Time : 4 steps to optimise your most precious resource

love my dad. He is one of the hardest working people I know. He always used to say — “Don’t go to gyms and burn calories without an outcome. Do some work in the garden or house. You’ll get some work done and also become healthier”. And you know what? He was absolutely completely wrong…

Time is an extremely precious resource for us. Comparing to the age of the universe, you were given 0.00000001% of this resource when you were born. The worst part is, it’s bleeding away as we speak and there’s nothing we can do to stop or even slow it down. Only way to use it wisely is to ration and manage.

But the good news is we’re all in a level playing field. Almost all of us have the same amount of “effective” time on the earth — which is around 40–50 years. And time is going to get spent in the same rate for everybody. So the differentiator is how anyone manages and optimises it.

I’m not saying you have to spend all your life doing noble work. If you want to spend your life playing video games, that’s fine by me. But optimise your time to achieve the best happiness from your gaming life. We’re not here to talk about purpose. We’re here to talk about the demon of time.

Let’s get back to my dad. Why was he wrong? With all the things I’ve mentioned above, isn’t his argument make more and more sense?

The issue is — optimisation (specially considering time) is a much more complex concept than simple parallelisation.

Let’s take dad’s example.

Over hundreds of years we have perfected the exercises and workouts to burn calories, build muscles, increase blood flow and achieve many other benefits in most optimal way. You won’t be able to come closer to the effect of an hour in the gym, even if you work days in your garden. So the most sensible solution is not to half-arse both tasks simultaneously, but to spend an hour in the gym and spend the rest of the time as billable hours in your job so you can hire a gardener. What if you are doing a 8–5 job and you can’t increase your billable hours? How about spending that time to start another income stream? Or learning something that would get you promoted in your job and increase your earning potential?

Point is, there are thousands of way you can spend your time optimally (and let a gardening professional to come and spend his time optimally too).

At the end of the day, you’ll be much healthier, you’ll have a way better looking garden, and you’ll have some left over time and money to spare. Way more optimal than my dad’s method.

By now, it should be apparent to us that it’s not always crystal clear what the optimal solution for a problem is. Solution I gave above also might not be optimal for everyone. What if you want to spend some time with your family everyday as well? Spending some quality time in the garden with your family might be the optimal solution then.

To help untangle this issue and allocate the time optimally, I have derived 4 steps for me to follow. These are not task and time management techniques, apps to help you focus, or ancient secrets to overcome procrastination. Rather, these are some generic and high level steps to follow throughout your life to align it properly. You can use all the task management techniques in the world on top of this if you want, to manage your day-to-day and your goals.

Before getting into specifics, I need to emphasise that these steps are not sorted by the importance, but rather by the order you need to tackle each. That’s how Step 4 which is the most important, ended up at the bottom. Read through and you’ll understand.

Step 1 : Optimise your profession

The world’s basic unit of value is money. Not all but most of other valuable thing for us can be purchased if you have enough money. Although some might argue otherwise, if 100 Million dollars drop down on your foot today, wouldn’t you have a bit more happier life with all the fun things you can do? Wouldn’t you be bit more healthier with all the healthy and nutritious foods you can afford? all the medicine and medical procedures you can afford?

As you might have heard — rather than money itself,

Lack of money is the root of all evil

George Bernard

So finding a method to accumulate as much wealth as we can — sacrificing as little time as we can is our first step.

Only way to do this reliably is to find the profession that you have the most capability on, and the highest demand in the society.

For me, it’s being a Data Scientist. I have the capability in software field, and the industry currently is very hot on Machine Learning. So the optimal profession for me is the one I’m in. It doesn’t matter if I like game development or quantum computing better.

Don’t follow your dreams just to be broke.

Find a profession which you like at least a bit, can tolerate a lot, and would be paid a buttload — and requires as minimum time allocation as possible.

Step 2: Optimise your chores

“Man is made for something better than disturbing dirt”— Oscar Wilde

We spend so much of our time doing chores and shifting between them — both mentally and physically. We need to get ahead of this and regain all of the lost time.

If you have an optimal profession, it’s not that hard to fix this leak as well. As I’ve explained in my dad’s example, you can find someone who can do a decent number of your chores better than you for a reasonable pay. Delegate as much of these chores as you can.**

The ‘time’ you recover from this, can be allocated to either the step 1 or to step 4 below as your liking. The mental freedom you gain from this step should not be underestimated either. I promise you. You will sleep a lot better after this step.

There is one question we should answer though. Do I delegate all my chores? If not what percentage? Which ones?

The simple rule of thumb I have is — to delegate all the tasks which cost less than my hourly rate.

The idea is that I will have a net profit for the delegated time. This might sound very weird but — Delegating is preserving valuable hours by spending less valuable hours.

Ok it’s not that simple. How do you calculate your hourly rate. Is it the same as your job’s? I don’t have a straight answer for this. It will mostly depend on what you will be doing on this rescued time. For me, I will mostly be developing other income streams and learning new technologies which will advance me in my profession (which in-turn will increase my billable rate). I consider all of this when calculating my hourly rate.

Only you will know the worth of your hours. But no matter how hard it is, give a monetary value to your hours. It will make the process much easier. When the years go by, you can always revisit this value and modify as necessary.

Step 3: Optimise the remaining tasks

After the step 2, you will be left with some tasks which are either impossible to delegate (such as visiting a relative, or commuting to work) or too expensive to delegate (may be painting your house). Note that these are not your hobbies or fun activities of sorts. These are just grinds that just needs to be completed and get over with. Anyway, you will have no way around but to do these tasks yourself.

The best way to optimise these tasks is to do the exact minimum work needed, to mark them as completed. It’s that simple.

However, to keep you from cheating and doing a bad job (like only painting the wall around the bookshelf because the rest is invisible), define a strict scope for these tasks. Be as specific as you can. Never start a vague or open ended task such as “learn french”. Instead define the task as “learn to fully read and understand Les Misérables”. That way, you’ll know exactly when to yell “Done” — and move on.

You can define a deadline as well if you need. That’s not important. What’s important is that one day you should be able to tick this task off as completed, with absolute certitude.

Step 4: Optimise your happiness

Although this is the last step, it’s the most important of all. We placed all of the above systems in place to come here. This is where your life actually happens. “Who you are” is defined by the things you do in this step with the time you have gathered from the above.

You can choose to do philanthropy or to play video games. You can write a book or watch TV with your family. If you love your profession, you can allocate this time also, to pursue that. World is your oyster.

So if you can spend this time to do whatever makes you happy, why have I put “Optimise” in the title?

It’s because you shouldn’t spend this hard earned time willy-nilly either. What a waste that would be?

We all are procrastination machines. We’d procrastinate our happiness away as well if we could. How many hours have you spent in-front of the TV watching informercials? How many hours you waited on the bed in the morning, just to pass some time. Did those things make you happy? Is swiping through Facebook make you happy? If so, by all means. But I’m assuming, most probably not.

So understand what makes you happy. Be as crazy as you need. But be specific. Once you have understood what makes you happy the most, it won’t be that hard to live your free hours to the fullest and feel satisfied every second. That’s how you would optimise your happiness.

Because economics is all about optimising, doing the best you can with what you have — it’s usually the first place you should look for answers if you want to maximise your happiness

Emily Oster

It’s very hard to keep track of what’s happening around you and sometimes it feels like you have no control over anything. You flail hither and thither with the society and without you knowing, best of your time has passed away without any substance.

Although it seems impossible, we have to find some order inside this chaos to position ourselves and stabilise.

Once you built a tight ship and strong sails, you’ll be able to steer towards your destination through this chaos happily and strongly while enjoying every bit of the journey along the way.

Good luck and Happy sailing…

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