The Best Time Investments You Can Make

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Invest Your TimeWe all agree that time is more valuable than money.

At least, that’s what we say.

Then we turn around and spend hours watching bad TV we’re not even that interested in. Or 45 minutes on the phone with customer service fighting a $5 charge. Or years in a relationship or friendship we stopped feeling fulfilled by long ago.

But I’m convinced it’s not for a lack of good intent that we often end up treating time as our most fungible asset. (Hey, there’s plenty more where that came from, right? Well, not really … ) I think we simply get too busy to think about it, or don’t think we have the resources to make more time in our lives. We do have the resources, though. All it takes is a fresh look at how we really spend our days, hours and moments.

I’ve been thinking about time as a tangible asset not unlike money in many ways, and about ways to invest our time to yield higher returns—better memories, more hours well spent, even minutes that nourish us instead of fly by. After much research, experience and reflection, below are what I found to be the seven best investments you can make with your time. Think of these as blue-chip time investments that can’t go wrong—and that will yield high dividends for a more fulfilled life.

1. Invest in “Life-Extending” Time

Investing time in caring for your health is an obvious one that will certainly yield you more time, literally—in days, months, if not years tacked on to your life. Yet we often take our health for granted until we experience a wake-up call. Proactively invest your time in your health by eating well, exercising regularly, getting plenty of sleep and regularly seeing your doctors. Invest heartily in those non-physical markers of well-being as well: emotional, mental and spiritual health—you will reap many hours of well-lived life from them. Learn the habits of the Blue Zone people, from the regions in the world where people live the longest. Some common lifestyle traits they share? Building in natural movement and activity, lowering stress and being part of a faith-based community.

2. Invest in “Foundation-Building” Time

There’s a little saying that goes, “A stitch in time saves nine.” Create the time to make the right stitches, and you’ll be spared much time, hassle (and usually expense) later. Stephen Covey refers to this concept in “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.” According to him, we spend our time primarily on four types of activity:

  • (1) urgent and important (crisis, deadlines, putting out fires)
  • (2) non-urgent and important (building relationships, identifying opportunities, prevention, planning)
  • (3) urgent and non-important (interruptions, phone calls, meetings)
  • (4) non-urgent and non-important (TV, email, time wasters)

Covey says that we spend most of our time in sections (1) and (4), but the real area of personal growth is in (2). If you’re spending more time putting out fires than building the right foundations, you’ll never get out ahead of your to-do list.

3. Invest in “Do-Nothing” Time

Americans could use a little dose of “La Dolce Far Niente,” or “the sweetness of doing nothing,” something the Italians and many other cultures have mastered. In America, we don’t feel our time is well spent unless we’re either producing or consuming, says social psychologist Robert V. Levine, author of “A Geography of Time: On Tempo, Culture, and the Pace of Life,” which is a limited (and frankly, stressful) perspective. In other parts of the world, such as India, it’s normal for people to enjoy each others’ company without activity or even conversation. Investing in do-nothing time will help us slow down and experience a different pace of life, in which time’s value is not measured by its productivity.

4. Invest in “System-Creating” Time

It’s well-established in happiness psychology research that making small improvements to your life pays out exponentially in happiness. For example, putting a keyhook by the door so that you don’t spend five minutes every morning hunting for your keys. Or rearranging your closet so you can actually see everything, and not spend 20 minutes each morning figuring out what to wear. Or coming up with a better filing system for your digital photos, or your expenses (check out LearnVest’s My Money Center), so your personal admin time can be cut in half. Investing some up-front time in creating better, more organized systems will reap you lots of time in the long run.

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5. Invest in “Cushion” Time

This is one of those time investments that’s so simple, but can yield such great results in your life. In the famous “Good Samaritan” study from Princeton University in 1973, researchers John M. Darley and C. Daniel Batson put an injured person in the path of several groups of people, to see who would stop and help: those running late, those who had just enough time, and those with plenty of time to get to their destination. They also controlled for people’s religious affiliation. The results: religious affiliation had no impact on whether the individual stopped to help the person—but whether the person was in a hurry had a huge impact. Only 10% of those in a big hurry stopped to help the person, 45% of those in a medium hurry did—but 63% of those not rushed at all stopped to help. This means that being in a rush may be preventing you from being the kind of person you want to be—the kind to stop and help someone in need. Building in lots of cushion time in your schedule and preventing “constant hurriedness syndrome” is a great investment in yourself and in the quality of life of those around you.

6. Invest in “Savoring” Time

A recent 2010 study published in the Association for Psychological Science found that wealthy people are unhappier because they have a lower “savoring ability” (the ability to enhance and prolong positive emotional experience), like taking in the colors of a sunset or the taste of a cold beer. Apparently, having access to the best things in life may actually undermine your ability to reap enjoyment from life’s small pleasures. It’s not a coincidence that savoring requires slowing down—taking a few extra seconds to really look at the colors of the leaves, or munching slowly to enjoy the texture of a bite. Investing time in savoring all the unique sensorial moments of your day will guarantee your moments don’t flash by in a dull blur.

7. Invest in “Time Assessment” Time

You wouldn’t keep spending or investing money without assessing how well things were going every month, quarter or year, and the same thing should apply to your time. How frequently you decide to take stock is up to you—but a good system might be:

  • Five minutes a day to make sure you’ve invested time in at least one thing on this list
  • 15 minutes a week to review your past week’s schedule and what you wish you had made time for, and what time investment made you happiest
  • One hour a month (or two to three hours a season) of quiet time with a journal to assess the past season, how your time felt and how you’d like to invest your time in the coming season—this can pair nicely with the tempo of the period. For example, holidays may mean more family investment time, the new year can be career-focused, summertime may have a big leisure time component, etc.
  • One day a year of time alone or with a friend or partner (best if you can physically go somewhere peaceful and different from your daily routine), assessing the past year and where your times and energies went, setting goals for the new year, and whether you are closer to achieving what is truly important to you in life

Follow Maria Lin on Twitter: @marialinnyc

For More Self-Improvement:

  • Robin

    Beautifully written and thought provoking article. Thanks for reminding us of that most precious of resources–and the one we never get back again–TIME.

  • Tenley

    I so needed this today! Thank you for putting things in perspective — I’m really excited to be more mindful of my time using this excellent framework. I will start by putting slots for #7 in my calendar for this month!

  • Toni Larina

    Loved it. Very helpful advice.

  • http://neatfreakwannabe.blogspot.com Jenna

    Thanks for this great article.  This is so important, yet it’s easy to get lost in how busy we are and whether that busy-ness is getting us to where we want to go.  Especially with my non-work life, I sometimes wonder where my time has gone.  Sounds like I need to schedule that 1-hour-a-month for myself pretty soon!  I like @7c83aca16b528de5972e77f67b4e2942:disqus’s idea of putting slots for those in her calendar.  Great idea!

  • http://profiles.google.com/ruth.g.gyllenh Ruth Gyllenhammer

    Great article! Time is definitely a commodity.

  • Dreamweaver2040

    FANTASTIC. This is what I like to see from LearnVest, in addition to lots of other helpful advice. Time is just as valuable a commodity as money. Thanks for this one. 

    • BC

      MORE valuable.  You can’t get your time back.

  • Kaperino

    This is an incredibly good article. Thank you for reminding us all about what really matters and how to rediscover and harness joy with a little discipline and a little letting go.

  • http://twitter.com/MahiSukhdev Mahima Sukhdev

    I’m printing this out and sticking it on my wall! Really great and much-needed advice.

  • pgj

    Splendid article!  I’m inspired to try these ideas to build even more of something I treasure…time!

  • http://FinanciallyFab.wordpress.org Financially Fab

    Splendid article. Top X lists can easily go wrong. This one was on point! 

    Also a good reminder that growing wealth is mostly about how you allocate resources (time and energy being the most important).  Do you spend resources doing high quality and free/cheap activites as listed above? Do you spend time planning ways to grow wealth? Or do you send it doing nothing or even worse wasting money? 

  • http://FinanciallyFab.wordpress.org Financially Fab

    Splendid article. Top X lists can easily go wrong. This one was on point! 

    Also a good reminder that growing wealth is mostly about how you allocate resources (time and energy being the most important).  Do you spend resources doing high quality and free/cheap activites as listed above? Do you spend time planning ways to grow wealth? Or do you send it doing nothing or even worse wasting money? 

  • Alexa

    Where are the blue zones! I want more information on that!!

  • Asdflsdf

    what a naive and hipster article. thanks for wasting my time!

  • http://twitter.com/HelpMetoSave Karen Bryan

    Excellent article, it’s all too easy to fritter away our time.

    • Tatti Hadis

      hi bryan! what are you doing that you need this article?

  • Michelle

    I’ve shared this with all of my friends and family. Excellent article!! Bravo.

  • Tatti Hadis

    good

  • Ora773

    Thanks for writing/providing an article that will help me save time –or–use mine better. 
    Time = Life.  I want to use my life for the better. 

  • Shahgul105

    Maria is nice and beautiful woman, very impressive writer, good article.  

  • Katherene~

    I love the article.  The best one of all is Invest in “Life Extending” Time.  When you have your health that is your wealth.  Selah. (selah is a Hebrew and comes from the bible – means think on this). 

  • Ruth

    One of the best LV articles I’ve read!

  • http://twitter.com/ShaneNR Shane Richardson

    Great advice!!! Time well spent.

  • http://www.facebook.com/noor.shoukri Noor Shoukri

    Very helpful! Good article.

  • CrankyFranky

    nice summary of Oprah( or Steadman)’s Four Quadrants – I often suggest to students to ignore or turn off the ringing telephone (often people asking for money) and allocate time for your loved ones and planning your life and career

    without conscious choice – we can remain fixed in the spotlights of advertisers marketing distractions – imagine!, desire!, must have!

    and at the end of life I believe no-one on their deathbed has every said ‘I wish I spent more time at the office’ – time with loved ones is what’s important at the end, not holy dollars in the bank you can’t use any more …

  • CrankyFranky

    reading this good article again – I agree with ‘savoring time’ – having done meditation I walk the streets focusing on the beauty all around me – a blue sky, a green leaf, a new flower, the tentative learning interactions of small children, the changing light on buildings I walk past every day – it will never be the same light twice – always highlighting something new

    even though I may be considered relatively wealthy – I choose to seek and take pleasure from free stuff – like the zen monk gazing at the reflected moon in the pond after a thief stole his meagre possessions – ‘I wish I could give him this beautiful moon …’

  • the_leaky_pen

    This is actually fantastic; another great read to come back to.