3 ways to help prioritize and value your time

Finding balance isn't just about doing less. It's about how your time is valued.

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Key takeaways

  • Many important priorities, including finances, get pushed aside because of "invisible labor" such as caregiving and household tasks.
  • Women are often the "she-fault" for invisible labor, taking on a higher percentage of household tasks.
  • Focusing on long-term planning and regular conversations can help create a better balance of tasks and priorities.

When you're faced with a never-ending household to-do list, it can be easy for important priorities to get lost in the shuffle of everyday life. Our finances, our health, our free time—these are important long-term goals, but they can easily get pushed aside for more urgent demands.

In Women Talk Money, our live event series, we talk with Eve Rodsky, New York Times bestselling author of Fair Play, about how we can put systems in place that help us rethink how we value our time and achieve a better balance in life.

Rodsky had her aha moment in the midst of a crazy day several years ago. She was driving to pick up her son while thinking about a client contract that was sitting on the front seat, when her husband texted her: "I'm surprised you didn't get blueberries." At that moment as she burst into tears, it dawned on her that she had become the "she-fault" for every domestic task for her family.

And so was born her book on how to deal with the "invisible work" or "second shift" that can weigh us down. That's especially true now during the Covid-19 pandemic when many women are working from home, balancing homeschooling, and often taking care of multiple generations. In a recent Fidelity survey, women working full time estimated that they are doing 72% of the housework and 67.5% of the childcare.* Add to that the financial stress that women typically feel more than men, and you have a crisis in the making. But also an opportunity.

Fidelity's Sangeeta Moorjani, an executive in workplace planning, says: "Especially in recent months as the financial markets moved up and down, we've seen that women tend to feel more stress and anxiety than men—because they have so much going on their heads. Yet I don't see women taking the action that men do. It's very natural to worry about money—I do even though I work in financial services. But you want to make sure to take that stress and convert it into doing more with your money and asking for help."

How long-term planning can help you reprioritize

There's "life-changing magic in long-term planning," says Rodsky. "Think about what matters to you and where you want to be in 10 or 20 years."

Here are 3 things Rodsky suggests you can do now to limit and redistribute the "invisible work," and to prioritize your time and cash, plus tips from Moorjani to help relieve financial stress and get your money working harder for you.

3 ways to help limit and redistribute invisible labor

1. Value your time

First and foremost, start from the point of view that your time has as much value as anyone else's. It's your time and you get to assign value to it, and have others recognize that value too.

In her research, Rodsky observed that "we treat men's time like diamonds and women's time like sand—endless and of less value," which is part of the reason women end up as the "she-fault."

If you are in a relationship or part of a family, it can be easy to let another person's opinion of what you are doing be the default value for your time. Let's say your partner loves golf but you love cycling. It's easy for both of you to wish the other person was spending their time differently, particularly if you wish your partner was doing dishes instead of golfing. However, if instead, we think of each day as 24 hours that we get to divide however we want, and we trust that our partner will own their household tasks while also allowing time for golf, then there is no judgment on how we use our time.

2. Put systems in place that align with how you value your time

There is a reality to life that we don't have an unlimited amount of time to golf or cycle, no matter how much we value our time. Once we've put some equitable guardrails in place around the time we do have available, how can we split up the day-to-day responsibilities and still get everything done? Where can we opt out?

Rodsky suggests listing everything that needs to be done (she uses flashcards in Fair Play), clearly cataloging the time involved (including the mental load) and complexity (for example, does it have to be done at a certain time?). Then divide the tasks with an equitable view of the value of each person's time.

Don't forget to talk about finances. Moorjani recommends beginning by building your emergency savings—Fidelity suggests 3 to 6 months of essential expenses. Also focus on paying down high-interest debt, and try to save up to 15% of your income for retirement (which includes any employer's match). If you can't do that right away, start small and build over time.

Once your financial house is in order, she suggests you become an investor: Women are great savers, but it's also important to take the steps to help your money grow. Says Moorjani: "Make sure when you go to sleep at night the money you have saved is working for you."

3. Talk to others about what you expect

There will likely be several new and potentially difficult conversations that have to happen to change how you value your time.

You might have to talk to a partner, other family members, or even coworkers about their perception of your time. They may have to change years of previous conscious or unconscious behaviors, so this change may take ongoing conversations. But the people in your life need to be part of this process. It might not be a 50/50 division, but it might help avoid a "she-fault."

Rodsky suggests 10-minute conversations so that they feel more manageable—though not necessarily in the moment when you are in the middle of an argument or angry. "When emotion is high, cognition is low," says Rodsky. She suggests setting up a time to have these brief, but regular conversations, and invest in them the same way you invest in your finances.

Remember that this is an ongoing process

As you make decisions about how to divide time and household labor, remember that no decisions are final. If, after everything is divided, the labor starts creeping on to one person too much, then there may need to be another hard conversation. If, after a few months, you want to make some trades, make some trades. Ultimately, the goal of assigning value to your time isn't to live by rigid rules, but to achieve balance in your life by making sure responsibilities are fairly divided and everyone feels that their time is valued.

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