3 Tactics to Avoid the 20 Year Sprint

By Melissa Tosetti

We live ridiculously busy lives!  I mean, RIDICULOUS!

I used to think it was just those of us living here in Silicon Valley and the surrounding San Francisco Bay Area.  However, after working with clients all over the country, I’ve learned that the frenetic pace of life isn’t confined to Northern California.

I’ve come to realize this because in order to understand how to help a client better manage their personal finances, I need to understand what their day-to-day life looks like.

  • How long are their workdays and commute?
  • How many activities are their kids in?
  • Are they highly involved in their church, the Rotary or the PTA?

Without understanding the mechanics of their every day lives, it’s impossible to put a sustainable Spending Plan together for them.  Over the years I’ve learned the correlation between how very busy our lives are and the difficulty in managing our finances.

One of the patterns that comes up FAR too often is clients who describe what I now call “The 20 Year Sprint.”

The sprint typically begins a year or two into your career and it starts by feeling like a light jog.  You put in longer days at work because you’re still new and trying to prove yourself. The pace might pick up a bit when you get married, further increasing when you purchase your first home.  By the time the kids come along you’re at the full sprint going from one activity, task or to-do to the next until, as client after client has told me, it’s 20 years later, the kids are in college and you look back realizing it all went by in the blink of a frazzled, overstressed eye.

With all the conveniences of our technologically advanced lives, why are we busier than ever before?  Being an armchair sociologist, I see several reasons:

  • With laptop computers and smart phones, we’re available to work 24 hours a day.
  • For many, commutes take up precious hours, cutting into our down time.
  • When I was a kid in the 70’s, we might go on one road trip or vacation a year and to the movies maybe once a month. I’m not saying those were the good old days, but now, the places to visit and activities to do are endless, overburdening our calendars.
  • I believe the biggest issue is that we go from one task, activity and event to the next – not being strategic about our time – hence we bounce around like pinballs feeling as if we have no control over our schedules.

So, how do you avoid “The 20 Year Sprint,” or if you find yourself already in it, how do you slow down to a manageable pace?

  1. Untangle Work Time and Off Time

We catch up on work e-mail at home or use the peace of having no coworkers around to focus on projects.  On the flipside, we order groceries from work and slip out to buy that dress for our cousin’s wedding during work hours.

If we give ourselves time to focus on work at work and home activities and relaxation at home, the length and quality of that time will be palpable.

Untangle Challenge

For one week, challenge yourself to keep your work activities to work hours.  I understand how challenging this is, but take a stab at it.  If at all possible, try not to check your work e-mail after you leave the office and try to do your personal tasks after work hours.

If you do have to work at home or do home stuff at work, set a timer to limit the amount of time you do spend on it.  I’ve written about my love of timing projects in the article The Perfect Time Doesn’t Exist.

  1. Block Down Time

One of the sanity-saving habits we suggest for Savvy Holidays is to block at least one, ideally two, weeknights to stay at home.  During those last six weeks of the year, it’s too easy to overschedule ourselves and, while trying to get EVERYTHING done, to get sick.

When I was trying to get pregnant with Dante, my doctor wanted me sitting on the couch reading, watching TV or doing some kind of relaxing project by 7:30 pm every night.  He explained that the body has to have time to decompress every day.  Otherwise it stays in a constant state of stress which is not ideal when trying to get pregnant.  Frankly, it’s not ideal even if you’re NOT trying to get pregnant!

That advice has always stuck with me and it’s a habit I try very hard to continue to this day.  Given that I start at 6:30 am, I feel that by 7:30 pm, I’ve earned the right to a date with Netflix, my ukulele or the latest Phryne Fisher book.

Consider implementing this selfcare habit the rest of the calendar year.  Having a few sanctuary nights each week to stay home and relax can have a massively positive impact on your quality of life.

Down Time Challenge

For this challenge, block at least one, preferably two weeknights out on your calendar for the next four weeks.  If you don’t actually block the time out, it’s too easy for other tasks and events to sneak onto your calendar.

Consider taking it a step further and block at least one weekend off a month to just hang out at home or with the family.

One of the things that took me awhile to get comfortable with is saying that we already have plans when those plans are for our family to stay home.  Eventually I learned to covet that time as much as I would a vacation or other special event.  In fact, when I flipped that thought process, I realized that family time was more precious than so many of the things we previously committed to.

Extra Tip

Consider investing in a year-at-a-glance wall calendar.  While electronic calendars are fantastic, they typically only allow you to look at one month at a time.  Being able to look at more than one month will help you see if you’re about to schedule three weekend trips in a row which when done individually, would be fun, but back-to-back would be overwhelming.

Why the importance of actually blocking that time on your calendar?  Nature abhors a vacuum and the rule applies to our schedules.  If there’s an open space, we’ll fill it and in the same breath complain we’re too busy.

  1. Say “No”

One of my favorite Warren Buffet quotes is: The difference between successful people and very successful people is that very successful people say “no” to almost everything.  When I think of success, I don’t just think in terms of money or career.  I think in terms of quality of life.

Another topic that comes up so often when talking with clients is that they realize how often they commit to things that they really don’t want to do.

The “No” Challenge

For the next seven days, when you receive an invitation for an event or project, reply by saying, “I have to check on something and will let you know tomorrow.”

There’s a few benefits to this gatekeeping tactic:

  • It gives you a chance to think about whether or not you really do want to attend that event, participate in that committee or bake cookies for that school fundraiser. It removes you from the situation of having to make a decision in a split moment.
  • Instead of quickly looking at your phone to see if that one day works for you, you have the opportunity to look at your year-at-a-glance calendar, checking the days or weekends before and after that event to see how busy you are and if the commitment will add additional pressure to the week.
  • You’re not having to immediately say “no” which can be uncomfortable.

This article is near and dear to my heart because there was a good five years where I felt like I had no control over my schedule.

  • I run The Savvy Life working one-on-one with clients, traveling for speaking engagements and teaching webinars.
  • My husband Paul owns a Mixed Martial Arts school hosting various events throughout the year on top of the daily class schedule.
  • We have an amazing, active 11 year-old who loves playing board games and initiating Nerf gun wars.
  • We love spending time with our parents (three sets) and we have 15 incredibly close friends that we’d bury bodies for.

Our lives were spent going from one task, event or celebration to the next.

Because of my conversations with clients I was fully aware that I was ¼ of the way through “The 20 Year Sprint.”

Last March, after helping Paul host a tournament which the planning for sucked up the first three months of the year, on top of our usual frenetic schedules, I hit a breaking point.  I was physically and emotionally exhausted and felt I was sacrificing so much precious family time for everyone and everything else.  I was in desperate need of time off.  Time at home.  Time with Paul and Dante. While I was pretty good at implementing the first two tactics outlined in this article, saying “yes” or committing before I had a full grasp of what I was committing to was commonplace.

Once the tournament was over, I spent the rest of 2017 saying no to almost everything as I recuperated from the soul crushing first three months of the year.  Since then, I’ve become very comfortable with the word “no” when it comes to time management.  In fact, I’ve come to realize it’s one of the most critical tools for living a purposeful, savvy life.

As challenging as these suggestions may seem at first glance, they will help you gain more control of your time.  When you have more control of your time it’s easier to be more purposeful with your money.


Melissa Tosetti is the founder of The Savvy Life and author of the international bestseller Living The Savvy Life. For the past eight years, she’s worked with over 450 individuals and families to create Spending Plans.

Melissa also works with financial advisors and their clients doing cash flow planning as well as giving over 200 Savvy Living presentations via webinar and in-person to audiences across the U.S.

If you’d like to learn more about how Melissa works with clients visit The Savvy Life’s Programs page.

If you’d like to learn more about how Melissa works with financial advisors and their clients visit: The Savvy Life Advisor’s Page