How (and why) to make a time budget for 2012

How (and why) to make a time budget for 2012

Happy New Year!  As in years past, 2012 brings with it 365 new days.  That’s 8,760 hours or 525,600 minutes.  You’ll have 52 Saturdays, 52 Sundays, 10 Federal holidays and most likely several weeks of vacation and sick time.  How will you spend all that time?

If you’re still working, you’ll spend about 2,086 hours on the job.  That’s 86.9 days or just under 3 months.  If you average 7 hours of sleep each night, you’ll spend about 3.5 months (2,555 hours) in bed.  That leaves you with about 5.5 months to do everything else.

Unfortunately, those months won’t come in one big uninterrupted block.  You’ll get a bit in the morning and a bit in the evening.  You’ll have an extra day here and some time to yourself there.  If you’re not careful, it will be easy to let it slip through your fingers.

To avoid that, I’d suggest that you make a time budget.  In the same way that a financial budget can help you track spending and allocate your resources, a time budget can help you steward your time wisely.  How to do it?  Below is a basic outline to get you started:

2012 Time Budget

Income (time earned)

Hours                                                                                8,760

Total                                                                                8,760

Expenses (time spent)

Work                                                                                __________

Sleep                                                                                __________

Life Maintenance

Cooking                                                                             ___________
Eating                                                                                 ___________
Personal care                                                                  ___________
Shopping                                                                           ___________
Paying bills                                                                       ___________
Commuting                                                                       ___________
Housekeeping                                                                  ___________
Household projects                                                      ___________
Other                                                                                    ___________

Entertainment/Leisure

Time with spouse                                                            ___________
Time with kids                                                                  ___________
Time with friends                                                            ___________
Vacation                                                                             ___________
Hobbies                                                                               ___________
Television                                                                           ___________
Reading                                                                               ___________
Other                                                                                    ___________

Other

Volunteer work                                                                ___________
Church                                                                                 ___________
Other                                                                                     ___________
Total                                                                                    __________

Key Takeaways

I had 3 key takeaways after doing this exercise myself.

First, I discovered that outsourcing is my friend.  If you’re like me, a lot of your day is eaten up by all the routine, but necessary little tasks that make your life run.  Where possible, I have outsourced and simplified.  Electronic bill pay has helped minimize the time I spend paying the bills each month.  Hiring a lawn service has given me a few extra weekend hours.  Wherever possible, simplify and outsource so you can focus on milestones and not maintenance.

Second, I discovered the importance of not just managing my time, but aligning it with my priorities.  Time management can help you do things right (i.e. efficiently), but time alignment will help you actually do the right things.

It’s easy to get sidetracked and spend time on things that don’t get you any closer to your goals.  For example, according to Nielsen, the average American watches 4-5 hours of television per day.  Since that number includes weekends, most of us spend almost as much time in front of the T.V. each week as we do at work.  By realigning that time with your priorities you can give yourself about 1,500 hours (or 2 months) per year to spend on things that matter.  Avoid wasting and overspending time on things that aren’t important.

Finally, making a time budget helped me realize that all of my time is not created equally.  The hours in my day are part oyster and part pearl.  I spend most of my time on the mundane and a fraction of my day on the meaningful.  For me it follows the 80/20 Rule, with about 20 percent of my time producing roughly 80 percent of my meaning and fulfillment. That means freeing up just a little time can make a big difference as long as I spend that time doing the right things.  I’m sure the same is true for you.  Make sure that your oyster is set up to produce pearls.

Thanks for reading.  If you enjoyed this article scan the “Related Posts” section below for others like it.

Onward to an amazing 2012!

Joe

Designing a retro retirement

Designing a retro retirement

It seems like everything old is new again.  Starting with the redesigned Volkswagen Beetle in 1998, there has been a flood of retro styled products that are aimed at helping the baby-boomer generation recapture a piece of their youth.  To wit, The Rolling Stones 2005 concert tour was the highest-grossing tour of all time, retro muscle cars are a huge hit, and entire neighborhoods are being designed from the ground up to give them a more “1950’s” feel.

Retro products seem to have one thing in common.  While the look harkens back to the “good old days,” the design and features offer decidedly modern elements that appeal to the world we live in today.

With 70 million people hurtling toward retirement, I began to wonder what a “retro” retirement would like.  Just like retirees of yesteryear, we all want to be happy, healthy and secure during retirement, but our modern world offers challenges and opportunities that didn’t exist a generation ago.  Below are five modern updates to the classic retirement.

Personal savings is the new pension.  My grandfather hasn’t punched a time clock in over twenty years and yet, like clockwork, his former employer sends him a pension check every month.  The lifetime pension has become the exception rather than the rule.  A generation ago, most workers were covered by a pension.  Today that number has dwindled to less than a third.  Retirement hasn’t gotten any cheaper, so you will still need to get that check every month.  If it doesn’t come from your employer, it will need to come from you.  As you approach retirement, you are likely in your peak earning years.  Make sure to save as much as you can, especially in tax advantaged accounts like your 401(k) or IRA.

College is the new golf.  We have always known the benefits of staying physically active.  New research is beginning to show the benefits of staying mentally active as well.  Because of this, more and more retirees are opting for a book bag over a golf bag.

Many colleges and universities allow people to audit classes—that is, paying a minimal fee to attend the class without receiving college credits.  Even better, many universities are now putting class lectures on iTunes for free.  Interested in art?  Just download Oxford’s drawing classes.  Want to study history? Columbia University has a free, twenty-five part lecture series on the history of the world.  You can also download classes from Harvard, Yale, UC Berkeley and a number of other great institutions on just about any topic you can think of.

Auditing classes or getting them online is an inexpensive way to learn more about a subject that has always interested you and comes with the added benefit of keeping your mind sharp.

Long-term care is the new Medicaid.  It is not unusual, as we age, to rely on others for care.  This care can be very expensive (A private room in a nursing home averages $78,000 per year) and more and more people are purchasing long-term care insurance to protect themselves.  While Medicaid will pay most nursing home costs, you need to qualify by being both sick and poor.  A quality long-term care policy will allow you to preserve your assets for heirs, have peace of mind and get into the facility of your choice.  To learn more about long-term care, read this article.

Sixty-five is the new fifty-five.  Back when Elvis was king, the average U.S. life expectancy was about sixty-eight years.  Today, the average life expectancy is about seventy-eight years.  Given that information, you would think that the average retirement age has risen.  It has actually declined by about four years to age sixty-two.

Earlier is not always better.  Retiring at sixty-two not only means a permanent reduction in your Social Security benefits, but it could mean that you will spend 20-30 percent of your life in retirement.  That takes a great deal of savings and planning.  If you’re in good health and expect to have a long life, you might want to work a few extra years to bolster your savings.  Doing so might actually lengthen your life.  A recent study showed that mortality rates were higher for employees that retired at age fifty-five than for those that waited to retire until they were sixty-five.

Prevention is the new cure.  Quality of life is just as important as quantity of life.  Modern medicine has shown us that eating right and exercising your mind and body can go a long way toward avoiding many of the diseases that are associated with aging.  Heart disease, diabetes, hypertension, and many forms of cancer can be directly linked to lifestyle choices.  The best way to avoid the negative effects of these diseases is to keep from getting them, rather than trying to treat them once you already have them.

So there are a few ideas on how to put a modern twist on the classic retirement.  Make a few updates and you’ll be ready to grab your bell bottoms, hop in your Beetle and head into a long, healthy, secure retirement.

9 tips for taking great travel photos

9 tips for taking great travel photos

Ask a hundred different people what they plan on doing during retirement and the answer you’ll likely hear most is “travel.”  There is just something compelling about getting out and seeing the world.  Especially when your itinerary is no longer limited by the standard two-week vacation.

One of the joys of visiting a far off place is being able to bring back great photos that you can share with others and use to remember your adventures. Unfortunately, most people come home with a camera full of forgettable snapshots.  That was certainly true of me.

In fact, I was so frustrated with the quality of my photos after returning from a trip to Paris a few years ago that I asked my friend Nick (a professional photographer) for help. Below are his key photography tips as well as a few more that I’ve learned along the way.

1.  Buy the right equipment

Nick’s first suggestion was “Get a quality digital SLR with two good lenses: a wide and a zoom.”  I must admit, this was tough for me to do.  I like to travel light and am partial to a camera that can fit in my back pocket.  I also don’t want to look like the stereotypical tourist, laden down with camera equipment and walking around with my nose buried in a map.  But I wanted to take better pictures, so I went out and bought a Canon T2i with an 18-55mm wide lens and a 55-250mm zoom lens.  It is a great camera and what I sacrificed in portability I more than made up for with better pictures.  A point-and-shoot just doesn’t have the quality and versatility of a good SLR.  Go buy yourself a better camera.

 

2.  Use the rule of thirds

The rule of thirds is a compositional technique used to create more interesting pictures.  Imagine that the picture you want to take is divided into thirds both horizontally and vertically.  Important elements of whatever photograph you’re taking should fall somewhere on those lines.

Let me show you what I mean.  Here’s a picture I took of a bird when I was walking on the beach in Florida.  If you divide the picture into thirds by drawing two vertical lines, Mr. Bird is right on top of the left side line.  It makes the photograph more interesting than if I had just centered him and snapped the shutter.  Resist the temptation to center everything.

 

3.  Look for interesting angles

In addition to the rule of thirds, another way to make your photos more interesting is to take the picture from an unusual angle or vantage point.  Instead of standing at eye level, dead center in front of something, try to capture it from a unique perspective.  For example, get down on your belly, hold the camera above your head, or move so you’re facing your subject from the side.

Case in point is the photo of Mount Rushmore below (courtesy of Nick).  Most photos of Rushmore are taken while standing on the visitor’s platform.  They usually have a few strangers caught in the frame, and have T.J. and Teddy dead center.  How is Nick’s photo different?  He found an interesting angle by climbing the hill opposite Rushmore.  Throw in his use of the rule of thirds, the fog blanketing the valley, and the beam of sun illuminating the faces of the Presidents, and you have a really cool shot.

 

4.  Shoot tight

Another common faux-pas is trying to get everything in the shot.  People love to zoom out.  Ask someone to take a picture of you and they will likely zoom out (or walk backwards) until your entire body, head to toe, is in the frame.  Ask them to take a picture of you next to a mountain and the goal will be to squeeze both you and Everest into the frame.  This usually makes the subjects of your photos look small and far away.

To avoid this problem, shoot tight (aka zoom in).  Pick out an element that looks interesting and zoom in on it so you can see all of the colors and details that made it interesting to you in the first place.  Here are two examples.  The first is a picture of a trout that Nick took while on a canoe trip with his family.  The second is a picture I took of part of a lamppost outside the Library of Congress in Washington, DC.  Neither of these pictures would have been very interesting if they were just wide shots with all the surrounding scenery.

 

5.  Shoot wide

OK, I know I just told you to shoot tight, but sometimes you need to zoom out to tell the story.  If you’re standing next to the Eiffel Tower, you don’t want the photo to be a close-up of your face.  To know when to zoom in and when to zoom out, ask yourself: “What am I trying to capture with this shot?  What story am I trying to tell?”  If the answer has something to do with that enormous thing in the background, then zoom out.  Here are a few examples.  The first is courtesy of my friend Andy Stoll while he was snowboarding in New Zealand.  Andy spent four years on a round-the-world journey and captured tons of great pictures like this one (read more at http://noboundaries.org/).  The second shot is Nick canoeing up in the boundary waters.  In both shots the background is a big part of the story.

 

6.  Take pictures at dawn or dusk.

It’s amazing how much the right lighting can affect a picture.  If it is a bright day and the sun is directly overhead, your photos can look washed out and overexposed.  The best light of the day is often the first hour of daylight and the last.  That is when it is softer and the angle of the sun makes for some interesting shadows.  So resist the temptation to sleep in when you’re traveling. Some of your best photos will come in the small hours of the morning or the early hours of the evening.  Below is an example of the latter.  I’m standing on the ice flow looking out over the Cook Inlet in Alaska as the sun sets.  Notice it’s not a bad use of the rule of thirds either.

 

7.  Know when to get out of the picture

Of course you’ll want to remember your travels by having a certain number of “posed” pictures.  The ones with you in the beach chair holding up the Pina Colada or your spouse in front of Buckingham Palace.  But resist the urge to be in every shot.  Again, one goal of taking pictures is to try to tell the story of the place you’re visiting.  Staying out of the photo often makes it more authentic (aka better, more interesting, etc.).  Below is a picture (courtesy of Nick) of the harbor in a little fishing village in Ireland.  Getting in the picture would have changed the entire dynamic.  Also notice that by shooting tight he really brought out the colors and details of the boats.

 

8.  Get involved

One way to tell the story of a place and still be in the picture (without looking out of place), is to make yourself part of the story.  Don’t be afraid to meet some locals and participate in their traditions, activities, events, or festivals.  You’ll not only walk away with some amazing memories, but you’ll likely get some great photos too.  Below are a few examples courtesy of Andy.  The first is him at Holi, the second largest Hindu Festival in India.  As he describes it: “The streets are filled with revelers running around with water balloons, squirt guns full of colored water and bags of colored powders. You exclaim ‘Happy Holi’ as mobs of people splash and rub colors on any and all passers by, as a sign of the change of season.”

The second shot is after Andy had worked his way onto the set of a movie in Jodhpur, India.  Again, I’ll let Andy describe it: “Playing a 19th Century British Soldier (huh?) in the soon-to-be-released Bollywood film Veer, starring Bollywood badboy Salman Khan. It’s an epic, period film about the uprising of a band of rebels against the ruling Maharaja who is aligned with the British crown (think Braveheart, but with more song-and-dance numbers).”  Both shots are great examples of moving from spectator to participant.

 

9.  Learn how to shoot with a tripod.

There are plenty of really interesting photo opportunities after dark (especially in cities), but to capture them you often need to shoot with a tripod.  That’s because you need to leave the shutter open long enough to allow in enough light to properly expose the picture.  If you try this without a tripod, the shake from your hands will cause the picture to turn out blurry.

The technique is pretty easy, though, as long as you know some of the basic settings on your camera.  Just put your camera on the tripod, switch to manual mode (usually denoted by an “M” on the mode wheel), and then slow down the shutter speed.  My camera allows for up to a 30 second exposure at which point you can switch to “bulb” mode and leave it open for as long as you want.

I’ll put a few examples below.  The first is the Raven Glacier Lodge in Alaska where my wife and I were married fourteen years ago.  I took this picture when we stayed at the lodge with family this past Christmas.  The second shot is one I took of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C.  Nick took the third shot on a winter camping trip with his family.  All three photos were taken using a tripod in order to get the proper exposure.

 

So there are some basic tips for taking great travel photos.  Keep them in mind next time you travel and you’ll come home with photos that are a little more “National Geographic” and a little less “forgettable snapshot.”

Maximizing retirement: Maintenance vs. Milestones

Maximizing retirement: Maintenance vs. Milestones

No matter what exciting plans you have for retirement, you will still have a good many maintenance type activities that pop up on your calendar every day or every week; things like sleeping, eating, paying bills, going to the doctor, getting groceries, mowing the yard, and cleaning the house.  While important, these things don’t really add much significance to your life.

To find meaning and significance, you will want to focus on milestones.  Those are the things that, when done, give you a sense of purpose and accomplishment.  Milestones tend to fall in areas like family, relationships, education, adventure, community, hobbies, travel, and health.  When reflecting on your life, the milestones will be the things that stick out.  They will be the things that you are most proud of.  The maintenance will just fade into the background.  Because of that, do everything you can to condense, consolidate, minimize, or outsource the maintenance so you can be free to spend more of each day focusing on milestones.