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Pay yourself first is a principle you might have heard or read in books about personal finances. When I first heard about it, I really didn’t get what it was about. I always thought this principle is only something that companies can use to spend money before paying taxes on it.
But today is not about personal finance or taxes! In a sense, we can still take the principle literally!

Today, I want to talk about paying yourself first, but we’re not talking about where to spend or save you money. Instead, we’re talking about where to spend your time first. Isn’t time one, if not the most valuable resource that we have? How many times have you heard someone say, “I would do it, but I don’t have time for it”?

Let’s grab a coffee and talk about: Paying yourself first!

First Day Of The Week

I guess, if I ask almost anyone of you what days define our weekend, you would probably answer: Saturday and Sunday. Yet, there are two different kinds of calendars through the different cultures in the world: calendars with the week starting on Monday and calendars with the week starting on Sunday! To me, as Central European, it feels very natural that Sunday is the last day of the week as it also resembles the last day of the weekend. But exactly this divergence gave me the idea: “Why not start the week on Sunday?”

Let’s think this through! When your week starts on Monday, you get up Monday morning, get dressed, and go to work. In the evening, you hopefully have a few hours for yourself, or maybe there completely taken by chores and family tasks. The same cycle repeats for the next 4 days. Then there’s the TGIF (“Thank God It’s Friday!”), You finally have the last two days of the week for you and can invest some time in things you like doing. Maybe a hobby, a side-project, or some quality time with your loved ones. That means if you’re planning your next week on Sundays, you might have 5 days of work ahead before you can actually work on the most important tasks for the next week.

What will happen now if we don’t start the week on Monday but Sunday instead? That means the first day of the week is a weekend, i.e., a non-working day (at least for most of us). We can now move our “planning” for the next week to Saturday and think about the next week’s most important tasks. Maybe you want to make some progress with your side-hustle, maybe you want to have some time to finish that book you’re trying to read for the last two months, or maybe you just want to have some time to relax and play video games. So instead of starting the week off with 5 days of work, you now have 1 day to get an amazing start into the new week with the things you really want to do. It might not be a big change in the things you’re doing on Sundays, but I think it’s a big mind shift if you’re literally paying yourself first every week.

Morning Routine

Let’s take the idea one size smaller! Let’s think about every single day. How does your usual workday start? Do you roll out of bed, open your laptop, and start working? Do you oftentimes sleep in and then rush into the office in a hurry? When you have kids, is your morning starting with managing the daily chaos of waking up your kids, making them breakfast, bringing them to kindergarten/school, and THEN rushing into the office in a hurry?

Or does your usual morning look like this? You wake up at 5 AM. The world around you is still calm and mostly asleep while you put on your running shoes and head out of the door. When the first alarms start ringing for your neighbors, you already enjoyed the calm nature, birds singing, and the amazing sunrise. You’re enjoying a quick shower or yoga session and then a nice cup of tea or coffee while reading a few pages in your favorite book. It’s 7 AM, and you feel amazing and excited to get shit done today.

Of course, the example above is a bit over the top. Nevertheless, the same principle of paying yourself first can be adopted for every single day. If something is essential to you, and you often can’t find the time to do it, waking up one or two hours earlier might be a strategy to solve this. Whether it is working out, reading, meditating, playing music, or having a spare minute to enjoy a video game once in a while, as long as it is important to you: this is the time slot for you and you alone!

Start with most important tasks

And we’re taking it one size smaller! We’re going to look at your typical workday!

What’s the first thing you do when you come to the office/start working? Are you going through all unread emails, messages, notifications? Are you immediately starting with a four-hour meeting marathon? Asked differently: who is controlling your time at work?

I’ve often heard developers complain about not having enough time to learn new things or try out new stuff. It can be challenging at stressful times, I agree, but maybe it’s also a question of your strategy. When you plan to try out something new at the end of the workday, it could be that your tasks or meetings take longer, and in the end, you won’t find enough time. If you want to use the first half-hour of the day for some undistracted thinking, strategizing, and planning, it might not be a good idea to leave your inbox and messengers open, ready to distract you. And if you don’t block a time-slot for your most important task, you might run into the situation that someone is booking this time-slot for a meeting or is asking for your help because you obviously are not occupied right now (or you would have a blocker in your calendar).

Whatever it is that is your most important task for the day/week, pay yourself first, and do it at the beginning of your day! Block the time in your calendar, let your team know, shut off all distractions, and get focused on your task. This way, you can make sure that, however your day will continue, you’ve started with the task which was most important to you!

A brilliant way to stay focused on your task is the Pomodoro technique. But that’s obviously a topic for a whole other blog post!

What is of most importance?

In the end, the question remains:

What is important to you and shouldn’t you start your week, day or workday with doing exactly this?

Let me know if this article inspired you to try out some of the ideas, and tell me about your personal experiences!

Moritz Wachter

Author Moritz Wachter

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