Elizabeth Grace Saunders has written a time management book that values your time. Time management may be the wrong category for what this is. It’s more like strategic time investment – hence the title.
Saunders’ connection to investment isn’t robust, but the information in the book is still very good. She lays out five steps toward better time investments:
- Take control
- Identify your time debts
- Create a base schedule
- Set up automatic time investments
- Maximize your ROI.
What makes her book a good investment is the focus and efficiency of those sections. Saunders’ instruction for time management is the IKEA manual for building a better schedule.
To get started, Saunders suggests you objectively identify where you are spending your time. To use her analogy, if you’re house rich, but money poor, you need to admit it. Ditto for any shoe, coffee, or rare pen habit you may have. It’s harder to do this with time because there’s no monthly statement. My bank sends me a monthly statement, my time does not. To really get started with an overhaul then, you need to begin tracking how you spend your time. To get started:
- Listen to Patrick Rhone talk about being intentional with his time.
- Check out some of our favorite digital tools.
- At the very least, you’ll need a spreadsheet to mark where you’ve been spending yours.
After you accept ownership of the good and bad, you need to tally the ledger. Saunders provides the handy formula:
External Expectations + Internal Expectations =,>, or < 24 Hours – Self-care
For many people that equation will be out of whack. If it is for you then you need to look at which variable needs adjusted because as the saying goes, there’s only 24 hours in a day.
To adjust external expectations means to look at what other people expect from you and see if that can change. One handy question from the book is to ask, “could this meeting happen if I were sick?” If you answer yes, that is the type of thing you can begin to trim.
To rebalance your internal expectations think about what parts of exercise, hobbies, or travel are most important to you. In an interview Shane Parrish, writer of Farnam Street, notes that he walks to and from work rather than exercise. For him, the internal expectations are higher for mental than physical fitness.
A handy heuristic that Saunders uses is to optimize the time she spends on this things by layering. Layering is the idea that we can multitask, but with different types of activities. You can listen to the Productivityist podcast while you run on the treadmill, for example (though people may wonder why you’re smiling so much).
Layering brings us to what I thought was the most valuable part of the book, INO thinking, which stands for “investment,” “neutral,” and “optimize,” and is a way of relating financial truths to time. Returning to her investment angle, this is a portfolio balancing strategy. You want some of your money to grow, some to be safe, and some to be able to spend. This trinity can also work for your time.
- Investment activities are ones where more time in, means more gains out. The more projects you work on, the more value you bring.
- Neutral activities “More time doesn’t necessarily mean a significantly larger payoff.” Saunders says that meetings you must attend are like this. Ditto for email.
- Optimize activities are ones where you can tweak to bring more value, mostly by layering, but need to be done.
How to Invest Your Time Like Money is a good quick read for someone looking to restart resolutions, anyone looking for a fresh perspective on using their time, or someone who wants to start using it better. It’s probably not for anyone already highly optimized. You may like it if you enjoyed 168 Hours by Laura Vanderkam
One last quote from Saunders:
“Deadlines are like train stops, where it’s essential you arrive on time or ahead of schedule, whereas most other activities can have the more relaxed flow of a canoe trip. As long as you reach your destination by nightfall, where you stop for lunch along the way doesn’t make a big difference.”
If you want to see the template that she uses in the book, I’ve made a version on Google Drive.