on Time

Posted: May 24, 2015 in Time Management
Tags: , , , ,

The closest I ever came to creating my own blog, rather than a blog of translations of other people’s work, was a three- or four-page essay. That’s slim, I know, at least in terms of quantity. But oh, the effort! My wife witnessed it all, humoring me through every fussy revision over a period of months, and finally–after hearing nothing about it for a while–printing the unfinished draft and filing it away just so it wouldn’t be lost. I’m not sure if I’ll ever follow through on that piece. If I do, don’t look for it here. (It’s already in English, or my nearest approximation thereof, so there’s nothing to translate.)

The subject that vexed me so was the troublesome relationship between time and money. It seems like fodder for an army of bloggers, at least to me. But leave it to an indefatigable philosopher like Sandra ( to distill the matter down to a few salient points–without, I’m sure, ever troubling her spouse…

Time is Money is Time

A long time ago I was about to do a big assignment. Bigger and more complex than any project I had done on my own before. And a wise man with a great deal of experience advised me:

“Replace time with money!”

What he meant: Systematically apply money, in order to save time. Consider which tools you frequently need, and buy those so that you can always use them without losing time. Determine which ancillary tasks someone else can do better and more quickly than you, especially when the assignment comes up only once, and pay a professional, to save time. So waste no time trying to save a few cents somewhere, but rather concentrate your energy and your time on the important tasks.

The wise man was right, and I pass his advice along here gladly and with complete conviction.

But when do we put it into effect?

Time is money: this premise rules our society. But our behavior follows the equation only in one direction. Namely, in the one that maximizes money. It’s the same, no matter whether we’re squeezing five more to-dos in our multitasking list, optimizing our habits and piling our mini-habits into little stacks, which then become “morning” and “anytime” routines (always in the service of efficiency), or driving out of our way–either to find the cheaper gas station, or to borrow a book from the library, spending an hour in the process, instead of buying it (secondhand): we deploy time to optimize money.

So it’s bad to lose time, if money is lost in the process.

When do we use money to gain time? Constantly, it seems, at first: We buy precooked meals and grab coffee in the shop to go, stuff our smart phones full of efficiency apps, take the shirts to the cleaners and book the vacation in a package. Who really has time to do all that themselves?

So everything is nice and clear? Time is money is time, and we conduct ourselves as proper homini oeconomici?

Clear yes, nice no: We’re still optimizing ourselves in only one direction: More. More money, so time gets more scarce. So it becomes more expensive, and must therefore be spared. That happens only with further expenditure of money. And so on.

This spiral staircase is the reason for the general belief that free time costs money, and that more free time costs more money. Because when we give up the bulk of our time to earn money (or save it; if your sense of austerity is nitpicky enough, you can trade in a miraculous number of hours for pennies), then the rare free time will mostly be used up. We wouldn’t dream of just doing nothing, or even growing bored, in our free time! What a waste–time is still money! So head out to the safari park, or to the video game console, or at least onto the Internet! Soon we’ll be back at work, so let’s get as much out of our free time as we can, no matter what the cost! We’ve already run up one floor on the spiral staircase, gone once in a circle, and are looking in the same direction as before. And sorry, what awaits us up there is not the next level. All that’s up there is just the end. That’s life.

But we can also do something different. Money is time, and most stairways go in both directions. So we’re going downstairs for once! If we invest less money in our free time, we don’t have to earn as much money. And we begin to accrue free time, which we can sensibly fill up with activities that not only don’t require money, but actually save it–or even bring some in: cooking at home, taking coffee along in the thermos instead of sacrificing six dollars at Starbucks, learning to repair or build something (whether it’s a bike or a homepage). Or simply doing what we please, without spending a fortune.

The whole thing, unfortunately, is more complicated and multilayered. And we, unfortunately, are for the most part not completely flexible in how we earn and spend time and money. Who can really cut back from 34 to 24 hours of work for just a 9.5% cut in pay?

But it’s worthwhile to look closely, again and again, and to ask for what, exactly, we are exchanging our money and our time. Sometimes it is simply useless. Like when practically all of the mother’s part-time income goes to childcare and commuting expenses, or the vacation is so tightly regimented with events, that the first thing we need afterward is a day off.

Time is money–we can exchange one for the other. At the same time, there are two things we can’t forget:

First: Our time is finite. When we exchange money for time, we win.

Second: Time doesn’t multiply or become more valuable just because we put more money into it. Often, that just makes it more scarce!



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