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free time: pay yourself first

If you listen to anyone who gives advice about planning your finances, you know that one of the most common pieces of advice is to pay yourself first before you pay others. In the context of money, it’s important to set aside resources for giving, savings, and investments (in that order) before you start paying other people (bills, mortgages, debts). This concept ensures that your financial priorities are straight. It keeps your perspective set on the long haul instead of the short-term.

When you begin to apply these disciplines to your money, something starts to change in you. Your attitude towards money shifts and you begin to see it in a different light. It becomes a tool of empowerment and opportunity instead of a necessary evil that you must strive to acquire more of. When you have the long-term perspective of your life in mind, things get more peaceful, more calm.

I’ve noticed this shift in myself. When I’m diligent about the way I spend my money, my generosity increases. When I put the things I care about most at the top of my financial priority list, my entire attitude towards people and material possessions shifts.

The same principles could and should be applied to the way we spend our time. Time is our most valuable asset. Software developers are especially aware of this fact. There are lots of development projects that vie for our attention, and we don’t commit to all of them because we have to give up something else to do so. There’s big opportunity cost involved.

I know that I need time for myself. I need time to read, study, think and hack. I need time each day where I can pay myself with my time first. I need the ability to say, “This is what’s most important to me, and so I’m going to make it the first thing I do each morning.” I used to be a night person. Each night after everyone had gone to bed, I’d stay up late into the night quietly hacking on whatever programming project I was working on. I had to have it each day. As I now work a day job, and have a wife I’ve committed to, this is a trickier proposition. I want to spend as much time with her as I can before she goes to bed, and I’m usually ready for sleep myself after a long hard day at work.

So I’ve forced myself to become a morning person.

The need for my own time and space each day warrants this necessary change. I have to pay myself first. I rise each day hours before I have to be at work so that I can read, write, think, pray, code, and start the day the way I want to start. By the time I even roll into the office, I’ve already payed myself, and am more ready than ever to start paying others.

This has opened up new avenues of generosity in my heart. I give more freely with my time, because I’m still filling myself up each morning. I don’t feel as drained when someone asks me for a time commitment; I know I’ll still get my time each day. To give more freely my most valuable asset, time, has changed the way I live.

What can you do to be more intentional about your time? Have you been paying yourself before you pay others? It’s easy to lose sight of the fact that it’s your life, it’s your time. In order to be more generous with it, you have to make sure your needs are being met first. Then, and only then, will you be able to give generously and in a sustainable way.



about the author

Blake Smith is a Principal Software Engineer and leads the Infrastructure group at at Sprout Social.

Blake Smith

create. code. learn.