful way of living, but it also had its downsides. Whenever I wanted to make a purchase, I had to ask myself first, “Can I afford this?” Socializing with friends became difficult, too. And the most painful one – I could not travel.
In essence, you are getting freedom of time, but you are paying with it for material freedom. If that’s a deal you are comfortable with, this can be a great option.
b) Hire a CEO
If you have a business of a certain size, you could put someone else in charge. You could hire a CEO.
This only becomes an option once you pass a certain revenue threshold. From what more experienced people tell me, we are talking high seven figures per year.
Before that, your margin isn’t big enough to both pay someone and continue making money yourself.
But finding a competent leader is difficult. Chances are, if they are that competent, they already have their own shop. And if they don’t, they probably aren’t that competent.
The third option is investing — provided you have the funds. If you invested a significant amount of money in real estate or in the stock market, you could then live off the earnings.
More successful friends tell me that you are looking at an initial investment of $1–5 million, depending on your average interest rate.
That is a large amount of money, but not an impossible amount of money.
Consequently, some people double down on work for 5–10 years, so they can then invest all their capital and never work again.
However, this is a rather joyless endeavor.
Growing a business in that little time leads to certain business models — tech startups, VC funds, and agencies. And while these businesses might make you a lot of money, they are not known for providing you with a purpose in life.
Why “Passive Income” Is a Myth
The idea of passive income was popularized by Tim Ferriss in his book “The 4-Hour Workweek.” He proposed that you build an automated online business — a so-called muse — that can be maintained on just four hours of work per week.
An example of this would be a drop shipping business, where you market a physical product over the Internet via Google Ads. The manufacturing, storage, and delivery are all outsourced to an external provider.
I like Tim Ferris as a writer, but the muse concept doesn’t check out. All the case studies he has ever provided on his blog were for full-time businesses, hence rendering the premise of his book pointless.
“The 4-Hour Workweek” also doesn’t check out on a logical level.
Even if you discover a niche that has not been occupied yet, it won’t stay a secret for long. Other players will realize that you have struck gold and copy your business model.
Most of these players won’t be concerned with time freedom, but with profit. They will happily work 40–60 hours.
As a result, their business will soon overtake your business. They will have better marketing, a better product, and better customer support. You will be left in their wake.
Don’t fall for this kind of “freedom porn.” If it sounds too good to be true, it usually is.
9 Tips To Achieve Time Freedom
Here are nine tips to help you achieve freedom of time.
1. Choose Your Path
Too often, people who dream of time freedom have only vague notions about it. As a result, they never get anywhere.
You must have a crystal-clear idea of what you want.
Look at the three types of time freedom we discussed earlier. Understand the specific lifestyles that go with them. Weigh their pros and cons.
Then choose your model and stick with it.
2. Be Patient
No matter what model you choose, you won’t be able to implement it overnight.
With each of the options we discussed, we are looking at 6–24 months of implementation.
The “Become rich first, then invest” model will take even longer, probably around 5 to 10 years.
So, be patient. Time freedom takes time.
3. Be Wary of Easy Answers
Time, money, passion — you can only have two out of three.
Whenever someone is trying to convince you that “you can have it all,” run for the hills.
They are either bragging — “Look how I outsmarted the system” — or they are trying to sell you something.
4. Go Frugal
The less you spend, the less you will be dependent on your 9 to 5, aka the biggest time waster in your life.
Therefore, create a list of all your expenses:
Then cut what you can.
No matter what model for time freedom you decide on, it will give you more wriggle room.
5. Eliminate Debt
If you have debt, eliminate that first.
Start by making a list of all the different debts you have (credit cards, student loans, etc.). Then order them from smallest to biggest.
Now, for all items but the smallest one, you will just pay the required monthly minimum. But the smallest debt on your list, you will pay off as quickly as possible, throwing every extra cent at it.
Once you are done with paying the smallest debt off, you move on to the second-smallest item on your list. And so on.
6. Stop Wasting Time
To create time freedom for yourself, you must first become more efficient at using the little time you have. This will give you more leverage for restructuring your life.
Here are some suggestions:
- Track your time. All of us have unrealistic notions about how much time we waste. To get clarity, for two weeks, track every little thing you do.
- Learn to say “No.” Make “No” your default answer. Only if the request of the other person aligns with your own priorities, do you say “Yes.”
- Cut out human time wasters. Some people like to waste time by spreading negativity. Cut them out.
- Cut out digital time wasters. Social media, Netflix, the news — all of these lead nowhere. Ditch them.
- Try out monk mode. Monk mode is when you self-isolate from the world for a while. All you do is work on your most important project.
- Have a second brain. “Download” your brain into an external system. It will free up your mental bandwidth for creative work.
7. Focus On One Thing
Most of us try to accomplish too many things at the same time.
Get a six-pack. Learn Italian. Find Mr. or Ms. Right.
You can only make progress with one important project at a time. If you want to achieve time freedom, focus on that.
Once you do, you can move on to the next thing.
8. Treat Outsourcing as a Skill Set
For entrepreneurs, outsourcing is often touted as the solution to all time problems. Just get someone from the Philippines to do it while you kick back.
But outsourcing is hard. In the beginning, you will hire the wrong candidates and create more chaos than if you had done the work yourself.
Treat outsourcing as the complex skill set it is. There is a learning curve.
Here are a few pointers:
- Outsource the right type of work. Outsource activities that you don’t enjoy, or work that you are not good at. This will remove bottlenecks.
- Hire fast, fire faster. If someone turns out to be the wrong choice, don’t hope for things to get better — they won’t. Let them go right away.
- Understand cultural differences. Freelancers from other cultures have different ideas about work and communication. Be aware of that.
- Be fair, but direct. You want to treat your freelancers fairly. At the same time, don’t gloss over problems to avoid confrontations.
- Keep your high performers happy. Compliment them for a job well down. Ask for their opinion on important issues in your business. Pay them a bonus.
9. Don’t Let People Shame You
When you aspire to time freedom, some people will try to shame you for that.
“Not everybody can do this online nonsense. Some of us have to work real jobs.”
Don’t let this faze you. On the contrary, frame it as encouragement.
If “normal” people are critical of you, that’s a good sign. It means you are well on your way to leaving social conventions behind.