How to invest your time properly

There is an excellent TED-Talk by Rory Vaden about how to multiply your time. In short it is about investing time today in a way that will save you time tomorrow. So it is about investing time for long-term results. I have always been a long-term thinker and have always acted accordingly. I always try to invest my time for long-term time-profits. It’s the same with money. You can spend money for immediate pleasure or you can invest it for future returns. And although I still think that investing time and money for a better future is a good approach, there are two problems with that.

  • First is protecting the invested principal. When you sacrifice short-term results for long-term profits, you take the risk of losing parts of the principal which then leads to a negative ROI.
  • Second are interest payments. There is no guarantee that the time-investment does not have any negative side effects which will lead to the need of further time-investments. Those additionally needed time-investments might be so large that the dividends are eaten up completely.

So I’ve thought about how to make the most out of time-investments. Here are five specific things that I have thought of to protect the time-principal and to minimize the risk of future time-interest payments.

1.    Always consider amortization probability and time

A lot of time investments have positive dividends but the amortization phase is too long. Other time investments have questionable dividends in the first place. So consider how often the time investment will pay dividends, how large they are, how probable they are and how long it will take until amortization. When you train or coach people for example or when you define new standards and processes you have to consider that most people find it hard to change habits, which leads to questionable or at least small dividends. Dividends are also questionable when you introduce a new software tool because of some “cool features”. When you automate processes you have to take into account that there might be a lot of special cases that you probably haven’t considered yet and that you might need subsequent improvements in order for the process to work.

2.    Ensure quick wins

When you decide to invest time by e.g. automating a process, training an employee or building a reusable software component, make sure that the dividends arrive fast. Think of the absolute minimal investment that is needed in order to produce the first time-dividends. If the investment will take several weeks of time until the dividends arrive, try to pick another investment or break the investment into smaller pieces.

3.    Invest while you produce

While you do something productive that actually creates a result, try to modify the task slightly so that it will also have long-term returns as a side effect. Letting somebody else participate in your work as a form of training on the job or refactoring a software component while you implement a feature in it are just two examples. Automating a process that you are currently performing anyway because you need to is another one.

4.    Seed and harvest

A lot of time-investments have two phases: seeding and harvesting. Too often it happens that the second phase is forgotten. A good example for this is training people without securing that the learned knowledge is actually applied in order to produce the expected returns. Or taking the time to define a standard-procedure to increase efficiency but the procedure is never being followed. So when you are making a time-investment think of the harvesting phase and schedule it right away.

5.    Make misconduct impossible

If your time-investment needs future compliance in order to produce dividends, there is the risk of misconduct. So try to design the investment in a way that makes misconduct impossible or at least unlikely. Always make it easier to follow the rules than to deviate from them.

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