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Are You Using Your Time and Money Wisely… or Are You Just Keeping Busy?

There’s a self-limiting mindset that many people have when it comes to their time and money. They feel that saving a few bucks and “doing the work themselves” is key to their happiness and success. Sometimes they are WAY off the mark and put in time and effort even when it is obviously working against them. Why? Because they’re keeping busy. It gives them a sense of accomplishment. They’re a hamster on a wheel not really going anywhere… but they sure did get their heart rate up!

I often use my own personal example of lawn mowing to illustrate my point.

I haven’t mowed the lawn in many years. I have a guy who does it for me. He has one of those super fast riding mowers… one of those with the two handles that can turn on a dime. He drives through my lawn at lightning speed. Then he rolls that sucker back on his trailer, grabs the weed wacker, and trims around the sidewalk and landscaping like a skilled surgeon. After all is done, he grabs the leaf blower and skillfully cleans up everything so it looks like he was never there. He does all of this in a matter of 20 – 30 minutes. For his time, expertise, and use all of all his tools, I pay him $40.

If I were to do that with my own push mower and weed eater, it would probably take me around two hours to do. Or, I could go spend thousands on a fancy fast riding mower, gasoline, blade sharpening, oil changes, filter changes, spark plug changes… practice a few dozen times… and get it down to the quick 20-30 minutes that lawn dude does.

I’ve done the math. It makes no sense. I have no desire to spend that much time pushing my mower around for two hours, because I can make more than $40 in the two hours it takes to mow the lawn… all from the comfort of my air-conditioned office. Nor do I have the interest in devoting the money and time it would take to learn how to become the super fast and skilled expert that my lawn guy is.

Nope… I’ll venmo my lawn dude the $40 and give him a big thank you!

My neighbor, on the other hand, sits on his very expensive John Deer mower every week and looks like he’s about to die out in the sun. Maybe he enjoys it. Maybe he feels obligated as the man to do the job of taking care of the lawn. Maybe he looks down on me for never putting in the work on my own lawn. Whatever… as far as I’m concerned, the neighbor dude looks like he’s about to die from heat stroke all for the reason of, “Hey… I mow the lawn. It’s what I do.”

I recently endured another perfect example of this self-limiting mindset. My mom, who may be the most anxious and neurotic person on the planet Earth, is also extremely frugal to a fault. She was raised poor, so she has some deeply embedded behaviors and thought patterns that tell her to hold on to a penny at all costs. She was also, ironically, an accountant for many years, so she presumably understands the value of time and money. Yet… we have instances like what I experienced with her the other day.

My mom is getting up there in age. If you can’t tell by looking at her, don’t worry. She’ll let you know. When she was diagnosed with osteoporosis, she couldn’t wait to tell everyone. This diagnosis has also led her to make changes around the house, like having her shower remodeled. The other day she called me and let me know that her couch is too low to the ground, making it difficult for her to get in and out of it. It’s a struggle to stand up once she’s sitting down. Her solution: She wants to make the legs of the couch taller.

Me: “Okay, cool, we can order new legs for the couch and I’ll put them on for you.”

The new legs come in the mail. I drive over to her house, flip the couch over, and realize that there is a FIFTH leg that sits in the middle of the couch. It helps hold the whole thing up and keep it from sagging in the middle. Now we have four long legs and one short leg in the middle that is not going to touch the floor. To complicate matters, that middle leg is attached to the couch differently than the other four legs. It’s a thick rubber material that is attached via a bolt.

So, I put my brain to use, got on Amazon, and found an adjustable middle leg that will work out perfectly. The catch? It cost around $20. This immediately turned my mom off. After all, she just spent $40 on four new legs for the couch, she wasn’t about to spend $20 on just one more. She started concocting a scheme for taking a piece of wood to the hardware stare, getting it cut to length, having them attached a bracket so that we can bolt it on… it was crazy talk. She was going to take hours out of her day, and probably end up spending more than $20 to do this. I listened to her plan, I calmly explained that it didn’t make sense. We can just spend $20, wait one day, and get the new part and I’ll put it on. For some reason, the thought of forking over $20 to amazon really made her anxious. After all, she had this big chunk of wood that she was convinced would be perfect for the job. I told her, “Look…I’ll buy the dumb middle leg. Don’t go wasting your time with the hardware store and all that. Trust me when I say it doesn’t make much sense.” Me telling her that she would be wasting her time really set her off. She says, “To people like you that may be wasting time, but not for me.”

In other words, she was saying, “What the hell else do I have to do with my time? Sounds like a productive outing that will make me feel like I’m accomplishing something.” Perhaps she has a point. At this point in her life, having something to DO is more important to her than actually making financial sense. While I may see it as banging her head against the wall, she sees it as her actually TRYING something… even though we all know it wouldn’t work.

I think many of you are in this same kind of mindset. You’re doing something, but it may just be a colossal waste of time and energy. You could spend the $20 on the proverbial couch leg, but many of you tell yourself, “Well, then what in the hell am I going to do otherwise?”

Next time you find yourself embroiled in some anxiety-producing task or some time-sucking activity, stop and ask yourself WHY you are doing it. Are you doing it out of guilt? Shame? Are you avoiding what SHOULD be done? Do you recognize that there is an alternative, but that alternative means shifting your entire worldview and taking away the busy activity that has given you some false sense of purpose all these years?

For you entrepreneurial types, being more efficient and effective with your time and money is HUGELY important. You don’t have a comfortable paycheck coming this Friday. Every little thing you do needs to have a dollar attached to it. It’s either a dollar leaving your pocket or a dollar coming in. If you’re not producing in that moment, you better have a damn good reason for doing so.

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