How to escape time poverty and join the free.
By Brad Beckstrom
My oldest son came home a bit stressed out the other night. He recently started driving and has started to experience the chaos of rush hour traffic. I enjoy having everyone home for dinner and gave him a hard time about being late. I told him he needed to start managing his time better.
I sounded like one of my first bosses who used to say “We start at 8 Beckstrom, not 8:07 am or 8:11 am” or whatever the exact number of minutes I was late by was, as he tapped his Patek Philippe watch. At the time, I fixed the problem by planning to arrive at 7:45 AM. That worked for a while, until I realized putting on a suit and commuting to an office would not be my path.
Later, as an entrepreneur,I took time management to a whole new level, using day timers, Palm pilots, Treo phones (remember those?) I created multiple to do lists and scheduled my day to the minute, starting early and often finishing late. It was my turn to give people a hard time about being late. I was time poor.
The Time Poor from the book Vagabonding
“Sierra Club founder John Muir used to express amazement at the well-heeled travelers who would visit Yosemite only to rush away after a few hours of sightseeing. Muir called these folks the “time poor”- people so obsessed with their material wealth and social standing that they couldn’t spare the time to truly experience the splendor of California’s Sierra wilderness.”
120 years later, this hasn’t changed. Despite more people being fortunate enough to be able to travel, many, including myself often take only one week to see a place like Ireland or a day or two to see Rome as part of some whirlwind European trip. Staying in nice hotels, eating expensive meals but never really seeing a place. “Yep kids, look there’s big Ben Parliament.” Chevy Chase from European Family Vacation.
Many have chosen stuff and material wealth over time as a way of life. We tell ourselves we’ll take that long trip someday, spend more time with family, friends. Will take some time to get healthy again when things “slow down” a little or after we retire. Some of us fool ourselves into believing that by working harder we can buy ourselves some time, only to find out that managing more work and acquiring the finest, biggest stuff only makes us more time poor. Even the wealthiest billionaire cannot buy more time on this planet. In many cases, a high stress lifestyle will shorten your life versus lengthening it.
Bigger homes, bigger cars, bigger jobs, longer commutes only escalate time poverty. For years I was a victim of time poverty. In my 50 some odd years on this planet there are few things I wish I had picked up on a lot earlier. The good news is we’re fortunate enough in this century to fix the time poverty problem and it’s never too late to start.
So here are a few things I would’ve told my 25-year-old self.
Develop core principles and a philosophy of life.
Write them down. Keep them up to date, share them with others. I started this blog to share my principles and philosophy of life with others. Writing it down and sharing it helps hold me accountable. When life gets difficult, which it will, your core principles will be something you can fall back on, keeping you on course.
Read at least one book a month.
This can be on any topic you choose. This simple habit will change your life. If you struggle developing a philosophy of life or core principles reading will help you. The books I’ve read on art, adventure, finance, minimalism, even stoic philosophy have helped change my life. Once you get into this habit, you’ll find it easier over time. If someone told me in college I’d someday be reading three or four books a month for pleasure, I would’ve laughed at them. Many of the books I recommend here are free at your local library or using an app like OverDrive, for free electronic and audio books. If you don’t have time to go to a library or read a book a month, you are time poor, and reading is the first step in fixing that.
Stop buying so much stuff.
Instead of buying stuff, try embracing a more minimalist lifestyle. Take the money you save and invest it, watch it go to work for you, let the dollars compound over time. If you’re putting away 20% of your income, then take the money you save on stuff and put away 30% of your income once you get to 30%, try to put away 40%. The sooner you begin investing, the sooner you’ll solve your time poverty problem. If someone else is making your schedule, you are one of the time poor. Make sure you know what you’re saving for, if you wait till you’re 65 you may have waited too long.
Once you’re putting money away, simplify your investments. Buy two or three total market Index funds with fees under 0.10%. Not the1.5% or more many funds and money managers charge. You don’t need me to tell you this, you can listen to John Bogle or Warren Buffet. They both explained that market indexing is the most effective way to invest and you’ll beat 95% of the brokers, money managers and financial advisors out there. Most importantly, start early, the sooner you begin saving, the more those dollars can go to work for you through compounding.
Wear stuff out.
If you own a car or a bicycle plan on keeping it for 20 or more years. Take great care of it and it will become a classic. It will look better than most of the other cars or bikes out there. Take pride in wearing stuff out. Apply this principle to everything. Just buy less stuff and wear out the stuff you do have out completely. When you do wear something out, think hard about not replacing it. Each item you get rid of will simplify your life and be one less thing to clean, store, manage and repair.
Live in a smaller home.
Do you really need a living room, dining room, family room, and basement club room? To clean, to heat, to cool, to store stuff.. We use our dining room maybe three times a year. Before you buy a home, think hard about the space you’ll need. A big home increases your family’s overhead, things that sneak up on you and increase over time like, property taxes, home maintenance, multiple types of mortgage, flood and liability insurance. The bigger the home, the bigger the price tag, the more time poverty you create. The other problem with owning a big home, it gives us lots of places to store and accumulate stuff. We’ve accumulated so much stuff that it’s been three years since we started filling big goodwill boxes every month, and we’re just making a dent in it. Giving stuff away feels good, but I would’ve rather spend that time helping someone, or with my family.
Focus on experiences versus stuff.
I can tell you that buying, storing, managing and disposing of stuff is one of our biggest time wasters. Focus your newfound time on experiences versus stuff. An experience doesn’t need to be an expensive trip, it can be something as simple as a walk in the woods. The sooner you adopt this lifestyle, the less you’ll accumulate and the more time you’ll have. One habit builds upon the other.
Start working from home as soon as you can.
I freed up 20 weeks per year following this advice. You can start slow, a couple days a week but your endgame should be spending your workweek at home and avoiding all of the commuting, costuming, and meeting time sucks that go with the traditional office environment. I realize that an office is often an essential part of a young career but never take your eyes off the endgame. Regardless of what you’re working on this is one of the best time hacks out there.
Establish a daily practice
One of the greatest benefits of ending your time poverty problem is having the ability to establish a daily practice. Stepping away from the rat race can be a bit of a shock to the system. It’s expensive, you disrupt something you’ve been doing most of your life, commuting, working, consuming. A daily practice is what will allow you to reinvent yourself and enjoy the transition. I spend more time working and improving now than I ever have, but the difference is, I enjoy the hell out of it. The foundation of a daily practice is health. This is doing all the things that you didn’t have time to do when you were time poor. Walking for an hour a day and making physical exercise part of your day. Reading, learning, contributing even eating well are all things that will help you long-term.
Play the long game.
I don’t spend a lot of time talking about early retirement. Actually if you’ve been working for 40 years and suddenly retire it can kill you. Many people have a great deal of difficulty transitioning. The long game is taking time (early) to figure out what you love to do so much that you would turn 65 and just keep on going. Start doing that thing now.
The purpose behind all this planning and effort is not to retire early but to be one of those time shifters who is still going strong at 85 enjoying what they do instead of sitting in a retirement home. This has a lot more to do with how you spend your time now than genetics or luck in the future.
@the_frug on twitter.