Trigger warning: This post involves math.
If you’re a regular reader here, you know that I’m more prone to hyperbole than a unicorn is to dancing on double rainbows, but I’m not kidding when I say that this math– this one single formula– can change the way you think about every aspect of your life.
This math solves those questions that seem un-solveable:
- How much time is appropriate for me to spend on my hobby?
- How do I know when something is too much of a resource drain?
- How do I know when I’m not spending enough time on something?
- Based on action, not on words, what things are most important to me?
- How much money do I spend on a Christmas gift for my Aunt Sally– the one I barely even talk to ever?
From the answers to those questions, you can keep going back to the formula and tweaking until your life is just right. It’s important to remember that this math is your friend. This math believes in you and wants you to achieve your dreams. Leave judgement and fear at the door.
First, I’ll walk you through it. Then I’ll use real examples. If you prefer to skip to the real examples, scroll down till there aren’t any more pictures. For the rest of you…
This next picture is just for the math geeks who want to see it written as a formula. Please skip if math tends to give you a headache:
So now that we know how it works, let’s solve for 2 very common issues.
How much money should I spend on everyone for Christmas?
Note: The obvious answer to this question is, “Somewhere between nothing and whatever you want.” It really is the thought that counts and perhaps you should consider running this same math equation with time rather than money. Still, when you have a holiday budget, but no idea how to break it down– that’s when overspending or panicking happens. This will help.
Situation: You’re lucky enough to have $500 extra dollars, after subtracting the travel expenses of the holidays, the potluck expenses, the decorating expenses, savings for next Christmas, etc. You want to buy a gift for mom, dad, the girlfriend, and the cat using that sum.
Importance Points: Mom – 7, Dad – 7, Girlfriend – 5, Cat – 6
Importance Sum: 25
500 divided by 25 = 20, so money available per point = $20.
Budget for everyone: Mom – $140, Dad – $140, Girlfriend = $100, Cat = $120
Now let’s say you go shopping and you find a $220 cat scratcher for your cat. You like it, buy it, and feel no real remorse. Keep in mind that you’ve just re-prioritized your cat significantly. Keeping the Importance Sum the same, you’ve made your cat an 11. That makes Mom & Dad into 5’s and your girlfriend into a 4. Consider this meaning of this breakdown. Perhaps it’s nothing more than a cat scratcher on sale– or perhaps it’s a reflection of the fact that you’re just not that into your girlfriend.
How much time is too much to spend on blogging?
Note: The obvious answer to this question is, “Like any hobby, it’s too much time when it’s not fun or when it’s detracting from the rest of your balanced life.” Still, that’s easier said than checked– how do you know if you’re over-prioritizing? This will help.
Situation: You have a blog. This means, writing posts, chatting with blog friends, promoting on social media, and editing posts. You also have real-life friends and books you like to read. You also enjoy goofing off on the internet. After subtracting for things that you can’t avoid– like eating, cooking, sleeping, bathroom breaks, and household events– it turns out you have four hours a week to devote to “free time”. Four hours is 240 minutes.
Importance Points: Writing – 10, Real Life Friends – 8, Blog-friends – 8, Editing – 6, Goofing Off – 5, Social Media – 3.
Importance Sum: 40
240 divided by 40 = 6, so time available per point is 6 minutes.
Budget for everything: Writing – 1 hour, Real Life Friends – 48 minutes, Blog-friends – 48 minutes, Editing – 36, Goofing Off – half an hour, Social Media – 18 minutes.
Now that you’re looking at your data, you can think about it. Is four hours of free time a week enough for you, or do you need to budget more time for yourself? Is social media worth the cost, what about goofing off? What about blogging? If you’re spending 3 hours on writing and editing your blog posts every week, then you’re giving Writing a value of 19 and Editing a value of 11. Those 14 points got pulled from somewhere else. If you spend 3 hours on tweeting about your blog, then you’re giving Social Media a value of 30. Is that a reasonable ratio?
Okay, I can see your eyes swimming with numbers now, so I’ll stop here.
The truth is, this math problem is less about the math and more about the steps that you took to solve it. The answer to these questions has been in your head all along, but sometimes we need an extra push to help us solve for it.
I personally use this formula to solve for very tight budget situations, and on days that I feel my work/life/passion balance is not producing the results I want. That’s just one of many symptoms of a wonky balance.
It’s easy to justify a few hours playing Farmville, but if you’re unhappy at the end of your week with the results of your life– then you should look back at it and consider it by the numbers. It’s human nature to want to buy your loved ones the shiniest and brightest things– but at what cost to another loved one, or yourself?
This math is just a tool to combat justification. We often tell ourselves that we’re working towards something– true love, great friendships, a career we’re passionate about, a healthy life– but our budgets reflect a truer and different story.
Justification is a difficult thing to overcome, especially for the creative and imaginative amongst us– after all, for any given situation, we can create a reason.
It is our gift, and sometimes, our curse.
A test of your justification capabilities: Margot, the brown goat, just kicked over a fence and ran towards the sunset. You know she isn’t some rogue goat criminal. It was perfectly reasonable for her to take such action. … why?
(I’m betting we can come up with at least 10 very different justifications, hence the usefulness of a math equation that can stand up against such creativity.)