What to Do With Surprise Time, Money and Energy

Whether or not you’re running your own ittybiz, there are three resources that often appear to be in short supply – time, money and energy. You always wish you had more. You always look forward to the future, that magical place where all three of these resources will flow to you in greater supply.

In that magical place, that’s where we see ourselves having the expansive resources to engage in lifestyle design – where we start doing more of the stuff we find fun, and stop doing the meaningless stuff we do just because we’re killing time, or bored, or low-energy. But in the now? We tell ourselves we just don’t have enough [insert resource] to engage in the things we’d “love to start doing”.

However! Life, being the funny trickster it is, often throws little bonus resources our way. A little extra cash. A free afternoon. A burst of energy at 10pm.

These surprises come our FAR more often than we realize – but we don’t notice them because we don’t have a plan for what to do with them when they arrive. It’s tragic, because we all have far more of these resources than we realize, and we could take advantage of them to great profit if we put on our thinking cap for even just a few minutes.

Today, let’s look at how to do just that, so that we can stop wishing we had more time, money, and energy, and get more of those “love to start doing” activities in place than we ever thought possible.

Shall we? I'll begin with a (true) story.

Let’s set the scene.

I’m standing outside my hotel, making a list of the things I want to do today. My work is mostly done, save for this article. But I’m only in Toronto for a short while, and I want to make the most of my trip. My mother is coming in a few hours, and we’re going to see a concert tonight.

Now that I live in the woods, I have to be pretty organized with the things I want to do. I’m like Laura Ingalls Wilder in Little House on the Prairie. She only goes into town once in every long while. Whatever it is that she wants to do, she’s got to get it done while she’s there… or not at all.

I’m looking at my start-doing-things-I-like list, and it’s not looking good. It’s full of fun things I’m really looking forward to, but at this moment, I’m not having a whole lot of fun. I’m trying to get 4 gallons of activities into a 3-gallon jug of time. Somethings going to have to give.

But as I’m dictating my notes for this article, a surprise text message comes. My mother’s train has been delayed. She’ll be here at 2:15 instead of 1:15. I have an extra hour to kill. She’s very sorry.

Sorry! Ha! This is the best news I’ve heard all week and frankly, it’s been a pretty great week.

You see, today, I’m lucky. Today, I know exactly what matters to me. I’ve looked at my Start List (the things I want to start doing more of), and I know what my priorities are. I’ve been given this gift of an extra hour, and I know exactly what to do with it.  I will go to the little shop and pick up the rest of the yarn for my project. Wonderful.


Most days aren’t like that. Most weeks, and months, and years aren’t like that. When given the gift of an extra piece of time, or chunk of money, or rush of energy, we don’t know what to do with it. We don’t have a plan because, well, let’s face it – most of us don’t have plans for the resources we have, let alone the ones we don’t.

Are you a video game person?

I’m not, but I have two sons and tend to date people born in the 1970s, so I’m an expert by proxy.

In a lot of video games, the main character gains their resources by simply… walking around. They’re going about their business, working on their quest, and they’ll find money, or a health pack, or an energy boost just sitting there for anybody in the world to come across. But anybody in the world can’t come across it. The only person who can collect and use the resource is the main character.

Life is like that too. If you come across a resource — time, money, energy — it’s not transferable. It’s just for you. And you can use it on whatever you want.

One of the reasons many people find video games easier than life is that video game designers give you a nice little list of the quests you’re working on and what you need to embark upon them. You just go to the quests menu and there are all the things that matter to you, all neat and organized like.

Should you find yourself with, say, an extra 50 credits, you can just go to your custom designed “what matters to me” list and see where you might want to invest it. Maybe you can get that equipment upgrade! If you run across enough med packs, you’ll have enough health for a tough battle. That sort of thing.

This is one of the reasons why so many people prefer video games to life. In video games, no matter how complex the simulated world is, all the things you’re working on, and all the things that are required, and all the things you have to do next…

… they’re all in the list. All in one place.

When it comes to lifestyle design, the culture has become obsessed with acquiring more resources.

I’m all for more resources. But true success in designing the style of our life comes from knowing what to do with the resources we already have. We keep finding little bundles of time, and money, and energy in footlockers and ammunition containers and crates.

But when we haven’t decided in advance what we’re going to do with them, they expire, or they stockpile, or they just fritter away. They go to the activities on our Stop List (the activities we really want to stop doing so much), rather than on our Start List, and the cycle perpetuates.

When we are very certain of what we want to do more of and what we want to do less of, it is absolutely amazing how many little resources we find. Last week, for example, a client rescheduled. And Jack decided he didn’t want to watch that YouTube video with me. And I found $27 in my spring jacket.

Those are surprise resources, little gifts from the universe or God or your video game programmer that you can use for whatever you want.


Let’s see what to do with them.

Here are a few tips for what to do with your extra resources when you get them.

1. What to do with bonus time:

Keep supplies to hand. One of the reasons we tend to squander our bonus time on Stop List items is because Stop List supplies are often close to hand. We want to stop playing match-3 games and start doing our Italian app, but Candy Crush is right there and the Italian app isn’t loaded yet. We want to go for walks, but our walking shoes are in the basement. We want to plant herbs but we haven’t bought the seeds.

It’s a good idea to look at your Start List and see what supplies you’ll need to have on hand. Many of these things don’t require money, too. You probably don’t need to buy new shoes – most of us can get away with finding the shoes we already have.

Make time estimates. Some of the things we want to do are Big Things That Take Lots of Time and some of them are Little Things That Take Very Little Time. It’s smart to have a basic idea of how much time each of the items on your Start List take so that when the universe gives you a time present, you can select with confidence.

Knowing a walk is 15 minutes and an episode of Cosmos is 42 minutes makes it a lot easier to take more walks and watch more Neil DeGrasse Tyson. And when your sister cancels your dinner date, giving you a whole three hours? Well, hell. It’s on.

2. What to do with bonus money:

In general, bonus money should be handled in one of three ways:

One, use it on something nice right away. Something you’ve been thinking about, or something that occurred to you recently. That premium app, or that lip balm, or that fancy pants pillow. Use it for something that feels current and of the moment, or for something that you’ve had your eye on for a while. (It can be useful to have a Things I’ve Had My Eye On For A While List for just this type of occasion. That way the bonus money doesn’t end up in General Funds, where it just blends in with the rest of the money and gets spent on BOGO candles at Bath and Body Works.)

Two, put it towards a specific savings fund for something that matters to you. This should be a set aside, set apart savings fund that does not live in your regular checking or savings account. If your bank lets you subdivide your savings account into little mini buckets, that’s great. But the old-fashioned way involves a jar with a label that says, “New Couch Fund”. Either way is good. Just make sure you do it RIGHT AWAY.

Three, a split. Especially if the amount of money is large, you may want to split it between sensible things and fun things, or fun things and other fun things. Put half on the mortgage and half on a reiki treatment, maybe. Or put half on makeup and half on a reiki treatment. Split it however you want, but do it very consciously.

(Bonus tip: Ideally, split it the way you would advise your best friend split it. What you tell your best friend to do is what you really think a person should do, instead of what you think lil’ ol’ you who never gets nice things should do.)

3. What to do with bonus energy:

Know your ebb activities and your flow activities. If you’ve read How To Stay Amazingly Productive On Low Energy Days you know all about ebb and flow. Lifestyle design is where this concept really shines. Sure, we can use the ebb and flow concept for work, but where’s the fun in that? It’s far more interesting to use it for ourselves.

Each of us has activities on our Start List that take varying amounts or types of energy, and it varies by person. A lifelong handicrafter can crochet or whittle when they’re at their own funeral, for example, but somebody just learning might need their very best energy. Some of us view decluttering as restful and relaxing, where others need protective footwear.

Knowing how much, and what type of, energy is required for our Start List tasks means we can look at how we’re feeling and see what makes the best fit.

Remember that energy changes for no good reason. The Money Currency is fixed. You have $100, you spend $50, and you have $50 left. The Time Currency is fixed. You have two hours, you spend one hour, and you have one left.

Energy, though? Energy is lawlessness. It has a resolute disregard of all known scientific and mathematical laws. You could start cozy and within fifteen minutes be restless. You could start motivated and within an hour be bored. You could assume you’ll get tired as an activity goes on and be completely right, or completely wrong.

Keep an eye on your energy and how it fluctuates through the day, or a task, or a period of time. If it changes, don’t force yourself to stick to a plan just because that was the plan. This is lifestyle design, not delivering mail – you don’t have to do it just because you said you would. This is supposed to feel good, and what feels good will change.

And so…

Once you begin to notice your first few surprise resources, something mind-blowing happens. They start to pop up everywhere. It will seem like the universe is throwing them at you. And while this is a lovely way to look at it, what’s also happening is that you’re finally beginning to notice them. You start to realize that they’ve been there all along.

What’s nice about that is that you can begin to feel really secure that these surprise resources will continue to come. Because they’ve always been there, and they’ll always continue to be there.

You, though, my clever boss friend, are now in the enviable position of knowing how to use them.

Things you can do next!