Can you summon the self-awareness to recognize when you’re putting in 8+ hours at your desk, but you only get 1-2 hours of REAL, meaningful, focused work done? How many days do you need to have like that before accepting that it’s time for a serious reset of your motivation, drive, and focus?
What’s the solution? In many cases a great solution is to take more time off. It’s often counter-intuitive, but it works.
One simple reason is that when work time feels overly abundant, it’s very easy to waste it. Unproductive pseudo-work creeps into each day… until most of each day has drifted away from our core value-generating activities.
130 Days Off Per Year
In his book The Success Principles, Jack Canfield recommends taking 130-150 free days each year. A free day means that from midnight to midnight (a full 24 hours), you do no work whatsoever. No work-related email. No social media. No dwelling on work-related problems. You don’t touch any work-related activities unless you’re dealt an absolute emergency.
When you’ve found work that engages you, it’s so easy to allow work-related activities to bleed over into every single day, including so-called off days. I’m as guilty of this as any entrepreneur. I find it especially difficult not to work since my field is personal development. My work and personal life are already intertwined, and I can work from anywhere.
You may be wondering: What would you actually do with 130-150 days off each year? Without work to fill the time, what are you supposed to do instead? Watch TV? Play video games? Go hiking?
If you find it difficult to imagine how to invest that much time, you’re not alone. Taking that many off-days requires exploring and expressing completely different parts of yourself, parts of you that aren’t being expressed as vividly through your existing career path. This isn’t just a break from work — this is a real investment in having a life.
In order to take more time off, I’ve had to open whole new threads of exploration for myself. Some of these threads include traveling, relationships, and new hobbies.
With my first business that I started in my early 20s, I figured that working hard was the key to success. I’d often go to my office on weekends. Sometimes I’d work until the cleaning crew showed up. I’d tell them to skip my office suite, and I’d keep working till I couldn’t concentrate anymore, then sleep for a few hours on the floor under a desk, and go back to work when I woke up. I thought that was being productive, but in the back of my mind, I knew that if I was more focused, I could have gotten the same real work done in much less time.
Back then a vacation was an infrequent three-day trip, maybe four days at best, and somewhere within driving distance. These were nice breaks, but they weren’t long enough to allow me to step back from my business, have a life, and gain a fresh perspective. These vacations made me feel like I was vacating my work, but I wasn’t filling that void with anything truly restorative. I was just pressing pause. If I’d taken more time off, like a few weeks in a row, I likely would have avoided many setbacks that I endured.
I’m not at the level of Jack’s 130-150 free days recommendation, but I’m gradually getting closer. I can see the wisdom of it. I see how much more productive I am when I stop trying to work all the time. I see how important it is to completely let go of work for a while.
This year I did less writing and speaking than usual. I did fewer business deals. Instead I invested hundreds of hours into my own personal projects. I gained some new skills. I read more books than usual. But financially my business didn’t suffer. In fact, this was my highest grossing year of the past four. I took on fewer projects, but the ones I did were more successful. I earned more by working less.
Investing in Your Life
I recently reviewed several years of financial records to see how much I’ve spent on travel. I saw that I typically spend 1% to 3% of my income on travel expenses each year, not counting food. I recalled that the year when I spent 3% was a lot more fun and motivating than the year when I spent only 1.1%.
My own data tells me I’m still being stingy with travel. I travel a lot more than I have before, but I haven’t been investing in it as much as I could. Partly this is because many of my travel expenses are paid for by others, such as when I speak at other people’s events. But I could certainly invest more into it, especially since it’s such a high-value, growth-producing activity for me.
I encourage you to take a look at your own financial records and see where you’re investing your money. How much are you actually investing in having a life?
Obviously money isn’t the only form of investment, but it’s good piece of data to look at.
I found that I spend a lot more of my income on expenses that don’t feel particularly exciting to me. If I get more joy and growth from being on the road than I do at home, why do I spend so much more on home-related expenses? I inherited this kind of prioritization from my parents and have been maintaining it for many years, but when I look at it consciously, I can readily admit that I don’t actually need a house, a car, or many of the other trappings of that inherited lifestyle.
What would happen if you took your uninspired expenses and transferred them to more inspiring activities? What if you questioned the way you define your life’s necessities? Is rent or a mortgage a true necessity?
What if you applied Jack’s recommendation to money instead of time? That would be equivalent to saying: Spend at least 35% of your income on having a life.
Try calculating 35% of your gross income, and come up with a figure. Now imagine being required to spend at least that much every year on items and activities that add real value and meaning to your life. Imagine having to spend this much on fun, adventure, and growth experiences — not on survival needs, security, work, etc.
How would you spend that much money? Where would you invest it?
Challenge Your Spending Priorities
Perhaps an even more interesting question to ask yourself is this: Why aren’t you already investing more money in life-enhancing fun and growth?
A common answer is: I can’t afford it. I’m too broke (or too much in debt). I’d love to spend more on having a life, but I just don’t have the funds to do that right now. Poor me!
This sounds a lot like the entrepreneur lamenting the inability to take time off from work. Perhaps this whole line of thinking is the real issue. Once you give yourself permission to have a life no matter what — and to back it up with a meaningful investment of your time and money — then you may find (as people often do) that your drive and motivation increases significantly. This improved focus makes it easier to earn more money and to save time in ways that more than compensate for your investment.
If you spend all your money to cover your basic needs, isn’t that going to be financially demotivating in the long run? If your money is mainly going to living expenses, how will you ever feel inspired to earn more? It seems more likely that you’ll adopt the association that money is a necessary evil or an obligation as opposed to a potential source of life-enhancing fun and growth. Why would you want to earn more if you connect money only with survival and necessities?
Take a look at your data. Where is your money actually going? Is ALL of it really being spent on survival essentials? Are you spending any of it in ways that don’t inspire you? What if you dropped some of those expenses? I suspect that most of the time, if you look closely enough, you’ll find that even when you’re barely making ends meet, many of your expenses are of questionable value to you.
Ask yourself which expenses a person who earns $2 per day would consider essential. Is paying rent truly essential? Buying gasoline? Do you only spend money on essential nutrition in the most economical way? Just like the overworked person who wastes time due to lack of focus, is it possible you’re wasting money due to lack of focus? Are you spending because you think you have to? Would anyone on this planet consider your necessities to be luxuries?
I’ve been asking myself these questions for a while, wondering how it would affect my lifestyle to make serious changes in how I routinely spend my income. What if I took all the money I spend on housing and invested it in continuous travel, for instance?
What if I defined a home as an extravagant waste? What if I defined continuous travel as a lifestyle necessity?
Stepping Into Discomfort
Imagine being compelled to invest 35% of your days and 35% of your income on life-enhancing activities and experiences. Your time off can’t just be a break from work. Your personal expenses can’t be only for distractions.
Where would you invest this time and money?
Perhaps if you come up blank here, that may explain why time and money seem to slip through your fingers. Maybe abundance avoids you because you haven’t come up with a compelling reason to pursue it. As Anais Nin wrote, “Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one’s courage.”
Realize that waiting for more time and money to show up first is a foolish approach. This mindset of delay is an endless trap because every day becomes a postponement, ad infinitum, so you’ll simply keep delaying until you die. The only viable time to start investing is now. The only time you can ever make a real change is now. If your answer isn’t now, then realize you’re saying never.
Give abundance a reason to show up. Show it that you’re intelligently balancing the time and money you already have, by investing in life experiences that are meaningful to you. Realize that scarcity-mindedness is much more wasteful because it squashes your motivation and reduces your efficiency.
My life took on a whole new flavor when I made a commitment to enjoy and appreciate my life, even when I was broke. At the time I made this commitment, I didn’t know that it would turn my finances around too. I committed mainly out of desperation since struggling to earn money never worked for me. Once I realized that creating a fun, meaningful, growth-oriented life was possible regardless of income or debt, I stopped relating to money with so much neediness. Earning money then becomes a form of play instead of a source of stress. To this day I still see business as a form of play, and I know that many other entrepreneurs feel this way as well.
Being on this path is like peeling an onion. There’s always another layer to explore. In the beginning, I loved having the freedom to choose my own projects; having creative control was a big deal to me. In another phase, I got really into networking and doing win-win business deals with other people. These days I feel motivated to simplify my life, so I can spend more time having new experiences.
What does it mean to invest your time and money wisely? What are your true necessities?
Were your investments consciously chosen? Are they aligned with your values now? Or have you been saddled with inherited priorities that don’t inspire you?
You can invest your time and money however you like. You don’t have to follow the same model your parents set for you, especially if you can conceive of something better. The alternatives may seem a little scary at first, but such is the nature of exploring beyond your comfort zone.
If you realize you’re out of alignment here, perhaps it’s time to rebalance your investments of time and money. I think you’ll find as I have that even if it takes you many months to transition, the mere act of getting started can unleash some potent new energy and motivation.
Don’t wait for someday. Someday is never.