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Let’s do a thought exercise for a moment. Imagine you had an extra $5,000 every month to spend. This is money you can spend without blinking an eye because you already paid for your mortgage, car, utilities and kids’ supplies.

There’s just one limitation: you can only spend it on something that would help you save time or make you happier.

I did this exercise two years ago and I’ll share my list in a moment with you. I also asked other people in the Asian Efficiency community how they would spend their money and their answers might surprise you.

Do You Have Limiting Beliefs Around Money?

I first came across this thought exercise when I listened to a Tim Ferriss podcast episode. He was specifically talking about his limiting beliefs around money. A few years ago, he never thought flying business class was worth the money. Why would you spend three times the amount on a flight when you can get to the same destination in economy?

One day he flew in economy from the US to Australia to speak at an event. After a 20+ hour flight, he arrived at the hotel and he was exhausted. He had to speak a few hours later and he did a very poor job. Not only did he disappoint a lot of people in the audience, he missed out on a lot of business opportunities that could have easily paid him back hundreds of thousands of dollars.

After thinking about the experience, Tim questioned his decision around flying in coach. Was it really worth saving $2,000 on the ticket? In hindsight, he would have happily paid that money to be well-rested, in a good mood, and to be able to give a fantastic keynote speech that would bring in more business. The return on investment would make sense (and if he read my post on flying first class for only $268 he would have totally done it).

This led him to question his other beliefs around money. That’s when he came up with this thought exercise: what if you had an extra $1,000 ($5,000 or $10,000 or some other large amount to you) to spend to improve the quality of your life? What would you spend it on?

This led him to challenge himself how he viewed money. I did the same exercise and created my own list. At Asian Efficiency we help people save time and achieve their goals in record times so I thought I would slightly modify the question.

If you had an extra $5,000 to spend every month, how would you spend it to save time or make you happier?

You might be asking yourself, why did you add the “happiness” portion to the question? After working with hundreds of people through Asian Efficiency, here’s what I realized: happy people are productive people. The happier you are, the more productive you’ll be. I’ve seen this be true in my own personal life and other people I’ve affected.

The Answers of People in the Asian Efficiency Community

When I polled the Dojo, our private productivity training library with a community of like-minded people, I got some interesting answers:

  • Jeremy, a salesperson, said: “I’d hire a person to do my prospecting, qualification, and appointment generation for me, so I could spend more of my time (up to my 60–65%) in front of customers.”
  • Mike, a creative, had a few things he would spend it on such as: “Hire a digital assistant or something like fancyhands.com and delegate most admin type tasks” and “Get a weekly house cleaning/organizing to free up 2 hours weekly”.
  • Rob from The Netherlands, my home country, said: “Hire a person for housekeeping once or twice a week for a couple of hours” on top of many other things.

Isn’t that interesting? Did similar things come to your mind?

One of the reasons this question resonated with me, and many others I’ve shared this with, is that we find ourselves in a unique life situation. A few years ago, I had more time than I had money. I wouldn’t mind waiting in line for the newest iPhone or to show up at a restaurant not knowing how long I would have to wait to be seated.

Nowadays, I can’t afford that anymore. My life is quite the opposite – I have more money than I have time. A lot of Asian Efficiency readers find themselves in the same situation and it’s something we’ve covered in depth on this episode of the Productivity Show (our top-ranked iTunes podcast with 5 million downloads). We go through different life stages. When we’re young, we have more time than money but as we age it starts to flip around. As we’re entering our 30s, 40s, and beyond we now have more money than we have time. This is also the stage when we wish we had more time! For most us, having more time would make us happier and that’s something all the other productivity experts on the Asian Efficiency team can testify too as well.

So what if you could spend your hard-earned money to win back time or make you happier? For a lot of us, having more time allows you to do things that make you happier, e.g. spending time with your kids or pursuing a goal you want to achieve.

Here’s How I Would Spend The Money

If I had an extra $5,000 to spend each month, here’s what I would spend it on (in no particular order):

  • Fly first class only
  • Only take a limo or Uber Black everywhere I go
  • Have a personal chef cook for me each day
  • Have a personal trainer work with me anytime and travels with me anywhere
  • Have a full-time assistant with me at all times
  • Get a massage every Friday
  • Take private lessons for every hobby I pick up like golf, dancing and learning languages
  • Every year buy the newest MacBook Pro, iPhone and iPad
  • Live in a bigger apartment and in a better location
  • Have a dining table with 10 seats
  • Go out for fine-dining every week with a friend or someone I haven’t seen in a while
  • Fly friends to come stay with me and have a good time
  • Always have the best seats at concerts and sports games and workshops/seminars
  • Buy the most desirable gifts that people want but can’t get for themselves
  • Only sleep at 5-star hotels and resorts
  • Fly my brothers and parents every half year to a nice location where we spend quality time together
  • Have multiple mentors and coaches who always push me and challenge me

I did this exercise about two years ago (when Tim Ferriss’ episode came out) and when I first saw this list I thought it was out of my reality. As you read this, you might think this list is absurd!

Maybe it is. The fact I could just spend $5,000 every month on anything I wanted really expanded my options. It would have been totally different if I said “what if I only had $500 each month to spend?” because I would make things very realistic. That’s a bad thing and I’ll show you in a moment why that is.

But I Don’t Have $5,000 to Spend!

As I was reviewing my list, I knew I didn’t have an extra $5,000 laying around to spend. But then I started thinking…how can I still implement some of these things without having to spend that much money?

That’s when I started to get into solving problems – something I do for a living for myself, for Asian Efficiency and for our clients. I knew it was unrealistic to do all of these things on this list but maybe I could have small doses of these things. Would that be helpful at all?

YES! Let me share an example of this.

The Biggest Impact On My Time, Productivity and Happiness

The best investment I have made in the past two years is hiring an executive assistant (which is on the list).

Before I did this thought exercise, I had limiting beliefs about having an EA (executive assistant). I thought it was only for celebrities and high-ranking executives in Fortune 500 companies. I thought I needed someone full-time to benefit me. These limiting beliefs were shared on this podcast episode we did on executive assistants (one of the most popular episodes we’ve released).

In the past, I’ve dabbled with virtual assistants in foreign countries but the experience itself was mediocre. Then there was also the fact that I’m Thanh Pham, CEO of Asian Efficiency. I’m supposed to be effective and efficient to the extent that I didn’t need an EA.

That was really my ego talking. Booking travel? I can do that quickly. Researching the best places to eat in Tokyo? Not a big deal.

All these little tasks weren’t a big deal but when you have hundreds of them it starts to add up to a lot of time. Ever since I’ve made the decision “to try it out” having an EA – not fully committing to one just yet – I felt more at ease giving it a spin. My thinking was: “okay, let’s just spend $500 in one month on an executive assistant and see what happens”.

Two years later, I can say that was one of the best decisions I’ve made. This person started working for me for 5 hours a week. Two weeks later that turned into 10 hours a week. Nowadays it’s about 16 hours a week.

Those 16 hours are the best investment I make every single week. Why? All the other things I mentioned on my list were a result of having my executive assistant make them a reality. I was too busy to make myself unbusy but thanks to having an EA she was able to turn my dream list into a reality. I had ideas and a vision for what my life could look like with the resources I had but it wasn’t until I worked with my EA that these things became a reality.

She was the one who systematized my life and used my money and resources to save me time, make me more productive and make me a happier person. For example:

  1. She books me a massage every two weeks without me telling her.
  2. She uses my credit card points to book first class trips for me for a few times a year.
  3. She changes the meals every week of my meal delivery service so I never get bored of what I eat.

On my original list, I said I wanted a massage every week. That’s not realistic for me but having a massage every two weeks is. I also wanted a personal chef cook for me. I asked myself why I wanted that and I realized that I just don’t like cooking or have a desire to learn how to cook. My solution to that problem is to have a meal delivery service that I like and that ships meals to me every week which is a lot more affordable. I also can’t afford to fly first class all the time but I can for 2–3 trips a year (especially when it’s funded by points which I revealed how I did in this post).

She does a million other different things to help me save time and make me a more productive person. The main point I want to make is that I took my original list and made them a reality in a way that was affordable to me. So instead of having a weekly massage, I have one every two weeks. I took this approach for every single item on that list.

The Road Trip of a Lifetime

As another example, I just got back from a week-long road trip with my two younger brothers.

One lives in Orange County, CA and the other one lives in The Netherlands. We don’t see each other often – at most once a year. Spending quality time with people is one of the things that make me happy. I can’t afford to buy plane tickets for everyone in the family every six months to some tropical destination (that’s on my dream list). However, I can buy a plane ticket for my brother in The Netherlands to fly to the States. That’s exactly what I did and we ended going on a road trip together which was a fun experience all of us will remember for the rest of our lives.

The Big Surprise: What It Truly Costs

At this point, you might be thinking that all of this will cost a fortune. Even if you take your dream list and made a few of them a reality, you might still be skeptical of how expensive it would be. I had the same reservation and when I broke down the numbers, I was shocked.

A lot of people who follow Asian Efficiency are in the same situation as I am: we have more money than we have time. My natural instinct is to think: what’s the best way we can utilize this resource to free up time and make us happier?

From my dream list, I’d say the two biggest things that made a major impact were 1) hiring an executive assistant and 2) getting a massage every two weeks.

I had no idea how big of an impact these two things would make. Never ever did I think I was able to afford that either but when I broke down the numbers, I was surprised how it fit within my budget.

In fact, let me share with you my cost-analysis of everything that I’ve implemented to give you a real-world example. Again, this is not to brag or show off. It’s to show you what’s real and possible. We always give away 95% of our best content away for free on the blog and podcast and save the last stuff for our premium courses. Normally I wouldn’t share these numbers publicly (only in our courses) but I want to show you what’s realistic and to make it actionable for you. Here are the numbers I spend in a given month:

Executive assistant: $1,300
Massage every two weeks: $300 (incl tips)
Fine-dining once a month: $250
Meal delivery: $600

That comes out to $2,450 a month or roughly $30,000 a year. That’s a lot of money for most people which it is. In fact, you might be shocked right now.

But if you just look at the sticker price, you’re missing something very important which is what is the value that you get in return?

Like I said, the money I invest in my executive assistant allows me to free up many hours a month and mental energy. She works for me about 64 hours a month and I easily free up more hours than that thanks to her. With my hourly rate, it just economically makes sense.

The massage…I will say it’s mostly a luxury. I’ve been living my life just fine without having a massage even once a year. In my mind, I’m justifying it by taking care of my health and as someone who can work 24/7 this is my way of unplugging and relaxing. I’m fortunate enough to be able to afford it and knowing what I know now, I’d say this is important to me for maintaining my well-being. The happier and healthier I am, the better I can show up for my company and everyone I lead.

The fine dining is a pure luxury for me and I don’t even need it every month but it does make me happy when I go fine dining with friends and family. It’s a unique experience that fits within my budget and I’m more than happy to pay for it.

The meal delivery service has a huge ROI. In fact, it has saved me over 2,000 hours.

How I Saved Myself Over 2,000 Hours

As someone who doesn’t like cooking and hasn’t cooked for the last four years, I can honestly say I’ve saved myself thousands of hours. That’s not an exaggeration. Let’s do some quick mental math.

Let’s say you eat three times a day. For each meal, you have to prepare, cook, clean, and think about what you’re going to eat and shop for (I’m including grocery shopping time). Here’s a simple breakdown:

  • Grocery shopping (including travel time): 90 minutes a week
  • Preparing a meal: 20 minutes
  • Eating a meal: 20 minutes
  • Cleaning afterward: 15 minutes

Let’s assume you eat at home for all seven days. That means if you split up the grocery shopping time across twenty-one meals in a week, that’s about four minutes for each meal.

When you add all the numbers, each meal will cost you roughly one hour. That means you’re spending 3 hours a day on “food”. That to me is still conservative but let’s go with it. So in a year, you spend roughly 365 * 3 = 1,095 hours on grocery shopping, eating and cleaning.

Let’s contrast that with a meal service. Once you have a company you like, such as KetoFridge which is the meal delivery service I use, it’s a system. My EA has a good idea of my taste preferences and I don’t even have to tell her what to order or how many dishes I need. She knows based on my calendar whether I’m at home, traveling, or having lunches and dinners with people. So I don’t even think about what I’m eating or what to do about it. It literally just shows up every week on my doorstep.

Each meal takes about 3 minutes to prepare in the microwave, about 20 minutes of eating and 7 minutes of cleaning (the reason it’s shorter than above is that you don’t have to clean the prep-work such cutting boards plastered with food rests and such). So that’s 30 minutes per meal. That’s half the time it takes compared to cooking yourself. In a year, you save yourself roughly 547 hours. When you do this every year, I like did the past four years, you can see how you can save yourself thousands of hours!

And that’s by spending only $600 a month on a meal delivery service!

To put that in perspective and easier numbers to understand, I’m saving myself 10 hours a week by spending $150 a week. Is that worthwhile to you? When I did the math myself, it was totally worth it.

To me, the $600 I spend every month is a no-brainer to the time and frustration I save myself.

(I’ve used the meal delivery service before I did the thought exercise so I was aware how much of a time-saver it was but only after the fact I used it. My main motivation to use one was I needed to follow a specific diet according to my personal trainer and the easiest solution was to use a meal delivery service to keep me on track. Plus, I didn’t want to learn cooking so I settled on paying more money than cooking myself. Little did I know what kind of ROI it would have on my time!)

The Expensive Dream List

Does that $30,000 a year now look a lot more valuable and “affordable?” When you reverse engineer the numbers, I hope you’re starting to see how you can afford a lot more things and see the value in them.

To put that in perspective, if I took the same list and made them my dream version this is what that would look like on a monthly basis (these are ballpark numbers):

  • Executive assistant (full-time): $4,500+
  • Massage every week coming to my home: $900
  • Fine-dining every two weeks: $500+
  • Personal chef: $5,500+
  • Groceries for the chef: $400+

That comes out to $11,800 a month or roughly $142,000 a year. I don’t know about you but that is expensive and something I can’t afford! In realistic terms, your personal income would probably have to be in the multiple seven-figure range to make that a reality.

I would love to be in that situation myself. Ask me in a few years!

In the meantime, I’m more than happy with the miniature version that I have going on right now. The point is: if you have some disposable income you can use that money to win back time and improve the quality of your life in many ways that you might not think was possible. It’s more affordable than you think it is.

What I Would Tell Others To Do

Remember that list of Asian Efficiency readers who shared what they would want to spend their money on? Now that I’ve shown you how it’s more affordable than you think it might be, here’s what I would tell each person.

Jeremy, a salesperson, said: “I’d hire a person to do my prospecting, qualification, and appointment generation for me, so I could spend more of my time (up to my 60–65%) in front of customers.”

What if you got someone on commission-only? This person would only get paid if the sale was closed. If that’s not possible, would it be worthwhile hiring someone for $15/hour on a part-time basis (maybe 10 hours a week)?

Mike, a creative, said: “Hire a digital assistant or something like fancyhands.com and delegate most admin type tasks” and “Get a weekly house cleaning/organizing to free up 2 hours weekly.”

As someone who has hired a lot of people, I can say that you could find someone local and remote who would help you do admin tasks for you for $15 an hour. What if you hired a person for only 4 hours a week? How much would that benefit you?

As far as cleaning and organizing your home, for two hours a week, I know you can find someone for $30 an hour. How much would it be worth to you to have someone clean your place and organize it for just $60 a week?

Last but not least, we have Rob from The Netherlands who said: “Hire a person for housekeeping once or twice a week for a couple of hours” on top of many other things.

The same advice goes to Rob. I’m not familiar with the rates in The Netherlands but I can’t imagine it being more than $30 an hour. Let’s say this person comes every Tuesday and Saturday for two hours each time. It would cost you $120/week. Is that worth it for you? What if he or she only comes once a week for $60?

I’ll be the first to admit that my place is “organized chaos” as I like to call it. I know where everything is and to me it makes sense but others might say it’s a bit of a mess. I personally pay my cleaner $40/hour and she comes every two weeks. After working with me for over a year, she started cleaning my place in 2.5 hours but nowadays she can do it in one hour through optimizations over the years.

What I’m hoping you realize is that it’s more affordable to have your “dream list” become a reality – even if it’s only in small doses. What would it mean to you to free up an extra 2–4 hours a week? What would you do with that time?

Next Actions

As always, at Asian Efficiency we want to make everything simple and actionable for you. What I would really like for you to do is do the same thought exercise and come up with your dream list. Once you have that list, break it down into what’s realistic for you and your unique situation.

You will be surprised what you can afford and make a reality. Once you break it down you’ll see how affordable most things are that would fit within your budget.

Not only have I won back more time and become more productive through this exercise, I’m a much happier person. As I always say, happy people are productive people. My desire is for you is the same: to be happy and productive.

One of the things I’ve noticed that makes people unhappy consistently is the feeling that they are not reaching their full potential. I know what that feels like! That’s the main reason we put together the Productivity Quiz, to help people identify the roadblocks that are holding them back  so they can achieve success without the stress. If you need a little help getting unstuck, take a few minutes and complete the Productive QuizIt will only take a couple of minutes of your time, and you’ll get emailed results which show you the biggest areas for improvement as well as several curated resources to help you overcome the resistance that is keeping you from achieving your full potential.

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Thanh Pham

Founder of Asian Efficiency where we help people become more productive at work and in life. I've been featured on Forbes, Fast Company, and The Globe & Mail as a productivity thought leader. At AE I'm responsible for leading teams and executing our vision to assist people all over the world live their best life possible.

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  1. Thanh, great article on the importance of valuing our time. To use your cooking example, some people love and have the gift of cooking so they should do that. Others dislike it and can utilize their money to have food delivered so they can use their time and their gifts for other things. Each of us was put on this earth for a purpose. We were given certain gifts and abilities and our purpose is to maximize those gifts in serving others. If investing money to free up my time to cook, as an example, frees up 4 hours/week and I leverage those hours into something meaningful like creating special needs housing that otherwise would not have had the time to do, then I think the investment of money to free up time is worthwhile. I believe that at the end of my life, I will have to give an account of what I did with my time. I do not want any regrets of how I used money as a tool to leverage my time to serve others with the gifts I have been given.

  2. Hi Thanh, this is a very impressive article in the sense that I can 100% FEEL the amount of effort you’ve put into it. And the content you produce and create by experimenting in real life is insane! Definitely an eye-opener when I read your blog, thank you for sharing it with the world.

  3. Nice blog….. what I miss is an awareness of the impact of your wishes/ choices on the environment. If you and your family constantly fly around the world you contribute a lot to global warming. The world will become unlivable for our children of we don’t make more sustainable choices I’m afraid. Maybe you can write sometimes about how to trade our time fit the happiness of the future generation!

  4. I would rather have more time and cook my own food than succumb to the illusion that happiness can be bought with money. Keep in mind that $30,000 is the annual income of the average Joe and that often, less is more.

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