Be Frugal With Your Time, Not Your Money

blog 178 copy

time flies - how to manage your timeI spent the weekend slaying the distractions in my life.

I flung the junk out of my file cabinet. I brainstormed goals for the New Year, ranked them, and eliminated most.

Most of us are pulled in too many directions: too many goals to chase, skills to learn, career avenues to attempt.

There are too many movies on in my Netflix queue, too many books in my Kindle, too many messages in my Inbox.

It’s normal to dive headfirst into a hundred exciting projects. But when we try to do everything, we end up doing nothing.

Time is like money: we must ruthlessly cut things that don’t matter, so we can spend lavishly things that matter most.

Here are my Top 3 hints for achieving this:

#1: Limit Your Priorities.

What’s the number one law of keeping your closet or garage organized?

Each time you add a new sweater to your closet (or new tool to your garage), donate another one. That way your total number of items remains the same.

This is popular advice, but most people only apply it to managing their stuff. Most people fail to apply it to managing their time.

Try this:

Limit the number of projects on your list. For each new task on your to-do list, you MUST delete another task – either because you’ve achieved it or because it’s no longer worthy of your time.


Step One: I define the four major “sectors” of my life as:

  • My family/ social life
  • My health/ spirituality
  • My career/ business
  • My investments/ real estate

Your sectors might be different – for example, an avid musician might want a sector devoted to “My Musical Life.”

Step Two: I create a spreadsheet for each “sector”. In the first column, I brainstorm everything I need to do for each sector.

Health? Swimming, yoga, take multivitamins, stop eating processed foods.

Real Estate? Search foreclosure listings, appeal the property tax assessment.

Once I’m done brainstorming, I’ll review the list, ranking each task based on its importance.

Then I ignore everything but the Top 10 items in each sector.

#2: Keep Your Inbox at Zero

your timeHere’s a screenshot of my Inbox (click “display images” if you’re reading this by email.)

Notice that my Inbox is empty. Also notice the labels in the left-hand column:

Do – Priority A –

This is where “urgent” tasks are held. Limit: 3-5

Do – Priority B –

This is where “important and moderately urgent” tasks are held. Limit: 15-20

Do – Priority C –

This is where “important but not urgent” tasks end up. This folder almost 100 tasks inside, which is far too many. I ought to cull this down to 50.

Do – Priority D –

This is just a placeholder for “stuff I’ll never do.” I might as well toss this straight into the trash. “D” is for “dump.”
how to manage your time
It’s tough to let go of a project. I like keeping ideas around. Knowing it’s “still on the table” makes me feel better.

So I “trick my mind” by placing it in Priority D – a list I’ll never get around to doing. Once it’s there, I never think about it again.

These ideas came from two sources:

#3: Stop Penny-Pinching Distractions

Remember: the goal is to ruthlessly cut the things that don’t matter. This includes penny-pinching distractions.


  • Filling out online surveys in exchange for gift cards. You’ll never get rich this way.
  • Spending more than 5 minutes a week scanning coupons.
  • Selling things on eBay that will net profit $2-3 per item (unless you’re building a scalable business that has a goal of selling one item per minute or more.)

What do surveys, coupons and selling junk on eBay have in common? They’re “think small” operations. They distract you from your top priorities, which – ironically — prevents you from earning big rewards down the road.

These things don’t hog an obscene amount of your time. But 10 minutes here, 10 minutes there – it adds up.

Be frugal with your time.

Thanks to Alan Cleaver for the photo!


  1. says

    Almost everyone thinks about saving money when we say the word “frugal”. But I like your spin on it…being frugal with time. To me time is way more important to manage than money.

    I also do tip #2 and I hate when my inbox starts getting out of control. Not only is it good for peace of mind, it’s great to keep organized so we don’t miss important career opportunities.

    • says

      @Careful Cents — It drives me nuts when my Inbox has more than 10 – 20 messages in it. It makes me feel disheveled and pulled in a thousand directions. Inbox Zero is GREAT for peace of mind.

  2. says

    I’m all about this inbox zero, super Type A stuff. I can’t delay gratification on emails, haha. I’ll try to implement the A/B/C/D priority method (beats doing it in my head…)!

  3. says

    I value my time more than money, however I compare the alternative or opportunity costs. If I am not missing out on another opportunity, my time or money may not matter.

  4. says

    I like the idea of priority A, B, C, and D, but I almost feel like having four priority levels still complicates things a little bit, although the graphic you have there is a nice way of looking at it.

    I’m a believer in giving projects and emails time limits. For example, if something is in my “to read” list but hasn’t been opened after a couple of weeks, I know I’ll probably never get to it. It must not be important enough anyway, so I’ll just archive and never look back.

  5. says

    I would add to your observation: know what your marginal tax rate is so that you know the true value of your incremental time and money. For example, saving $10 is actually more valuable — a higher ROI — for someone with a 50% tax rate than someone with a 25% tax rate. By the same token, earning x per hour yields less dollars per hour if your marginal tax rate is 60% rather than 25%. I find that I am a much more careful spender of both time and money knowing what the true return is on each.

    • says

      @Livvy — It’s good to know how much your time is “worth” in the sense of how much you earn. But it’s also good to remind yourself, on occasion, that your life is more important than any salary or wage you can earn. Up to a certain survival threshold, yes, we all need food/shelter/medicine, and that must take priority. But beyond that, I think it’s best to dissociate our time as being “worth” $10 or $20.

  6. says

    Great post Paula! When I was laid off this summer, I had 3 months of paid time off. I spent those 3 months wasting the time and pulling myself in 100 different directions to the point I never actually got 1 thing accomplished. I’m kicking myself now because I wasted all that precious time but it’s made me really focus in on what I want since my time is limited now that I’m back to work.
    I really need to apply your email technique b/c I currently have 5,800 emails in my inbox. I thought that was pretty good given at one point it was over 20,000!!!

  7. says

    Hi Paula,

    I loved the title of this post! Time is (worth more than) money, and yet we are so often so liberal with how we spend time.

    What you mentioned in #1 is very much on the lines of how I handle the priorities in the prominent sectors of my life. My latest post and a few future posts were going to address that, not on the lines of limiting the priorities but rather picking the topmost priorities one at a time.

    Keeping the inbox clean is something that I have tried and not been very successful at. It is a constant struggle there, but I am getting better :-)

    #3: Stop Penny-Pinching Distractions is the most important reminder for me. It can be applied to so many areas of our lives.

    This is a very nice post! Keep up the good work, Paula!


  8. says

    I love this article! These days (well….most of the time) I find myself being pulled in multiple directions. It’s very important to limited my time so that I can focus more on being more creative and focus more on giving my energy to the things that I love.

    • says

      @Nicole — Exactly! It’s easy to wonder what happens to our time. 10 minutes here and there add up quickly. By cutting out the tiny distractions, we can concentrate on the major things that matter.

  9. says

    Great advice, Paula! I *always* have to empty out my inbox or I feel totally cluttered. My personal inbox is a lot easier to prioritize than my work one.

    I’m hoping for a raise in 2012 and that should help me with the eBay issue – I sell a lot of things but don’t profit more than $15-$20 per item and it really isn’t worth all the time I spend answering questions and sending things. It’s something I hope to spend less time on this year so I can devote more time to other things.

    I haven’t been to your site in a while – Love the new banner and photo!

  10. says

    I always keep my inbox empty, too. I think I only know very few people who do this.
    Defining the things that are most important helped me a great deal with becoming more productive. I allow myself only to do trivial stuff after I’ve done a certain amount of important stuff.

  11. says

    Brilliant! Creative thinkers really struggle with a plethora of ideas, and these suggestions for managing all those “bright ideas” are concrete and achievable. Thank you!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *