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Spending Versus Investing Time

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Here at Asian Efficiency we are obsessed with time. When you want to quantify how productive you are, the only metric you can really use is time. In order to improve your time management skills, you first have to start looking differently at what the concept of “time” means to you.

Time is money

I am sure you have heard of the phrase “time is money”. While time is a resource that can’t be recovered (unlike money) time acts in a lot of ways like money and it should managed the same way. Think of time as a currency you have and there is two ways of using it:

  1. You spend it.
  2. You invest it.

How do you use it? Do you spend your time? Or do you invest in it?

To hone your time management skills, I want you to start looking at time a little differently.

Just like money, in order to get your personal finances in order you have to know first where your money is going. That’s why you have to track your expenses. Once you have a list of your common expenses, you eliminate unnecessary purchases and find cheaper alternatives for goods. The difference between income and your adjusted expenses leaves you with money in your pocket that you can invest for profit.

You can do exactly the same thing for time; first you have track how you spend your time. Once you know how you use it, that’s when you can start working out how to improve your time management. By eliminating some of your time wasters, you can redirect that time to your goals or invest it into something else. One of the adjustments you have to make is that your the majority of your time is in alignment with your goals. That is really when you are being productive. Another way of being productive is by using that free time to invest in yourself.

From a personal point of view, I believe that there are certain assets that make up a “person’s net worth”. This is something I made up myself and I have been pondering about this for a long period of time. I remember having long conversations with Aaron about this a while back on the idea of “what makes a person valuable?” Here are some of the assets that I think are important:

  • Relationships – your people network and access to people.
  • Knowledge – in possession of and having access to information.
  • Money – the currency that can be traded for many different things.
  • Skills – specific things you can do really well or are the best at.
  • Reputation – your perceived image and status.
  • Mobility – the flexibility in your life and how well you can adjust to changes.
  • Time – the resource you want to have control over the most.

In my opinion, working on any of these assets is a great way of investing your time. That could mean reading more books (knowledge), networking with influential people (relationships), attending a workshop (skills), and so on. Here at Asian Efficiency we are all about you achieving success, and one of the fastest ways to get where you want to be is by getting your time management skills up to par.

Paradigm shift

To finish up the money comparison, I read an interesting book a long time ago that really changed how I look at money and time. In the book The Millionaire Next Door, author Thomas Stanley did an extensive analysis of the millionaires living in the United States. What he found might sound counterintuitive, but the majority of self-made millionaires aren’t big spenders. In fact, they are the exact opposite. They live very modest, save money, buy used cars, and live in within their means. Stanley concluded that these people are very conscious of how they spend their money. They will always look for ways for saving money and investing it.

This is exactly how you should look at your time; it is your most valuable resource. Look for ways cutting back on time wasters and start looking for ways to invest your time. This new way of looking at time requires you to make a mental shift of how you look at this precious resource. In order to make this new mind shift work for you, you must be willing to accept that the long-term is more beneficial to you than the short-term. What is interesting is that oftentimes the benefits of each are exactly the opposite.


The short-term benefits of this meal are amazing.

Let’s take fast food as an example. In the short-term, it is gratifying to eat that big juicy burger just to tame your hunger and satisfy your taste buds. But in the long run, if you keep eating it often, it is not that beneficial to your health. On the other hand, eating vegetables might not be the most exciting thing in the world in the short-term but the long-term benefits is that you will live healthier. So the short-term benefits are often exactly the opposite of the long-term benefits. The challenge is finding a balance between the two.


The short-term benefits look pretty good, but the long-term benefits are even better.

You can apply this concept to how you use your time. Are you surrendering yourself to the short-term benefits all the time? Or are you putting in the time to work on what will be beneficial for you in the long run? In order words, are you investing in your time?

I am not saying that you should be a workaholic and never have any downtime. Not at all, you need to have balance. What I do would like you to see is that you can make that mind shift of using your time without any awareness to the idea of that you can invest your time for long-term benefits.

The delay of gratification can be really hard to resist. I know. I sometimes can’t resist the urge to go out socializing and partying (or play FIFA) while knowingly I shouldn’t be. But if you want to achieve the your big goals, you have to make sacrifices. Like many of my successful mentors say, you must be willing to pay the price of success. You must be willing to say no to things, suck it up, put in your time and reap the benefits later.

The sooner you start investing, the more time is on your side. It is just like investing in assets that provide you interest. By starting early, the compounding effects have much more time for you to take advantage of. This blog post by Tim Ferriss explains this concept too. To paraphrase it:

If you keep reinvesting some of your time in additional gains in your capacity to act, you can theoretically have a compounding effect with the value of your time (rather than time itself). Just like investing currency, the earlier you start this process, and continue to invest in your capacity, the more time your capacity has to compound, and the greater outcomes you can produce during your lifetime.

If you don’t pay attention to how you manage your time, it will be spent one way or another. Without any awareness you will end up wondering where it went and complain you need more. Start managing your time and be willing to take the long haul. I will take the long-term benefits over short-term any time. What about you?

Photos by kekremsi, Robert Banh and ilovebutter.

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Posted by Laura Greer  | May 16, 2016 at 11:46AM | Reply

I know this article was written a few years ago but I just stumbled upon it and wanted to share my tip for tracking time. When I work (and I usually do this from home) I log into my Kanban board on Kanban Tool. It tracks the time I spent on each task and help me be more efficient.

Posted by William  | January 2, 2015 at 11:34PM | Reply

I think a more interesting mindset is that investing time in the present should lead to more available time in the future, just like investing money today will lead to more money in the future.

Most people would say “hey, you can’t do that. Einstein and Mozart and Bill Gates and us all have 24 hours in a day”, but I think the goal in life is not merely making each second more productive, as if we are a machine to milk extra efficiency from.

I think the real goal in life is to arrange the usage of our present time in such that we will have more FREEDOM to use our time in the future for things that we LIKE to do, ENJOY doing, instead of things that we HAVE to do, in order to make a LIVING. After all, we all only live once, and no one in their dying bed would say Damn, I wish I am more productive.

Posted by Five Blogs – 23 January 2013  | May 1, 2013 at 3:09PM | Reply

[…] Spending Versus Investing Time Written by: Thanh Pham […]

Posted by Timo Kiander  | October 17, 2011 at 10:55AM | Reply


This is great article!

Beating instant gratification has long-term benefits. 

I guess this is just a habit. Once you choose something over the other (delayed gratification over instant one), you become accustomed to it and the instant gratification trap is not haunting you that much.


Posted by Thanh Pham  | October 18, 2011 at 7:25AM

Yes I totally agree that it really is just a habit. You can start off small with not any desserts after dinners and scale it up (as an example).

That doesn’t mean I’m not human. Sometimes I still choose the instant gratification route, but it’s not that often anymore :)

Posted by Bojan Djordjevic  | October 1, 2011 at 12:56AM | Reply

Guys, what tools are you using for tracking your time?

Posted by Thanh Pham  | October 1, 2011 at 3:25AM

I use aTimelogger on my iPhone and Excel to do all the graphing, summarizing and analysis.

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