Downshifting: The first day of the rest of my life

“This is it,” I told my wife last Monday.

“This is what?” Kris asked.

“This is the first day of the rest of my life,” I said. She knew what I meant. For the past few years, I've been living in a self-created whirlwind of busy-ness. I know a blog like this often seems calm and quiet on the surface, but underneath there's usually a flurry of turbulent activity.

“Look,” I said, showing her my calendar. “As of today, I have nothing major scheduled. I don't have any book deadlines, I don't have any speaking engagements. I don't have anything at all.”

When Money Meant More Than Time

Before I started Get Rich Slowly in 2006, I had a lot of free time. After I got home from my job selling custom boxes every day, I could do whatever I wanted. I could read comic books, play videogames, work in the yard, watch old movies with Kris, or hang out with my friends. Financially, I was deep in debt, but I had a vast surplus of time.

When I started this blog, one of my goals was to use some of this surplus free time to make more money. In a way, I wanted to convert time into cash. During the past four years, I've gradually taken every spare moment I once had, and now use that time to read and write about money. This happened slowly, of course, but by January of this year, the change was complete. I lived and breathed money.

But you know what? I found that having a high income and no free time was just as frustrating as having lots of time and a pile of debt. A life out of balance is a life out of balance.

The side effects of my life with no spare time haven't been pretty:

  • Our home and yard began to fall into disrepair.
  • I haven't had time to watch TV, play videogames, or read my comic books.
  • I didn't even read for pleasure anymore.
  • My friendships have faltered.
  • Even my relationship with Kris has seemed rocky at times.

For years I've been promising Kris that, “As soon as this project is over, my schedule will loosen up.” But something new has always come up. My schedule is always full, and I never have any time for the important things in life.

Things came to a climax during the book project. While I was writing and promoting Your Money: The Missing Manual, I had zero time for anything else. (Even Get Rich Slowly took a backseat to the book!) As I've mentioned many times, I was so stressed that I ate all of the time, gaining 20 pounds in four months. Yikes!

After I turned in the final book edits in February, Kris and I took a vacation to Belize. I needed a few days to unwind, but once I did, I realized my life was out of control. I remembered what the old J.D. used to be like: relaxed, friendly, and easy-going. Now I was highly strung. Surely there was some sort of middle ground between between time and money?

Committed to No Commitments

Over the past few months, I've gradually reduced my obligations. The last major thing I had on my schedule was speaking at the Savvy Blogging Summit. Now I'm intentionally not doing things:

  • I'm not starting a second book, despite interest from another publisher.
  • I'm not pursuing other speaking engagements.
  • I'm putting off a blog I really want to launch (Success Daily) until January 1st. (Well, if that ends up being our case-study blog for the GRS blogging project, it'll launch sooner.)

I've managed to cut my commitments to the basics; I have no large projects looming on the horizon. Along with some other behind-the-scenes changes (including the addition of the staff writers last year), I now should have some big chunks of free time.

What will I do with this new-found temporal wealth? I'll spend a lot of it with my wife: We'll work in the yard, watch old movies together, and go on a couple of trips. I'll exercise in the morning, and I'll practice my French in the afternoon. I've already begun to dig into my comic book collection, and that's been a blast. Plus, Starcraft II comes out in a couple of weeks, which should provide hours of fun

And, oh yeah! I'll also be able to spend more time writing articles for GRS — articles like this one.

Big Rocks

The transition won't be immediate, of course; it's going to take effort to change my workaholic mindset. But I'm intent on insuring that the turbulent activity beneath the surface of this blog doesn't drag my life along with it again. I've set up systems to solve the problem. In other words, I'm striving to find balance. Instead of letting my life be only about money, I'm going to make room for other priorities, too.

In Work Less, Live More (still one of my favorite personal finance books), Bob Clyatt offers a simple metaphor for making room in your life for the important stuff. The secret, he says, is prioritizing:

Imagine you have an empty jar, a collection of a few large rocks, and several handfuls of gravel. Your task is to put all the large and small rocks into the jar. One approach would be to pile all the gravel first, but doing so would leave room for only one or two of the large rocks; you wouldn't get everything to fit. Switch your approach and put the large rocks in first, and you'll find that the gravel will all fit nicely around the empty space. If a bit of gravel doesn't fit at the end, you've not lost much.

Let too many little things take priority, and there never seems to be time for the big things. Consider the Big Rocks to be really important things you want to accomplish in life, the things that define you. Get the big things in first, work on the right projects and priorities, and let the little stuff fit in around the edges. Let your Big Rocks be non-negotiable priorities in your weekly calendar — and learn to say “no” when other things begin to intrude. Then fit those other things in where you can.

So if running makes you happy, schedule your runs — and then fit the rest of your life around them. Don't ignore your obligations, but make the stuff you have to do fit around the stuff you want to do, not the other way around.

Make an appointment with yourself. I've learned that if I really want to make something a priority, I sometimes have to schedule it. Because fitness is so important to me this year, for example, I've intentionally blocked off time on my Google calendar to exercise. Is it before 9am on Sunday through Thursday? Sorry. I can't do what you're asking. I'm busy. I have an appointment with myself at the gym or on my bike. Is it between four and five on a weekday afternoon? Sorry. I'm studying French.

As much as I love Clyatt's analogy, there's just one problem. Most of us start with our jars already full of rocks. How then do we find room for the stuff we want to do?

You don't necessarily need to drop your current obligations, but as they end, don't add more. Drop things (and let things end) until you are easily able to fit the Big Rocks into your schedule. Once you're sure that everything fits, and that you have enough time for yourself, it's okay to add something else to the jar. But only add one thing at a time. If you can handle that, then add something else.

Rich in Time

Last month, I wrote about the rewards of thrift. By being frugal, I said, and by saving my money, I'm able to spend money on the things that are important to me. GRS reader Dink left an insightful comment on that article:

There's no need to worry about getting “rich” either slowly or quickly; if you're rich in time, and comfortable financially, you're better off than most people, poor or wealthy. Time is the real currency. Just look at what J.D. is showing…his time to cycle, his time to go to his gym, his time to travel. Freedom of time is what I personally strive for, where I can wake up one day and be my own master. While I'm lucky that I both enjoy my job and get paid well, it's a complete time-suck. All I want is to reclaim my time.

I love the notion of being “rich in time”. I'd never though of it that way before, but now I can see that this idea has been a huge motivating factor for me over the past year. Sure, I've been able to create monetary wealth for myself, but I've done so at the expense of time. Because of this, in some ways I've felt poorer. These past few months have been all about me re-learning what it feels like to be rich in time.

I've been looking for balance, and — at last — I think I may have found it.

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Rachel
Rachel
10 years ago

This article really reminds me of what get rich slowly use to be like when I first started reading (which probably is about a year ago). Insightful articles, not necessarily directly money related.

Congratulations on your new found balance 😀

SF_UK
SF_UK
10 years ago

Well done – it’s easy to fall into the trap of more work, less life, but can also be dangerous to your relationships, and you mental and physical health. I’ve deliberately chosen career options that give me enough money, but also enough time. I could have chosen to go into any number of industries with my degree where I would potentially earn multiples of what I earn now, but I would also be expected to work lots of overtime, and I know I would burn out (a lot of my contemporaries are already doing this). I’d rather earn enough to… Read more »

GE Miller
GE Miller
10 years ago

JD – great post. I like your quote, “do the stuff you want to do and then fit the stuff you need to do around it”. That’s a very practical and simple, yet effective way of looking at life. I’m in the ‘box factory’ with a blog in free time phase in my own life and I’m starting to feel the way you had been. Looking forward to reaching the next stage as soon as I don’t have to work the 9-to-5.

Jacq @ Single Mom Rich Mom
Jacq @ Single Mom Rich Mom
10 years ago

It seems interesting that a lot of big bloggers talk a lot about this workaholism in the early days of starting off their blogs. It’s only after they become successful that they talk about the virtues of doing things at a more measured pace. Yet the middle ground was always available as an option. I wonder if a certain level of entrepreneurial and financial security has to be attained to get to that balance for some? Some good resources: Neil Fiore’s “The Now Habit” for making sure you fit in what’s important, Charles Givens’ “Super-Self” for outsourcing, and Richard Koch’s… Read more »

PMT
PMT
10 years ago

It always has and always will be about time for me. I never get back time that I have lost working and my kids will only be living with me so long. My goals are to replace my income so that I can spend my time on what matters…friends, family and helping others. Granted I can do that now but in a limited fashion. I’m not looking to get rich so I can buy things, though I can’t say I wouldn’t splurge, but rather so that I’m not owned by a job or other daily obligations that are not of… Read more »

Sarah
Sarah
10 years ago

If you’re already overwhelmed, why start another blog at all?

Rose M
Rose M
10 years ago

It really is a matter of deciding what your priorities are. You can’t work on 10 things at the same time. Say “yes” to the most important things, and “no” temporarily to the other things. You can always come back to things you had to put aside while working on your top priorities. Trying to achieve a happy balance – it’s not always easy but it can be done.

Sam
Sam
10 years ago

One of the articles on GRS foncused on time poverty recently and that term has really stuck with me. I absolutely suffer from time poverty and it is something I’m working on. However, when I work 60+ hours a week, I’m already short on time. Add in charity and community commitments, managing our personal finances (which takes a good chunk of time each week), a work out here and there, keeping the house tidy, sleeping 8 hours a night (a must for me) and I have little time for anything else. Small positive changes I’ve been working on over the… Read more »

Money Smarts Blog
Money Smarts Blog
10 years ago

I’ve had the same issues lately as I’ve been finishing my book.

Now I plan to take it easy for the rest of the summer.

MM
MM
10 years ago

I hear you on StarCraft 2. I got mine preordered. hollaaa

Moneymonk
Moneymonk
10 years ago

Wow JD, this comes as a shocker. I remember in an interview that you said you will wite another book about your personal journey. Now I read you’re moving away from all of it.

I’m shocked by I truly understand. I have been feeling the same way, after I launch my book this Fall. I will do something I have not did in a long time…REST!

We all need a sabbactical!

Nicole
Nicole
10 years ago

I hear you. Time is so important. We’ve really enjoyed this year of sabbatical and it is going to be very difficult to get back to a full work load. Free time is probably what is going to suffer (possibly along with research). And we’ll hire people to do basic chores again. Yet as I get older it’s harder to work more than 8 hours a day and it is very difficult to keep working overtime with no end in sight. Money goals are important, but in the third stage of personal finance, money has hit diminishing marginal returns. It… Read more »

Tawra@Living On A Dime
10 years ago

Thanks so much for the insight! I’ve often wondered how the bloggers who are making a full-time living doing this have any life, especially the moms.

I kept thinking that it was because I was chronically ill, had 4 kids, moved 10 times and all the other “stuff” that was causing me not to be able to fully focus on the website.

Your truthfulness was just what I needed!

Molly On Money
Molly On Money
10 years ago

A few weeks back when readers were pushing you to write more on how to make supplemental income (rather then cutting back) I must admit I cringed. A few years ago I intentionally went out and found a ‘better’ job with a higher salary. My husband did the same. During that time we spent less time with each other, friends and our kids. Our quality of life took a dive. I know there’s a balance- I’m just trying to find it like you. Interestingly last weekend I went to the library and checked out ‘Work Less, Live More’ and ‘Your… Read more »

Mrs. Money
Mrs. Money
10 years ago

I am glad you are finding a good balance. Take some time to play! 🙂 You deserve it!

Kyle Richey
Kyle Richey
10 years ago

I can’t help but quote Jack Johnson (“Broken” lyrics): “Found out I was losing so much more than I knew all along Because everything I’ve been working for Was only worth nickels and dimes But if I had a minute for every hour that I’ve wasted I’d be rich in time, I’d be doing fine” This lyric has always resonated with me, and even though we all hope to make our work worth more than “nickels and dimes”, in the end time is worth so much more than money. I am currently down to around 3-5 hours/day of work on… Read more »

Kevin M
Kevin M
10 years ago

I really liked this post. Enjoy your free time, JD. I envy you in that you have so much free time. Between work and family time I barely have 30 min to myself each day, but I realize that makes me rich in yet another way. So for now my hobbies are the small rocks and sand that I fit in when I can.

If I were you, I wouldn’t start the second blog. It sounds like just another project that won’t really add any value to your life.

HollyP
HollyP
10 years ago

One aspect of the time/money issue has to do with perspective. As parents, I have “big rocks” related to parenting. Reading this I realize there is another alternative… I need to change my perspective. Yes, cooking dinner and packing lunches are rocks. But there are some kid-related activities (like doing chores with the kids) that I need to mentally change from rocks to anti-rock. If I focus on these tasks as time to enjoy my children, then my rock burden becomes lighter. (I would think the same thing applies to work for some… having a job you love means never… Read more »

Emi
Emi
10 years ago

I am fascinated with the linkage between “uncluttering,” “getting the big rocks into the jar,” and personal finance. By focusing on the things that matter (and getting rid of the distractions), you can then, as you said, “work on lifting the big rocks.” Two of my biggest expenses are housing and transportation. For the last two years, I have focused on these two expenses. I considered different options and how they affect my life “financially” and “time-wise.” By downsizing my housing and personal transport options now, it creates a bigger personal savings opportunity at the end of each month. My… Read more »

partgypsy
partgypsy
10 years ago

Just out of curiosity, how many hours per week did you work when your life was “out of control?” What are you aiming for this year?

Kent @ The Financial Philosopher
Kent @ The Financial Philosopher
10 years ago

JD: Congratulations on the first day of the rest of your life! Perhaps you could mark the day as a “birthday” (or re-birthday) and remember it every year.

This will help maintain consciousness of the real J.D.(plus it’s a good excuse to celebrate)!

With regard to time, I like this from Lau Tzu:

“Time is a created thing. To say ‘I don’t have time,’ is like saying, ‘I don’t want to.'”

Atmara
Atmara
10 years ago

I’ve just found your blog and am impressed with your desire to make you life about what you value most. It is so easy in our society to get caught up in the “doing” and not the living. I doubt anyone on their death bed says “I wish I had worked more and made more money and spent less time being with the people I love.” Thanks for your wisdom.

Budgeting in the Fun Stuff
Budgeting in the Fun Stuff
10 years ago

I’m glad you’re finding a balance. I too have given up pleasure reading for blogging, so I guess I need to find a better balance too. My husband and friends are the most important things in my life, so even my blog isn’t allowed to get in the way, lol. I work from 8am-4:30pm Monday-Friday (and am lucky enough to be able to read and comment on blogs like this one when I get my work done and have to wait for the next load), blog every Monday-Thursday evening from 6pm-10pm with a break for dinner unless hubby wants to… Read more »

TosaJen
TosaJen
10 years ago

Congrats on getting to this point, JD! You’ve set up a well-oiled machine that can go along largely without you. (I’m reading Michael E Gerber’s book The E-myth Revisited.) Within my first month of joining IBM at the tender age of 22, I was able to sit through a seminar by Stephen Covey and Assoc. about the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. A lot of that is about how we set priorities and manage time, and I think that’s the first place I heard about the “jar of rocks”. I’ve gone back to those principles several times since. As… Read more »

mike
mike
10 years ago

Congrats, JD, on reaching this wonderful milestone and having the strength of mind to recognize your desire to achieve it.

Rachel
Rachel
10 years ago

This reminds me of a light bulb moment I had in Music History class in high school. We were talking about patronage in the Renaissance and the teacher asked, “what does money do?” None of us 17 year olds had an answer. He told us that “having money frees your time”. Aa patron allowed great artists to create great art. Having a reason to want/need money makes all the difference.

Kathi
Kathi
10 years ago

Time – Money – Energy

You only get 2 at a time.

The older we get the more we are willing to trade money for time (ie pay someone else to clean our gutters). Once you say “yes” it is hard to say “no” – I was a stay-at-home-mom for 8 years and many people thought I worked at the schools my children attended.

Good for you in regaining a balance to your life.

Shauna
Shauna
10 years ago

My husband and I are just getting started on our debt snowball, and I’ve been struggling with the time vs. money issue a lot so this post was particularly interesting to me. When you’re in the early phase of trying to cut expenses and increase income to pay down your debt, it can be tempting to get yourself to a place where there is nothing enjoyable left in your life. Dave Ramsey almost seems to encourage this in his book, for short periods while you’re working down your debt. I’ve struggled with that, because over the past two years I… Read more »

DC Portland
DC Portland
10 years ago

Brilliant JD! Congratulations! You are an inspiration for many. The irony about your blog is that life is not about getting rich at all – neither fast nor slowly. Wealth is not measured by money. It is measured by peace, knowing, and love.

Nicole
Nicole
10 years ago

@28 Shauna I think the big answer to that in the Dave Ramsey universe is “when you can afford it” and possibly “if it is affecting your health.” A big key for his methods is that the “gazelle intensity” really is only short-term and you can see the end of it. After you’ve got the 1K in expenses and have paid the non-mortgage debt off (allowing yourself some “blow money” during the process so you’re not completely deprived) you can relax while you save up the 3-6 month expenses and the retirement. Another key is that after all that deprivation… Read more »

Tyler Karaszewski
Tyler Karaszewski
10 years ago

Yes J.D., more articles following you down this road, please! I’m super-interested to see where you go next, how the “third stage of personal finance” plays out for you, and what you do to enrich your life when you’re no longer sacrificing all your time in an effort to get up to speed. Now that you’ve built a foundation for your life financially, I’m excited to see what you put on top of it. Not to drag this back to Saturday’s post, but this just seems more progressive (and interesting) to me than going back and starting over from the… Read more »

Trust Deed Investing
Trust Deed Investing
10 years ago

Glad I’m not the only one. I find myself working at home late into the night to stay on top of the work load. Trying to find balance is tough. Maybe it’s finally time to pick up that book about a few hours in a work week? I have a hard time believing that exists.

Christina in NM
Christina in NM
10 years ago

I agree about time being the real currency. I have a well-paying job and have very little debt. The real problem is that I have to work many hours and I frequently feel very stressed. The point of my frugal ways now is to get to the point where I can work part time and reclaim some free time.

bethh
bethh
10 years ago

Congratulations! I’m looking forward to hearing more about this next stage of your journey. I’m contemplating (hoping for, I think!) some life changes but I’ve always been very clear about the importance of balance. My bigger problem is saying no to fun things, so I have time to recharge my batteries. 🙂

It’ll be interesting to hear what your rocks and gravel are.

Early Retirement Extreme
Early Retirement Extreme
10 years ago

Time is something which is used to regulate machines. It is essentially a schedule which is mechanically regulated. Humans are not mechanical. I’d recommend watching Castaway (Tom Hanks). What we have initially is a delivery manager that works completely on the clock. He is easily frustrated when he can’t catch fish on time through effort. A year later, he has changed from the “farming” perspective of the modern worker (toil the soil) to that of a hunter. You see that in the movie in a scene where he is standing perfectly still, just waiting for the right opportunity. One throw… Read more »

Virginia Ripple
Virginia Ripple
10 years ago

I’ve been trying to do this for some time now. Balance is one of the hardest things to achieve. Thanks for being an inspiration.

Erik H
Erik H
10 years ago

With your new found time, may I recommend “Super Charged Retirement” by Mary Lloyd? I know that you’re not retired, so there’s plenty that won’t apply, but at the same time, it got me thinking about what I want my time to look like now at 30 by thinking about what it might look like at 70.

Gerald
Gerald
10 years ago

Billy Joel sumed it up with his song Moveing Out. Sergeant O’Leary is walkin the beat At night he becomes a bartender He works at Mister Cacciatores Down on Sullivan Street Across from the medical center And he’s tradin in his Chevy for A Cadillac ack ack ack ack ack You ought-a know by now If he can’t drive with a broken back At least he can polish the fenders You ought-a know by now You can pay Uncle Sam with the overtime Is that all you get for your money And if that’s what you have in mind Then… Read more »

Troy
Troy
10 years ago

I noticed something in your post.

“My schedule is always full, and I never have any time for the important things in life.”

Not true. You had time for all the “important” things in your life. It is what was important to you at that time that is the issue.

You cared about the book. About the money. So that is where your focus was.

Most everyone is right where they deserve to be.

I enjoy the enlightenment. Realizing that time is the valuable resource, not money, is a true milestone.

Joe Todd
Joe Todd
10 years ago

Great post I took this message to heart about 15 years ago and I am very glad I did

Landon
Landon
10 years ago

This is a great post. I’m looking to become “Rich in Time” as well… Isn’t it sad that we have to jump through so many hoops in this society to get there?

April
April
10 years ago

Really enjoyed this post, and it’s full of words of warning for me as I grow my own business. I almost overwhelmed myself taking on too much, and then a project fell through, and I breathed a sigh of relief.

I was going to accept it because I wanted the extra cash and didn’t want to tell someone “no,” but I was stressed out about taking on so much work when my plate is full.

Miss Minimalist
Miss Minimalist
10 years ago

I love the concept of being “rich in time.”

I’ve recently been applying my minimalist philosophy to my time as well as my space. Instead of trying to “get more done,” my goal is to have “less to do.”

I’ve discovered that decluttering your schedule can be just as rewarding as decluttering your closets! 🙂

blue
blue
10 years ago

congratulations – thank you for sharing and please enjoy the leisure time.

Denise
Denise
10 years ago

Great article! Thanks for sharing. If you don’t muster the courage to think critically about your situation, you’ll end up living a life of conformity & complacency. Kudos to finding the silver lining.

Ken
Ken
10 years ago

Good points. We all need to establish priorities and follow through on them. I liked your point about dropping something and not picking it back up (or replace with something else).

mick
mick
10 years ago

just as the only constant is change itself, to maintain balance, one must always be “balancing”…

In looking for balance, it is helpful to view it as a verb, rather than a noun.

Becky
Becky
10 years ago

Minus the Starcraft, congratulations on your newfound perspective, and peace:)

chacha1
chacha1
10 years ago

Downshifting: what I had to do when I left a job managing a law office and got a new job as “just” a secretary. It took some getting used to, but man! What a difference in quality of life! Troy at #39 had an interesting point. I think it’s clear that what was important to J.D. DID change over time, and that these changes have driven the financial makeover, the professional makeover, and now the priorities makeover. It is so easy to forget that people DO change, with time and circumstance; and that what seems desperately important to us at… Read more »

Jen Schneider
Jen Schneider
10 years ago

Hi JD! I LOVE this post! I’ve been writing an academic article on the idea of “alternative hedonism,” which is the notion that we are looking for deeper ways to feel pleasure and happiness that don’t necessarily involve consumption (or saving) but rather having time. The documentary and book No Impact Man are examples of alternative hedonism, what you are going through is (I think) and you can also check out Juliet Schor’s recent book Plenitude. I think this is fantastic. Keep writing about your experiences! Jen @ toddlerspit (I wrote a piece for GRS years ago on the costs… Read more »

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