Aug 30, 2023 | Productivity
If there is one piece of personal finance advice that’s universal, it’s the power of a budget. Your parents might not have told you about compound interest, and your teacher might not have mentioned tax deductions, but someone at some point told you that you should budget your money.
And it makes sense.
When you sit down and make a budget, you realize how scarce money really is. You probably can’t buy a new car, a new house, vacation to Italy, and upgrade your computer all in one year.
You also become aware of how much money you spend on “tiny expenses” every month. Eating out three times a week seems harmless, but multiply that across an entire year, and you’ve lost a significant amount of money that might not be worth it.
So you track your expenses, get a clear picture of your finances, and allocate your money with purpose.
It makes sense.
But this shouldn’t just apply to money.
There are several other places you should use this habit.
How many 10-minute Instagram sessions do you have every day? How much time does your commute take? Do you watch too much TV? Do you work too much?
Without stepping back and tracking your time, you’ll never really know. And don’t think you can judge your time just by estimating. Your mind is awful at estimating, especially when it’s about yourself.
I’ve tried several different methods and tools for tracking my time, all of which are painful and tedious. It turns out that tracking your time is really annoying. That might be why nobody does it. But you don’t have to track your days for the rest of your life to get a benefit. Tracking a week every year might be all you need. You don’t need to get a perfect picture down to the second. Instead, tracking your time is more about reflection and getting a big-picture view of how you are spending your life.
After that, it’s time to budget. How many hours do you have awake every week? And how many hours go to each of your activities? All of a sudden, your week looks swamped. You can’t get a perfect 8 hours of sleep while also working out for an hour a day while also working on your side hustle for 10 hours every week while also playing tennis twice a week while also volunteering at the food bank while also…
You get the point.
Just like choosing between Netflix and Hulu to make your financial budget work, you have to select the activities and priorities that will take up your time.
In the back of your mind, you know you can’t do all these activities at the same time, but you don’t have to confront that fact if you never look at how you’re spending your time.
How much protein is in a hamburger? How much sugar is in yogurt? How many calories does your daily latte cost you?
Calories have a way of surprising me. Salads can have several hundred more calories than an “unhealthy” sandwich, and I can stuff my face with Cheeto puffs and still be eating fewer calories than a serving of nuts. Hummus is great for you, but that won’t stop it from shooting your calorie intake through the roof.
You could try incredibly hard to eat healthy but still gain weight because hidden calories are so tricky.
It works the same way for people who want to gain weight. All your gym sessions might be wasted if you don’t eat in a caloric surplus or don’t focus on getting enough protein. Before I tracked my protein intake, I was eating almost 100 grams less than my goal without realizing it.
And let’s not even talk about sugar, where one wrong choice will rocket you past the daily recommended amount.
Life changes, and so does your nutrition. Getting a new job closer to your favorite coffee shop could add a couple hundred calories to your daily routine that weren’t there before. One choice to change your yogurt brand could add 20g of sugar to your breakfast each morning. These little changes can hit you without warning if you aren’t tracking your nutrition.
You don’t need to track your time, calories, or anything else for every single day of your life. Instead, you should track them for small amounts of time every so often. Tracking a week of where your time goes will give you enough insight to improve many months of your life.
Likewise, you probably eat a lot of the same things every week. If you can eliminate the highest-calorie options from your routine and find a few low-calorie staples, you don’t need to worry about counting every gram of chicken you consume for the rest of your life.
You just need to understand how these critical life metrics are trending, and the only way to do that is to track them now and then. You are run by routines. Your morning routine, your exercise routine, your eating routine. These are the most impactful areas that tracking will reveal. And once you change those, you don’t need to worry about tracking for a while.
This applies to more than nutrition and time: sleep, vitamins, exercise, family time, writing, prayer, Github commits. Anything that is important to you.
To get the most out of it, you have to measure it.