The Upside-Down Wedding Cake



I had a boss once pull me aside and share his management philosophy.  He used a three-tier wedding cake to describe the way he spent his time early on in his career.  The base of the cake represented the majority of his time, which was spent on administrative tasks that brought very little value to the office.  The middle tier corresponded to all the time spent in meetings with very little resolution.  His most valuable work was attributed to the top and smallest layer, which only occurred about 10% of the time.


The wedding cake analogy applied also to his work interactions.  He had found himself allocating the most time towards the lowest-performing individuals, about 60% of the time.  Then, he would spend 30% of his time on mediocre performers.  Since he knew his high performers could complete most tasks without any questions, they would receive the remaining 10% of his time.  He then told me that after a few years of this, he decided to see what happened if he turned the wedding cake upside down, such that he could allocate the largest chunk of time towards his most important work.


His Plan of Attack

timeWhen he became a manager in his office, he was determined to flip this cake upside down for everyone.  He was adamant about his employees making the most of their time and not sitting through pointless, time-wasting meetings.  His goal was to create an environment for his office to maximize production.


He started thinking… Why spend so much time with people that provide little value and require excessive amounts of time?  Most of these people were either going to move on in the long run or only ended up becoming mediocre performers anyway.  Why not instead spend as much time with high-value resources to see what they could develop into?  Wouldn’t this lead to even greater returns and productivity?


Once he flipped the wedding cake upside down, he indicated in the short term, his team did suffer.  The bottom performers were performing at a worse level with less time and attention.  However, he continued to spend more time with the high performers in order to cultivate their leadership skills and groom them to become more successful.  By reallocating his time, he developed more leaders in his organization than anybody else, while also weeding out the lower-performing employees.


My Time

time clockRecently, I’ve been thinking about his analogy more and more.  Even though I’m not at his level and may never be.  In a previous article I talked about what I spend the most money on and how those areas align with my values.  But what about my time?


The Break-Down

Analyzing a typical day, I wanted to see if I was performing high-value, beneficial activities with the majority of my time, or I needed to flip the wedding cake upside down.


Let me first say that I am not someone that can perform well on 4-5 hours of sleep.  While I am envious of people who thrive with little sleep, I require at least 8 hours or 9 hours of sleep a night to be fully optimal.


timeSo, a typical day for me starts around 7 am, and I’m off to work by 8 am.  I then slug through my day until I get home around 5 pm.  Quick side note: in a previous article, I talked about how I am looking for a new job.  The update is I was selected for an interview and will be going through the process.  Hopefully, I can replace “slug through my day” with “enthusiastically work all day” soon.  Anyways, after work, I have about 5 hours where I’m able to play with my son, hang out with my wife, update the blog, and watch TV.  


My Three Tiers

timeLet me start off with the good.  When I last did one of these audits on my time, I found that I was spending way too much time on watching TV and researching stocks.  I don’t know if any of you were like me, but I was constantly trying to optimize my finances.  At one point, I even contemplated moving to an account that gave a 0.01% better interest rate.  I mean seriously, who tries to optimize for just a few pennies?  Gladly, this previous large base layer of wedding cake has flipped to the top and is drastically smaller.  


Now honestly, looking through my day, I spend most of my time outside of work with my family.  So, I’d say that is my base layer of my wedding cake.  Updating the blog would currently fall in the middle tier since it’s important to me, but not nearly as important as spending time with my family.  And as I just mentioned, watching TV and tinkering with finances should be at the very top.  Although there is a lot of temptation to spend exorbitant amounts of time watching College Football and the NFL.  


Areas To Add/Include

timeI really need to figure out ways to help my wife out more with cleaning and also allocate time for exercise.  She does the bulk of the cleaning, and she never complains, but I know that I need to pick it up in this area before she hits a breaking point.  


On top of that, I really need to get into a good exercise routine again.  I feel sluggish, and while I appear to be in good shape, I know I’m not.  I’m probably considered one of those skinny-fat people that looks fit but gets winded walking up two flights of stairs.  I know this because the elevator was broken at work one day, and I was forced to climb four flights of stairs.  It was a not a pretty sight.  


These areas will probably make my 2017 goals list, but I am going to try to start incorporating them today.


So readers, what in your life needs to be flipped upside down?  Do you spend too much time on activities that either don’t bring you joy or are huge time-wasters?  Share your thoughts below.

Mustard Seed Money

Welcome to the website. A mustard seed is a very small seed but astonishingly grows very large over time. My hope is that through your financial journey that your small investment in time, money and faith will grow beyond anything that you could ever imagine.


  1. I definitely need to flip my cake but don’t feel I really can as much as I want until I can stop working and retire. I cram things into my nights and weekends to keep my life in balance but work takes up a lot of time! But it pays well and is what is fueling me to early retirement so I press on!
    The Green Swan recently posted…The Swan Life: November 2016My Profile

    • I hear ya!!!

      It’s funny I was thinking about being in college. I use to be stressed out with all that I have to do. But looking back I had all the time in world.

      I wish I could bottle up all that time and add a couple of hours to each day now.

      Thanks for taking some time out of your day to stop by and share!!!

  2. Congrats and best of luck on the interview process! I hope you find a good fit & an awesome new job.

    Most of my bosses have been like the first wedding cake, focused on trying to spend tons of time dragging the bottom performers up to the middle, and ignoring the top performers to just do our thing. I like that in some ways (I hate being micromanaged) but in other ways I’d like some more support and help reaching the next level at work. It’s not always intuitive-as they say “what got you here won’t get you there”.

    I think I do pretty well with my outside of work priorities, but I do want to spend more time hiking outside. It’s hard here because it’s dark when I leave for work and dark when I get home, and sometimes weekends are crazy busy. Fortunately my oldest son will start working on his hiking merit badge soon, so we’ll do that together. One five mile hike, three 10 mile hikes, one 15 mile, and a 20 miler to complete that one-I’m looking forward to it!
    Liz@ChiefMomOfficer recently posted…A Thoughtful Gift Your Kids Can Make – A Memory BookMy Profile

    • I think you’re like most people in that they love to get just a little more support in reaching the next level at work.

      I’ve been really fortunate to have some great bosses over the years that have helped me along the way.

      Wow those sound like some serious hikes that you and your son will be doing.

      I have to admit I’m a little jealous. Sounds like it’s going to be a lot of fun 🙂

  3. Congrats and best ongoing luck in the job interview process. Earlier in the year I dropped back from being a manger to an individual contributor. This was effectively my inversion moment. Without it there would be no blog as I was on all the time in my last job. Ironically I even got a pay jump to change, so it’s all good.
    Full Time Finance recently posted…Beware of Prizes Bearing TaxesMy Profile

    • Wow that’s awesome that you were able to move back to an individual contributor, get paid more and have time to crank out an awesome blog. Sounds like a win/win all around.

      Thanks for sharing!!!

  4. Good luck with the interview!

    This is a really good analysis. I’ve been looking for ways to better organize and prioritize my time lately, and it is really difficult to incorporate new habits and break old patterns. I know (roughly) how I should be spending my time, but somehow I never quite get there.

    I don’t know that I spend too much time on time wasters, necessarily. I think I did a good job over the last couple years of slashing TV and mindless Internet time. I just have so many things that I want to do that I need to do a better job of picking a few and then prioritizing those instead of trying to do too much.
    Matt @ Optimize Your Life recently posted…Your Instinctive Thinking Is Losing You MoneyMy Profile

    • Thanks Matt!!! I am definitely excited about the interview.

      I’m glad that you enjoyed the article.

      I too am like you in that I spread myself out between too many things. I need to buckle down and figure out what’s really important and go with a singular focus 🙂

      Thanks for stopping by and sharing!!!

  5. Congrats and best of luck on the interview! I think my cake is pretty similar to yours, although I think I have more of a two-tiered cake. I have my outside of work tier (family, me-time) which is the large base. The top of the cake is work, which a much smaller part of the cake. I, like you, need to carve out a little bit of exercise time for myself. My “at work cake” is actually pretty sad. I spend most of my time on non-patient care stuff, like charting and other administrative tasks. Unfortunately, the actual patient care part of the cake is much smaller. With medicine the way it is, it’s very difficult to flip the work cake upside down.
    SomeRandomGuyOnline recently posted…Biggest Investing Challenge?My Profile

    • My father in law is a doctor and so I have seen him work on the weekends holed up dictating his records and doing other admin stuff.

      I know he loves the medicine part but the requirements around admin is mind boggling. It’s a wonder that you have time to do anything else.

      Thanks for stopping by and sharing!!!

  6. When I retired, my cake kind of blew up in that I had no routine anymore. I started my blog as a way to share my knowledge and also keep me busy. I have also renewed my old efforts at daily exercise. Plus I get to spend a good amount of quality time with my wife. But I still spend far too much of my day on things that don’t really provide value, like watching TV. Like you, I plan on addressing some of this in my 2017 goals. Good luck with the interview!
    Gary @ Super Saving Tips recently posted…Do You Suffer From Acute Financial Stress?My Profile

    • Thanks for sharing your experience in retirement. I look forward to your 2017 goals. It’s always fun reading what others goals are and if I can incorporate any great ideas.

      Thanks for sharing!!!

  7. I once saw a movie where someone made a time recommendation: “Never attend a meeting that can’t start without you.” It may not be entirely realistic, but something to think about.

    As far as the workout goes, try the 4-minute method: Go all out for 20 seconds, then rest for 10 seconds. Repeat 8 times. You will be shocked at how effective this is for improving your cardio functions.

    Also, can you take a break every hour at work and walk up some stairs? If you can work at home, you can regularly incorporate a minute of pushups, squats and plyometrics at various times throughout the day. You can take a walk around the block every hour. Our bodies are meant to move regularly, rather than just a ‘one workout a day’ approach.
    Primal Prosperity recently posted…From the Sunday “Scaries” to the Sunday SolacesMy Profile

    • Thanks for the awesome workout tips. Having done p90x in the past the high intensity interval training is definitely the way to go.

      I definitely need to take a break at work more often. I recently got a standing desk that I am loving. I also have been trying to use the stairs more often at work instead of the elevator.

      Hopefully these small steps will go a long way 🙂

      Thanks for sharing!!!

  8. Love the analogy! Just doing a quick audit I think the one thing I need to cut back on TV time. It usually gets better in the spring/summer when most shows are on break. But the Fall is always tough because of football season haha.
    And it doesn’t help that I’m in a fantasy league.

    The crazy thing is that it’s an office buy-in league ($20 a person), so the most I could win would be $220! And considering how much time I spent on it, I could have probably been doing more productive matters.

    Plus my alma mater is actually doing good this year, so I’ve kind of jumped on the college bandwagon.

    Good luck on the interview too!
    Andrew recently posted…3 Great Investing Books You Need To ReadMy Profile

    • For years I avoided Fantasy Football because I always lost but would spend way too much time obsessing about.

      I think I went ten years but finally got sucked back in this past year. I still spend too much time but at least I’m in first place. So I feel like it’s somewhat worth it 🙂

      Thanks for sharing!!!

  9. Best of luck with the interview! I’m sure it will go great. I really enjoyed reading this post and it clearly can be applied right away to pretty much anyone’s life. Analyzing how I spend my time is on my “to do” list for this month. I sometimes get frustrated because I do not think I spend my time as effectively as possible, but part of that is because I think I could thrive outside of my 9-5 but really feel like I’m “stuck” spending ~50 hours a week at the office, not counting commuting time! That’s a big commitment. Yes, they do compensate well and it’s predictable income, but it does motivate me to use the rest of my day as effectively as possible as I work towards some long-term business/self-employment goals. Anyway thanks for the thought provoking post!
    DC @ Young Adult Money recently posted…Comment on 12 Frugal Wedding Hacks by Rachel FoxwellMy Profile

    • I heard something interesting on Shark Tank the other day. Mark Cuban said he would rather work 80 hours a week making $50k for himself than 40 hours a week making $100k for someone else.

      He said he wants to have control his time in a manner that makes most sense to him.

      I think I am slowly moving in that direction and it sounds like you are in a similar boat.

      Thanks for sharing, I look forward to hearing your financial journey!!!

  10. Excellent analogy… Recently, I started to think in a similar way. It would be better for me and the kids when I would be more really there for them: not reading a blogpost or stock article when being with them. no, genuinely being full of attention for them. That should be the base of my cake.

    Good luck with less TV/financial optimizing and more sports!

  11. Hey you hit a tender spot when you talked about how we spend our time. Liked the comments and suggestions. I’ve recently read some good books on the subject. May I suggest THE POWER OF HABIT by Charles Duhigg. I really liked this book because it explains why we do over and over things that may be unproductive etc. Also DAILY SELF DISCIPLINE by Martin Meadows. And another goodie THE WILLPOWER INSTINCTS by Kelly McGonagall. I enjoyed also Charles Duhigg in SMASTER FASTER BETTER.

    Good luck on your interview. Keep up the posts.

    • I love the POWER OF HABIT. That was a fantastic book. I still need to read SMARTER FASTER BETTER. I am currently wait listed to get that book at the library 🙂

      Thanks for stopping by and sharing!!!

  12. Best of luck on your interview!
    This post is a variation of the 80/20 rule, which we all know in theory but few of us put it into practice. Thanks for the timely reminder. My goal is less mindless internet surfing.

  13. I think I spend too much time on email and nit picky tasks, but neither can be eliminated. What I try to do instead is tackle bigger more important tasks first thing in the morning when I ned the most brain power and then tackle the random to-dos that never seem to stop coming. 🙂
    Untemplater recently posted…Tired of working? Imagine this…My Profile

    • That’s an awesome way to look at it. I agree with tackling the hardest tasks first thing in the morning. Although I will admit from time to time I like to do a really easy task to “wake up” my brain. Thanks for stopping by and sharing!!!

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