Improving Investor Behavior – Managing Your Time Like Money


This article originally appeared in the Denver Post, April 21, 2019.

As a financial advisor, I am typically hired by clients to help them manage their resources. Most often, these are financial resources including cash, investments, etc. Sometimes I help people to manage their business resources such as connecting professionals, encouraging action, and providing advice to help make sound decisions. But there is one resource that I help investors to consider, one that we all have, but tend to be terrible at managing.

That resource is time.

Because time is finite (we all have precisely the same amount of minutes in the day – 1,440 to be exact), it is our single greatest asset. We can’t create more of it, and it will continue to disappear if we choose not to use it. As a result, time is even more valuable than money. Ask anyone on their deathbed if they’d rather have $100k or another year to enjoy their friends and family and I’m sure you’ll hear the same answer time and again.

Historically, “traditional” companies sell products and services in exchange for cash, the most common currency. We trade money for a full pantry, warm clothes, and reliable transportation. We’ve come to expect this type of transaction, and we use software, services, and even financial advisors to help us manage money for products or services type purchases. But what about the businesses built to capture our most important currency?

Today many companies sell their products in exchange for time and attention. These companies tend to be web-based. Think services like Facebook, Instagram, Google, Netflix, etc. They exchange their product for your time. As a result, attention has become the most valuable currency in Silicon Valley and the war to collect more of it is fierce.

This results in the exploitation of some of our worst characteristics as humans. Consider the “pull-to-refresh” action in some of these apps. Sometimes we are rewarded with a new post, match, or picture. Sometimes we are not. But this intermittent reward is exactly what hooks people. Feels a lot like a slot machine, doesn’t it? There are studies on the chemical reaction that people experience, and yes it is very much an addiction.

Because attention has become so valuable, apps and services are designed to gather as much of it as possible, regardless of the psychological toll it may be taking on the user. This has a profound effect on people who may not be keeping track of their time budget. Just how much time did you spend on Facebook last week?

Recently I was introduced to the book, Making Time written by two early Google programmers who were instrumental in the creation of Gmail. The authors of the book laid out many examples of how technology rules our lives, and our time. They point out all the defaults that come with the devices we have in our pockets, purses, briefcases, at home, on our desks, and yes even on our wrists. If you think about time as a currency, you begin to change your mindset on how you spend your time, who takes (steals) your time, and how you might invest your time.

So many freely “pay up” with their time wallet, not thinking about time as a currency. How you invest the time in your time wallet is critical. Managing money can, and should, be applied similarly to how we manage time.  Wealth can be created and saved, but once the time is spent, it’s gone forever.

So I encourage you to apply some of the same methods we use to manage money and apply them to your time currency.

First, take stock of what you have. Without making an effort to change anything, merely monitor your time. Where are you spending it? How much of it is productive? How much of it is leisure? Where do you spend it and with whom? Track this and gain insight into where you currently stand.

Second, build out a budget. Ideally, how much sleep would you like to get? Do you want to budget an hour of your time for exercise? What about self-development via reading or taking a class? The habits we follow and the small things we do every day ultimately define us. Take the time to build out a budget and set an agenda for yourself. This will limit the feeling of being pushed and pulled in different directions all day.

Third, monitor and alter the budget as life changes. Nothing is set in stone and life is continually evolving. Your time budget should evolve as well. As you move toward making work a choice, your priorities are likely to change. Without working all day, you’ll find an ample amount of new time to budget. But I’ll bet the time spent at work resulted in feelings of productivity, accomplishment, and pride. Remember to find ways to keep these emotional “banks” topped off with revisions to your time budget.

Fourth, find ways to create more time. Now I’m not encouraging you to buy a second-hand Delorean, but there are ways to stretch the time you have available. For instance, hiring a fitness coach may result in a better workout, ultimately resulting in fewer visits to the gym or a better result in the same amount of time. A housekeeper may return time spent cleaning and dusting. Meal prepping on a Sunday means less time cooking throughout the week. Building a team of helpers and creating processes means you can accomplish more in the same amount of time.

Time is a resource, just like cash and investments. And while we are all blessed with it, it is still more valuable than gold. Take stock of how you spend your time and invest it well. It will pay a dividend greater than any available in the market.

Steve Booren

Steve Booren is the Owner and Founder of Prosperion Financial Advisors, located in Greenwood Village, Colo. He is the author of Blind Spots: The Mental Mistakes Investors Make and Intelligent Investing: Your Guide to a Growing Retirement Income and a regular columnist in The Denver Post. He was recently named a Barron's Top Financial Advisor and recognized as a Forbes Top Wealth Advisor in Colorado.

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