At least once every year, I like to review the previous 12 months and notice what I can notice, reflecting primarily on the gaps between what I think I know and the way I live my life. A few years back, what jumped out of me was that no matter which new time or money management system I employed, I always finished up the year with no cash and no time to earn more of it.
I wasn't really shocked by this, but I was definitely surprised to see what was behind it. As you read through the following descriptions of how I had attempted to organize my time and manage my finances up until that point, see if you can spot the common thread and maybe even predict the surprising solution I came to...
1. Time-zone based time management
Up until that particular year-end review, I had three kinds of time in my life - my time, work time, and family time. I tried to make the lines between these three "time zones" clear, firm and inflexible. Yet as happens for so many of us, the demands of my job often exceeded the time allotted as "work time".
I evolved three primary strategies for dealing with this "excess work":
- Stand firm on family time (generally evenings, weekends, and holidays) but give up sleep, which was part of "my time".
- Maintain a normal sleep schedule but let work dribble into family time.
- Abandon projects and other work opportunities because they simply took up too much time
In other words, I would rotate between putting my health at risk by not giving my body adequate rest, putting my family relationships on the line by not giving them enough time and attention, and putting my business at risk by not showing up and following through on opportunities for growth.
2. Zero-profit money management
Earlier that year, my business manager had asked me why I never made any profit. When I protested that I took home a healthy salary, she pointed out that that wasn't profit - profit is what's left in the business after everyone and everything has been paid. When I then asked her, somewhat naively, why I would want to leave money in the business, she pointed out that all the cash flow issues we (and most small businesses) face on a regular basis were the result of not allowing for profits to accumulate and an operational surplus to develop.
So no matter how much money the business brought in, that money was always pre-allocated for past, present, and future expenses. There was never anything left over for "operational surplus", and the business was perpetually being bailed out by new creative ideas and working longer hours.
Have you spotted the common thread?
It is perhaps easy to see how running a "zero-profit" company would lead to higher demands on my time and the overburdening of a fairly basic time management system. What I was delighted to see that I didn't expect was how there was only one thing underpinning how I handled both time and money in my life. That one thing was a lack of trust in my access to moment by moment wisdom.
Because I didn't trust myself to make wise decisions about my time in the moment, I had constructed an elaborate "pre-allocation" system, attempting to pre-determine how much time I was allowed to spend on the three primary areas of my life, regardless of what would actually be wanted or needed in the future.
Because I didn't trust myself to make wise decisions about money in the moment, I "pre-spent" every dollar that came in, ensuring there was never a surplus for me to invest badly or fritter away.
So in the interests of a more interesting life, I created a new experiment. I eliminated work time and even family time from the calendar and gave myself back 24 hours in each and every day. I handed my assistant a limited number of those hours to use for scheduling appointments with clients, and the rest of the time was mine to use as wisdom guided me, month by month, week by week, day by day and moment by moment.
Well, in terms of money, we now go into each new year with an "operational surplus", trusting inner wisdom to guide every spending decision instead of getting rid of any excess cash as quickly as possible so that I can't "blow it" on whatever it is that my fertile imagination imagines I would blow it on.
And in terms of time, I find that not only does everything get done, it gets done in a rhythm that allows me to enjoy my work, enjoy my family, and enjoy myself along the way.
One of the unexpected benefits was that I noticed my connection to wisdom, insight, and common sense getting stronger and stronger each time I drew on it. And given that I spend so many of my 24 hours a day writing, coaching, and teaching about inner wisdom, it's awfully nice to finally spend as many of them as I can following it.
For more by Michael Neill, click here.