One of the oldest cliches in personal finance advice – “pay yourself first”– is a cliche because it works. And, to put it bluntly, it works because you’re weak. If you take a portion of your pay the moment you receive it, and squirrel it away into savings or for paying off debts, you probably won’t feel its absence when it comes to buying groceries, paying bills, etcetera. But if you approach things the other way round and “pay yourself last” – spending on necessities first, and saving what remains – you’ll often find there’s nothing left to save, because you spent it without noticing. True, paying yourself first isn’t infallible: it may not work if you live on the poverty line, try to save too much or have a credit-card addiction. But paying yourself last is a recipe for disaster, because it demands both endless willpower (to prevent indulgent purchases) and long-range planning (so you can properly weigh the benefits of any potential purchase against the benefits of saving). And humans are terrible at both.If you’re halfway decent with money, you probably knew this. But what you may not have realised – or I hadn’t, anyway, until I read a recent post by the cartoonist and creativity coach Jessica Abel – is that it works exactly the same with time. If there’s something you’re passionate about – from writing your novel to launching a business to spending more time with your kids – the only way to make it happen is to do a bit of it now, no matter how many urgent tasks are pressing in. “If you don’t save a bit of your time for you, now, out of every week,” Abel writes, “there is no moment in the future when you’ll magically be done with everything and have loads of free time.”
To focus instead on “clearing the decks”, so as to make time later, is enormously tempting, but that’s equivalent to “paying yourself last”. And it fails for the same reason: in each moment, all those little expenditures of time will seem important. Many of them will be important, but you have neither the willpower nor long-term perspective to choose wisely between them, leaving plenty of time later for the big stuff. So don’t try. Do a little of the big stuff first.
This is, of course, the insight embodied in the timeworn advice to work on your most important project for the first hour of each workday, or to schedule meetings with yourself, marking them in your calendar, so other commitments can’t intrude. But thinking in terms of “paying yourself first” turns these from one-off tips into a life philosophy: if you’re going to spend at least some of your time on the planet doing what matters to you most, you’d better actually start doing what matters most. It probably won’t feel great at first, as you’ll be actively resisting the momentum of busyness. Ironically, you may have to tolerate feeling less productive, as the tasks on those uncleared decks start to pile up. Yet you’ll still find that, if those tasks need doing, they get done. And if they don’t get done? Well, perhaps they didn’t need doing.
Source : The Guardian