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5 Questions That Will Save You Time And Money

5 Questions That Will Save You Time And Money

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    When you’re thinking about productivity, one of the most important questions you should ask yourself is just how much your time is worth. There is no question that there are some tasks you should pay other people to do, but it can be hard to decide just which ones to hand over to trained professional — especially if you are trying to save money.

    Beyond that one crucial question, though, there are plenty of smaller issues that can help you decide which tasks will save you money without inhibiting your productivity and which will end up just being a waste of your time. These questions will help you bring balance to both your spending and to your time.

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    1. Do I have the skills necessary for the task? Sure, I can probably save a boatload of money by fixing my own plumbing.  Just getting a plumber to come out and look at a problem could cost me a hundred dollars. And there’s guaranteed to be a couple hours of my time that gets used up along with my money, while I wait around for the plumber to show. But, unless the problem is extremely minor, I’ll probably hand over my money to the plumber. The fact of the matter is that, even with a home repair guide by my side, I know I don’t have the skills to fix most plumbing issues. And the ones that I can puzzle through will probably take up far more hours of my day. We’re not going to even think about the cost of my making the problem worse.
    2. How much do I enjoy the task? I enjoy gardening, which I could probably forgo in favor of buying vegetables at the supermarket for a lower cost in terms of my time. However, I enjoy my hobby and I’m more than happy to spend a little time on it — even if the return on my time may not be quite worth the time I lavish on my hobby. In contrast, there are a couple of tasks I absolutely hate — like just about everything having to do with cars. I’ll pump gas, but the odds of getting me to do something like change my own oil are slim to none. I’ll gladly pay money to get out of that particular task.
    3. Is a compromise available? So many tasks seem to fall into one of two categories: you either do it yourself or you hire someone to do it. But there are plenty of tasks that you can compromise on: you can do the easy parts of the job and only pay someone else for the parts you don’t find worth your while. A good example might be setting up a website. If you’re a designer, you would probably be very comfortable doing all the design work on the site, and even coding it up yourself. But you might hire someone to write some or all of the website’s content.  And if you find someone you can work well with for paying projects, you can often increase the amount of work you can take on — upping income for both of you.
    4. Can I get this done without spending money? There are plenty of options for getting people to take on tasks without paying cash. There are, after all, other incentives. Students of various types are often looking for experience, such as student massage therapists who while offer free or cheap massages while they’re studying. There are occasions where you get exactly what you pay for, but it’s a strategy often worth investigating. Other options can include bartering — trading something you’ll be doing anyhow for a service from another person is ideal. I’ll often pick up something from the store for my neighbor in exchange for her pet-sitting while I’m traveling.
    5. Is it really practical for me to take on a given task? While I really like the thought of raising my own chickens so that I can stop buying eggs, it isn’t a practical option for me. I’m going to keep buying eggs at the grocery store for a while — at least as long as I have a landlord who would lay an egg of his own if I suggested the idea of keeping a layer or two around. There are thousands of examples of points in our lives when time and other concerns make the effort to save a few dollars entirely impractical. Do-it-yourself doesn’t always make sense, I’m afraid.

    There are lots ways we put value on our time: there’s time we could use to earn money, to spend with our families or to devote ourselves to a hobby. And, yes, we can often save money or make a dollar stretch further by doing certain tasks ourselves. But we must balance between the value of the dollar we might not want to spend on an already-made shirt and the hour we might spend making one. Productivity and personal finance have to go hand in hand — what sense does a budget make if you don’t know how much time you have to spend on both earning money and how much you can spend on tasks that might save you money. As you start planning next month’s budget, it’s worth pulling out the calendar and thinking hard about just how much time you have available in with to do things yourself.

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    Last Updated on July 17, 2019

    The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain)

    The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain)

    What happens in our heads when we set goals?

    Apparently a lot more than you’d think.

    Goal setting isn’t quite so simple as deciding on the things you’d like to accomplish and working towards them.

    According to the research of psychologists, neurologists, and other scientists, setting a goal invests ourselves into the target as if we’d already accomplished it. That is, by setting something as a goal, however small or large, however near or far in the future, a part of our brain believes that desired outcome is an essential part of who we are – setting up the conditions that drive us to work towards the goals to fulfill the brain’s self-image.

    Apparently, the brain cannot distinguish between things we want and things we have. Neurologically, then, our brains treat the failure to achieve our goal the same way as it treats the loss of a valued possession. And up until the moment, the goal is achieved, we have failed to achieve it, setting up a constant tension that the brain seeks to resolve.

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    Ideally, this tension is resolved by driving us towards accomplishment. In many cases, though, the brain simply responds to the loss, causing us to feel fear, anxiety, even anguish, depending on the value of the as-yet-unattained goal.

    Love, Loss, Dopamine, and Our Dreams

    The brains functions are carried out by a stew of chemicals called neurotransmitters. You’ve probably heard of serotonin, which plays a key role in our emotional life – most of the effective anti-depressant medications on the market are serotonin reuptake inhibitors, meaning they regulate serotonin levels in the brain leading to more stable moods.

    Somewhat less well-known is another neurotransmitter, dopamine. Among other things, dopamine acts as a motivator, creating a sensation of pleasure when the brain is stimulated by achievement. Dopamine is also involved in maintaining attention – some forms of ADHD are linked to irregular responses to dopamine.[1]

    So dopamine plays a key role in keeping us focused on our goals and motivating us to attain them, rewarding our attention and achievement by elevating our mood. That is, we feel good when we work towards our goals.

    Dopamine is related to wanting – to desire. The attainment of the object of our desire releases dopamine into our brains and we feel good. Conversely, the frustration of our desires starves us of dopamine, causing anxiety and fear.

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    One of the greatest desires is romantic love – the long-lasting, “till death do us part” kind. It’s no surprise, then, that romantic love is sustained, at least in part, through the constant flow of dopamine released in the presence – real or imagined – of our true love. Loss of romantic love cuts off that supply of dopamine, which is why it feels like you’re dying – your brain responds by triggering all sorts of anxiety-related responses.

    Herein lies obsession, as we go to ever-increasing lengths in search of that dopamine reward. Stalking specialists warn against any kind of contact with a stalker, positive or negative, because any response at all triggers that reward mechanism. If you let the phone ring 50 times and finally pick up on the 51st ring to tell your stalker off, your stalker gets his or her reward, and learns that all s/he has to do is wait for the phone to ring 51 times.

    Romantic love isn’t the only kind of desire that can create this kind of dopamine addiction, though – as Captain Ahab (from Moby Dick) knew well, any suitably important goal can become an obsession once the mind has established ownership.

    The Neurology of Ownership

    Ownership turns out to be about a lot more than just legal rights. When we own something, we invest a part of ourselves into it – it becomes an extension of ourselves.

    In a famous experiment at Cornell University, researchers gave students school logo coffee mugs, and then offered to trade them chocolate bars for the mugs. Very few were willing to make the trade, no matter how much they professed to like chocolate. Big deal, right? Maybe they just really liked those mugs![2]

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    But when they reversed the experiment, handing out chocolate and then offering to trade mugs for the candy, they found that now, few students were all that interested in the mugs. Apparently the key thing about the mugs or the chocolate wasn’t whether students valued whatever they had in their possession, but simply that they had it in their possession.

    This phenomenon is called the “endowment effect”. In a nutshell, the endowment effect occurs when we take ownership of an object (or idea, or person); in becoming “ours” it becomes integrated with our sense of identity, making us reluctant to part with it (losing it is seen as a loss, which triggers that dopamine shut-off I discussed above).

    Interestingly, researchers have found that the endowment effect doesn’t require actual ownership or even possession to come into play. In fact, it’s enough to have a reasonable expectation of future possession for us to start thinking of something as a part of us – as jilted lovers, gambling losers, and 7-year olds denied a toy at the store have all experienced.

    The Upshot for Goal-Setters

    So what does all this mean for would-be achievers?

    On one hand, it’s a warning against setting unreasonable goals. The bigger the potential for positive growth a goal has, the more anxiety and stress your brain is going to create around it’s non-achievement.

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    It also suggests that the common wisdom to limit your goals to a small number of reasonable, attainable objectives is good advice. The more goals you have, the more ends your brain thinks it “owns” and therefore the more grief and fear the absence of those ends is going to cause you.

    On a more positive note, the fact that the brain rewards our attentiveness by releasing dopamine means that our brain is working with us to direct us to achievement. Paying attention to your goals feels good, encouraging us to spend more time doing it. This may be why outcome visualization — a favorite technique of self-help gurus involving imagining yourself having completed your objectives — has such a poor track record in clinical studies. It effectively tricks our brain into rewarding us for achieving our goals even though we haven’t done it yet!

    But ultimately, our brain wants us to achieve our goals, so that it’s a sense of who we are that can be fulfilled. And that’s pretty good news!

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    Featured photo credit: Alexa Williams via unsplash.com

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