Monday, August 30, 2010

More thoughts on being "time-poor"

Continuing on the theme of having too little time, being "time-poor" is actually a pretty vicious trap. People who don't have enough time start, understandably, by trying to free up time. A common method for this is for people to outsource things they don't like to do anyway: housework (to maid services), yardwork (to lawncare services), even food preparation (to restaurants or takeout).

Unfortunately, one thing they often don't consider trimming back could be the biggest gain: their job.

Think about it—eight hours a day away from home. Every day. Honestly, if you need some more time to yourself—major time—switching from a full-time to a part-time work schedule would save you way more time (twenty hours a week!) than avoiding most any amount of housework. Many modern workplaces offer programs affording this kind of an hour cut. Of course, this will also severely impact the amount of money coming into your household. This requires having money from somewhere else—or maybe a lot less need for money.

And this is where the first instinct can be harmful: spending money to outsource work to others means you need more money. This means that trimming back your working hours—and making big gains for time—becomes less and less of an option.

So if you're short on time, instead of outsourcing unpleasant tasks, you might try reacting in a different way: hone some skills to become more self-sufficient, with an eye toward cutting back working hours and gaining more time that way.

p.s. Alternatively, you could remove the reason you have unpleasant tasks in the first place: get a smaller house (less cleaning), move to a condo (no yardwork), or... stop eating? Maybe not so much.

Monday, August 23, 2010

On buying your way out of being "time-poor"

Living in a neighborhood that could be described as "old professional", with plenty of aging white-collar wage-earners in the peak of their earning years, we get an interesting bunch of targeted advertising around our house. One that particularly stuck out to me was a recent maid service's flyer, pitching the slogan, "Life's too short to clean your own house."

Life is short; I'll grant that. Is it too short to clean your own house?

The assumption underlying this kind of slogan (popular in pitching to affluent professionals) is that trading money for time is a good way to get more time. After all, professionals often lament having so little time, and they've got plenty of money; wouldn't it be nice if they could just exchange one for the other?

Looking at the problem superficially, it certainly seems like a real possibility. A high-powered wage earner might earn well in excess of $50/hour, and paying the maid service $75/week may save our professional four whole hours of cleaning. And trading $50 for four hours is paying out under $15/hour, which is a net of $35/hour!

Unfortunately, things aren't that simple.

As a professional starts to look deeper into the issue, a question surfaces: "What am I saving time for?" (Or, for a more prepositionally strict professional, "For what am I saving time?")

Perhaps at the office! However, note that a professional's income is pretty well fixed. He puts in his time at work and gets a certain amount per month in return—spending a couple extra hours at the office yields no additional income (in the short term, at least). So choosing to go to the office with his new found time will actually pan out to something like a $15/hr loss (again, in the short term).

Most professionals, though, are not too keen on spending additional time in the office. Instead, they're looking for extra time to spend with their family. And what better way to find time to spend with the family than by not having to clean the house? Except that the extra time "bought" that way tends to fizzle away just as quickly as the old time did, especially when it's squandered vegging out in front of the television (a pastime that grows to fit the space available). Who wants to pay $15/hr for that?

Bearing in mind my current circumstance as a member of a childless couple, I still think cleaning your house yourself is always the way to go. My reason? Cleaning your own house, or doing other things for yourself, often conjoins nicely with spending "quality time" with your family. Some of my fondest childhood memories are of working together as a family, though at the time I was less than enthusiastic about it. (Sorry, Mom.) Combining your family time with work to be done is a great way to get extra mileage out of your time, and save some money to boot.

Life's too short to pay someone else to clean your house.