Time must be your primary unit

Most, if not all of us, measure success, and what we strive for in the unit of money. Even if we tell ourselves we don’t think it’s the most important thing, we subconsciously do, as we think about what money allows us to do.

The primary unit of measurement defines how you think about your priorities.

While we all believe to think about money as a proxy, and means for experiences, it becomes our master when we treat it as the primary unit. There can never be enough of it – it’s the thing that supposedly enables everything.

As I was just reminded by reading ‘Digital minimalism’ by Cal Newport yesterday, we need to think about time as our primary unit. Time is the thing that doesn’t scale. Time is limited. Time is what we cannot get back. Time is when experiences happen and where they live.

Following ideas that are as old as society, we should start from time. Figure out how much money we need to optimize our time, and limit our money-creating to that. The more material stuff we have, the more money we need to keep it up. When we focus on getting a lot of money to support amazing experiences, we might end up not having enough time left to actually live those experiences.

Here is what Thoreau tells us:

“If I should sell my forenoons and afternoons to society, as most appear to do, I am sure that for me there would be nothing left worth living for…. I wish to suggest that a man may be very industrious, and yet not spend his time well. There is no more fatal blunderer than he who consumes the greater part of his life getting his living.” – Thoreau in ‘Walden’

And as always, the Chinese knew it a long time ago already:

“Those who know they have enough are rich.” – Lao Tzu

Get your primary unit straight and optimize for it!

“Making daisy chains takes my mind off”

We need to listen more to our kids, they are the true teachers.

I was making daisy chains with our daughter today – actually she taught me how to make daisy chains. Seeing her work quietly, I asked her what was going through her mind.

Her answer was worthy of a Zen master:

I don’t think anything when I make daisy chains. Making daisy chains takes my mind off.

Had I asked the same question to any adult, I would have gotten a long list of unrelated thoughts back. 🙂

There’s a lot to learn from out daughter.

  • Be in the moment. Focus on what you’re doing.
  • Don’t worry about other things while you’re doing what you like.
  • Find pleasure and passion in the things you’re doing right now.

Watch your kids closely, there’s a lot we can learn from them!

Invest in Experiences, not Stuff

Every now and then we ask ourselves the big questions: “What is this life all about? What will we leave behind? What will be our legacy?”

There are many great answers to these questions. Most of them come down to making a difference. Changing the world (for the ambitious crowd) or changing how others perceive us by getting rich, pretty(er) or famous (for the more egocentric folks out there).

What I personally really want to leave behind are fond memories and strong bonds with the people in my life that I care about most, especially with my family.

Which is a long intro to get to the point I want to make in this post: focus your time and energy on creating rich experiences, fond memories and with that strong bonds.

Focus on experiences

Making time for and investing in experiences was one of the big resolutions and promises to each other that Uli and I made when we moved to the US.

Back in Germany we were always super busy during the week, exhausted on the weekend and as a result crashed on the couch in front of the TV most weekends instead of going out and experiencing the world.

We were also living in the same area where I grew up and subconsciously we probably thought we had already seen it all anyways.

So how do you do this ‘experience thing’?

Block time, make it a priority

First of all, as for everything, you need to decide to actually do it and commit to it. Block time, protect that time. Define a measurable goal or success criteria. For us it was to commit to going outside or doing at least one fun and engaging activity every single weekend.

You need to defend that time since you will of course have errands to do every weekend that will distract you from your goal. Do it! The renewed energy you will gain from your experiences will let you blast through your other responsibilities much more effectively once you’re back.

You will also often need to kick your own behind because all you really want to do is to actually crash on the coach. Get yourself going. Get over the hump. You will feel much better afterwards. And if not, you can still get your beer and chips and decide that I suggested a really stupid idea to you.

On a side note, Uli and I don’t watch TV at all anymore – it’s too much of a time and energy sucker. The only exception is the occasional movie night with the kids, which quite frankly is much more about the experience than the actual movie when you watch Frozen for the 20th time.

Keep your curiosity

The big stuff is awesome. We love going to National Parks and spending our vacations camping in nature.

Don’t waste your time waiting for your next vacation though. There is so much to explore right here, every day. Keep your eyes open and be curious like a child. If you have a hard time doing that, watch your children, they will teach you. Rediscover your inner child and its playful curiosity and wonder for the world.

Invest in experiences

Rather than buying lots of stuff, that will soon end up at your next garage sale, spend your resources on experiences.

Instead of buying that beautiful little thing, go to your state park website and book a campsite for next weekend. Instead of renting that movie, get gas for your car, grab your loved ones and drive into the mountains. And instead of buying your kids that new toy, get them a swim suit and go to the lake.

Our biggest investment this year will probably be a new camping trailer since our old one starts to fall apart. Rather than a new TV or car or whatever status symbol we could show off to friends and coworkers, this will bring us out with our kids for irreplaceable bonding time and fun. You don’t need a trailer though, a tent or picnic basket will do just fine. The point is, focus on getting stuff that make you create experiences.

Which brings me back to closing the loop with my intro.

Leave a legacy for your kids

What really made us double down on experiences are our kids. They are still young and sometimes even listen to mommy and daddy. Sometimes.

So we still have direct influence on their lives and views of the world. That won’t last much longer though. Friends will take over as influencers. They will become more and independent and soon take off into their own lives. They will have their own families and kids and will carry forward what they picked up from us.

So what can we leave?

Teachings and rules? Unlikely to stick.

Stuff? Maybe. They will be ‘thrilled’ to have to get rid of all of the old ‘junk’ that we will leave them.

Memories? For sure. And I think experiences and shared memories will shape their lives more than any smart advice we can give them. After all teaching by example is still the most effective method of teaching (it might well be the only one that actually works).

If you only remember one thing from this post

Invest your time, energy and resources in building experiences. Through that, create strong bonds and memories with your loved ones. And have a TON of fun along the way!