The Currency of Time

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Time is the most valuable thing we have in our lives, but we squander it away without giving it a second thought.  Maybe you've done some light accounting late at night thinking to yourself, "where did that day go?".  But that's like thinking about where your money is going after it's spent.  By viewing our time as currency we're more likely to assign it value.  That's why it's important to account for your time.  The same way you budget your money you should budget your time.

Equating Time and Money

You often hear that time is money, but have you ever stopped to think about it? I had a perfect example of this the other day when I was talking with two of my buddies about ironing shirts.  My friend Greg was complaining about how he's always busy and never has any free-time.  So his brother Robb asked him if he irons his shirts.

"Sure, but what's that got to do with anything?" asked Greg.

"Well, how long does it take you to iron a shirt?" replied Robb.

"Probably about 10-minutes."

"So that means you could iron 6 shirts an hour," said Robb.  "How much would it cost you to have that shirt dry cleaned?  If you paid $1.50 per shirt, that means it would cost you $9 bucks to drop those shirts off at the dry cleaner.  Your time is worth more than 9-bucks an hour, right?"

I could see Greg's eyes widen as he started to understand where his brother was going.

"Yeah, but I like ironing my shirts," he said with a smirk.

If you like ironing your shirts, then by all means continue to iron your shirts.  But if you'd rather be doing something else, then realize that these minutes are valuable.  Maybe you can't afford to dry clean your shirts, but maybe you're spending money somewhere else that isn't helping you free up any of your time.  By assigning a value to your time and thinking about whether something you're spending money on is saving you time you will develop better spending habits.

Assigning A Value To Your Time

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This is the hardest part for some people, but there's a simple place to start.  If you're working and getting paid hourly, you can think about the time you spend working and your free time as having that value per hour.  For example, if you're getting paid $20 per hour, then your free time is worth $20 per hour as well.

You might be saying to yourself, "But, my time is worth so much more than that!".  If you are, you're probably right.  But then think about your job or career and realize that every hour you spend there you're operating at a deficit on your time.  That will force you to find ways to work more efficiently, negotiate better working conditions or a raise from your boss, or find a new job that you love because that's how'd you'd be spending your time anyway.

It might be hard to think about, but coming up with a number that defines how much your time is worth is extremely important and valuable.  And it's an exercise you should do at least once a year because as life circumstances change (location, job, family), so will the value of your time.

Budgeting Your Time

If you balance your bank account, then budgeting your time will be easy.  It might be something you already do.  If not, don't worry it's not hard, but it does take an investment.

Start by taking five or ten minutes at the beginning or end of the day to plan ahead. I like to do it at night because it helps me sleep, but if mornings are better for you, that's fine too.   Break your day into the three categories we talk about in our 8-8-8 article: Work, Play, and Rest.  From there write down no more than 3 things in each category that you hope to accomplish.  Be specific about each of the goals.  DO NOT WRITE MORE THAN THREE THINGS FOR ONE DAY IN ANY CATEGORY.  Remember, it's about balance.  And by only writing down three things per day, you'll feel less overwhelmed and manage to stay more focused If you have more than three things to write down in any category (and you have not gone past your budgeted five or ten minutes) write them down for the next day.  Now you're planning ahead!  If you're calendar starts to fill up and you realize you've already got the next day planned, use the five or ten minutes to start thinking about bigger, long-term goals.

The Benefits of Budgeting Time

Once you get used to the habit of budgeting your time there are some great benefits.  If you're the type of person who says, "I can't even remember what I had for breakfast." that will start to change.  You'll be more aware of how your spending your time, which will make you more appreciative of the things you're doing.

Planning your time means you'll use it more efficiently.  You won't have downtime between tasks wondering what to do next.  That means you'll be less distracted as you move from one appointment to the next so, you'll free up more time.  That free time is yours to use however you'd like, but remember that balancing work, play, and rest is key.  

Finally, you'll value the time of others more.  When you start to assign value to your time and budget it out, you realize that the time of other people is valuable too.  If you're not already, you'll find yourself making it to meetings on-time and more invested in all the interactions you have with other people.  Whether it's with co-workers or family members, that means you'll have better relationships with everyone you choose to spend your time with.