Money lessons from time-management gurus

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When technology researcher Alexandra Samuel came across a book about money eight years ago, it led to an epiphany that related to her work studying the Internet. "If we can establish a healthy relationship to money, it can be a vehicle for personal transformation. I thought, 'That's also true for the Internet. It touches every aspect of our life and affects our relationships and our health,'" she recalls.

Today, that epiphany has come full circle: Her research on productivity and the Internet contains lessons for those looking to improve their money management skills. Take the importance of prioritizing, which applies to both finances and the Internet. "You can't try to keep up with everything. You have to start with, 'What am I trying to accomplish? What is important to me?'" explains Samuel, who is the author of the new book, "Work Smarter with Social Media."

Just as it's easy to get overwhelmed by social media, she finds herself getting overwhelmed by the various financial tasks on her to-do list: saving for her children's college tuition, retirement planning, emergency savings, insurance. That's why, she says, "You have to think about one or two financial goals, come up with the action steps that apply and focus on that."

Other time-management gurus share similar insights into smarter saving, spending and investing practices. Laura Vanderkam, author of a book released last month, "I Know How She Does It," says one strategy that applies to time and money management involves increasing awareness of how you spend both resources. "Time keeps passing whether we think about what we intend to do with it or not. So it's easy to be mindless," she says. But paying more attention – to time and money wasted on repeated tasks, like grocery shopping – can help you redirect your energy​ to more enjoyable uses.

Vanderkam also suggests having a plan for unexpected time that falls into your lap, a lesson that applies to monetary windfalls as well. "One real estate agent in my book would go for a massage when a client canceled," she says. "Likewise, if you come into a small windfall, it's easy to spend it mindlessly, but if you have a wish list, you'll be able to use it for something that matters to you."

On the same note, Vanderkam suggests keeping your eye on the big picture. "We all have stressful moments, but people who are at peace with their time try to see these moments in context," she says. "With finances, we can focus on the bad, like a larger-than-expected bill or smaller-than-expected raise, or we can continue to make progress on savings and look how far we've come over the years."

She also points out that money and time can be traded when​ you're especially pinched. "When you are in a busy season of life, it's OK to ask if there are ways you can spend money to make life a little easier," she adds.

Shaa Wasmund, a London-based entrepreneur and author of the recently published book, "Do Less, Get More: How to Work Smart & Live Life Your Way," ​says being smarter about time and money starts with awareness. "If we kept a money diary and tracked everything we spent, we'd probably be quite horrified at what we're spending on," she says.

Instead, Wasmund suggests focusing on what really matters. "If you want to take your family on holiday to Barbados, maybe don't have so many meals out, maybe don't buy so many handbags," she says. "Money and time can just disappear, so you have to be focused on what you really want."

Wasmund also suggests building a support network of people who want to help you meet your goals. "You want people around you who have good habits when it comes to money. Who around you has good earning habits? Good spending habits? Talk to people who you already respect in your own network. Those people will help you stay on top," she advises.

She is also a big proponent of acting now instead of putting things off, especially when it comes to saving. "I started a [retirement account] for my son from the time he was born," she says. As a result, she estimates that by the time he retires, he'll have over $2 million in the account, thanks to the power of compounding interest.

Samuel has discovered that she can take advantage of her penchant for testing​ new tech tools to improve her money management behavior. "I love trying out new pieces of software," she says. As a result, she uses an app called IFTTT (short for "if this then that")​ that connects her camera phone with Evernote, a tool that helps her keep incoming checks organized.

"We were having a problem with reliable bookkeeping and didn't track receivables. Now, when I get a check, I just take a picture of it so all my checks are in one place," she says. That's one more productivity lesson that makes managing money a little simpler.

Copyright 2015 U.S. News & World Report

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