How do you spend money to save time?
It's a — pardon the expression — timeless saying:
"You can always make more money, but you can't make more time."
The staunch followup to that tends to be that you can make better use of time.
Like 10,000 pebbles
I've been thinking a lot lately about tiny — even "microscopic" — shifts in my daily activities that add up big in the long run.
For example, one of my faves on the computer is setting up PhraseExpress text macros to auto-paste frequently-used snippets of text, cutting down 10 secs of typing into a 1-second keystroke on each pass. Not to mention the memory overhead of needing to recall each snippet. When each instance is viewed in isolation, that's not very much. But multiply that over weeks, and the savings are phenomenal.
Another one of my fave habits is to batch-process documents: I stack stuff I need to scan and archive into a shoebox, then every couple of weeks or so, I put on lovely music like Philip Glass and start an intense half-hour to an hour of filing them all. This removes the overhead of switching between tasks, since each time I do this, I need to arrange the scanner and documents, and go through a series of steps that are simply more efficient when done in one "swell foop" than piecemeal. Having such concentration also adds to getting the task done effectively. It's economy of scale applied domestically.
Like any healthy habit, these involve repetition. But the smart kind.
A fair exchange?
Spending money to save time is a must for resourceful people, since there are some things which just about anyone can do, like raking leaves or mowing the lawn. However, if you have creative inspiration or life dreams that only you understand (at least so far), there's no way you can transfer your innermost tasks to have them carried out, let alone communicate them to another person. More importantly, while someone you've paid is doing what you consider a boring task (and don't feel bad — it's a fair exchange of money for your focus), you're in a position to generate even more wealth, whether it's rolling in net dough or spending quality time with family. In fact, one commonplace but no less important money-for-time exchange is paying a babysitter so you can enjoy a night on the town with your sweetie. The thought that you love your kid less because of this is absurd.
On a grander scale, books and blogs on "outsourcing your life" have gotten popular, with many copycats tagging on Tim Ferriss' coattails. While you'll never want to entrust some personal tasks to others, the next time you feel time-crunched about a recurring activity that someone else could do — especially if it feels like a tiresome déjà vu — consider doing what I call a CLE, or "Cheap Lightweight Experiment" to test if more life automation may be right for you. Whether it's hiring someone to do manual labor or using the Amazon Mechanical Turk to "hive-mind" some info you need, there are plenty of options. Spend a few bucks and observe the results.
I challenge you to: get stuff you're used to doing in an hour… done in 45 minutes or less. This could very well mean your work, due to a higher sense of structure and ordered tasks there. But it could just as easily be a household chore or other recurring activity at home. This doesn't mean you'll rush through it carelessly. It means you either become more intense about finding shortcuts or not doing/ignoring unnecessary parts (and there almost always are if you look really closely), or delegating/outsourcing it to someone else entirely.
I find practicing this every day of my existence not only makes me sharper, it helps me to have more useful fun — what I often portmanteau as "usefun" — because events are more memorable. My comprehension and self-awareness increases. I care more, and I'm far better off than, say, someone who isn't just riddled with distractions, but is merely doing an "OK" job and not looking to get more out of all those little slices of time that pass us each day. That's such a sloppy waste, especially when there are so many opportunities to invest in a tool or pay a person to help us make better use of our time.
In turn, when you're stretched out and relaxing — whether it's in our bed or on the beach — you'll feel that much better about it. You've optimized what needs to be tight, and now you can enjoy the slack.
A matter of perspective
As tough as it can be to avoid when you're in a jam, penny-pinching at the expense of feeling freer isn't really saving money at all. It's like hoarding a small treasure in a locked room when there's so much gold to discover outside the door, as scary as it may seem.
Do you regularly and consciously spend money to save time? Or is something you're still afraid of? And if you have questions about my specific processes, please ask!
Editor's note: This post was selected for The Best of the Best in Money and Personal Finance carnival!