Paying Yourself First

Carving out time for what matters

In today’s post, I will talk about the idea of “paying yourself first” from personal finance, and another interpretation of this idea that I read recently in the book, Four Thousand Weeks.

The idea in personal finance is very simple, it says that the day you receive your Paycheck, you should take a portion of it, and just pay yourself, that is, put it in a savings or investment account. The reason it is emphasized to do that first is because if we don’t account for it before hand, it might not happen as other things will come up. If we just think that we will save whatever is left after spending, chances are that the money will find some other use, and poor savings account won’t really see much growth. Of course, there are exceptions to this rule too, where I know many people who are pretty consistent with savings, even if it’s not the first thing they do with their money. But I still like the idea of automating a certain fraction of your salary to go to savings/investment as it makes sure that savings see a consistent growth, and if there is money leftover after expenses, that’s even better.

I recently read another interpretation of this idea in terms of time management. In the book, Four Thousand WeeksOliver Burkerman says that we can and should apply this principle with respect to how we spend our time. The idea is very similar here too. Just like we have different avenues where our money can be used, there are different avenues where our time can be used too. Among these avenues, there will be things which are high priority but maybe we put them aside, and treat them as something we would do if we have some surplus time left at the end of the day or on weekends. The author argues that if an activity is important to us, we should schedule it first in our calendar, and then other things can move around that. For example, if you really enjoy painting, writing or creating anything else, then in the balance of each new week, you should schedule time for that activity first. If that activity is left at the mercy of leftover time after other priorities such as work, family, household chores, there are good chances that we may not be left with surplus time. The author writes:

So if a certain activity really matters to you — a creative project, say, though it could just as easily be nurturing a relationship, or activism in the service of some cause— the only way to be sure it will happen is to do some of it today, no matter how little.

The author himself actually borrowed this use of the phrase from graphic novelist and creativity coach Jessica Abel who puts it in her own words:

If you don’t save a bit of your time for you, now, out of every week, there is no moment in the future when you’ll magically be done with everything and have loads of free time.

For me, personally, music practice has been one such thing (among others :P) which tends to get left for surplus time, something that I’ll get to if I find some time and energy left at the end of the day. Clearly, that practice ends up happening on very few days which my teacher figures out in the first 2 minutes of class. Going forward, I plan to try to have a dedicated 15 minutes slot for it so that it happens more regularly, even if it’s little.