What is more important to you, time or money?
There are 1,440 minutes in a day. Do you have any idea how many of your minutes are spent actually contributing to your income? More importantly, do you have any idea how many of those minutes are contributing to just you, your personal wellbeing or the impact you make in the world?
Money is deeply rooted in how we have evolved. It continues to produce powerful effects on our behavior. We spend a great deal of time thinking about money. We talk about it, worry about it, stress over it, and wonder if we have enough to meet our immediate needs now and in the future. Most of us never seem to have enough. For most, an additional $5,000 a year could make a huge difference in your life.
On the other hand, everyone I know also has this problem: there never seems to be enough time in the day for everything we need or want to do. We have a pile of tasks and projects to do, children, messages and emails to respond to, and even if we work with focus and no distractions (that’s a huge “if”) … there is still not enough time. Let’s say you happen to find time after work and on weekends, to do non-work stuff, like reading or exercise or meditating or learning new things… well, then you find that the time you create for this stuff is never enough, you have too much that you want to do and there is still not enough time.
With that said, according to current research, people who value time more than money are happier and more productive in life. Prioritising your time is associated with greater happiness. 4,000 people where asked “What would you rather have, more time or more money? You guessed right. Most people were practical: 64% percent answered “more money.” However, the people who said they would prefer more time were generally happier.
Research has further revealed something else about the participants, people who tended to choose more time also tended to be: Older, which suggests perhaps as we age we get more satisfaction from valuing our time over money. Parents, which suggests children can change our values on the time-money question. Married and wealthier (but when the analysis controlled for this, the correlation between choosing time and happiness remained).
The study results suggests that if you want to become a happier person and you already make enough money to provide the essentials, you should start placing more value on time.
So what is the cause of not enough time? First there is a fixed amount of time. It is neither “enough” or “not enough” — it is only our expectations that make it one way or another. If we want to get more done than is possible in this fixed amount of time, we think it is not enough, because it did not meet our expectation. If we are satisfied with how much we can do in the fixed amount of time, it is enough time. Therefore, it is our expectations of how much we should get done in a day that causes the problem.
Where do these expectations come from? Our boss? Society? Our parents? Ourselves? The answer is all of the above. We have all created these agreements about how much we are supposed to do, and the agreements are impossible to fulfill in the limited amount of time we have. So the new idea is to let go of the flawed agreements of how much we should get done and instead, learn to appreciate the time we actually do have, and appreciate each act we are able to do within that time.
You might object: the endless list of things to get done still needs to be tackled!
Absolutely. Try this experiment for a week. First, make a list of things to do, prioritize them, block off time in your calendar for them. Now be absolutely disciplined and focused in each block, doing exactly what you planned. Adjust the blocks as you learn that you have forgotten eating and grocery shopping and the like. But after a week, you will have a much better idea of how much you can actually get done.
You will see that it is much less than you hope you can do. We are overly optimistic about how much we can do in a day. When we get realistic the actual amount of things we can do in a day or week is greatly reduced. We need to start with that realistic recognition.
How to Get Stuff Done. Now we can work within that reality of fixed time and limited amount of things that can get done:
- First recognize the things that must get done. What on your list are things that have to get done no matter what? For example, you might list things like: showering, eating, sleeping, buying groceries, cooking, cleaning, washing clothes, driving to work, taking the kids to school, etc. You might also have some non-negotiable work things: Monday meetings, daily calls, etc. How much time do these take? Calculate it the best you can. A good estimate is 8 hours of sleep, and then 4-7 hours of non-work things (depending on if you have family or other increased non-work obligations). Now enter your non-negotiable tasks.
- Now recognize how much time you have left. Let’s say you have 8 hours of sleep, 4 hours of non-work non-negotiables, and 1.5 hours of work non-negotiables … that leaves you with 10.5 hours to allot each day. For some of you with more non-negotiables, you might be down to 3 or 4 hours. Just find the number.
- Now ask, how can I best use that extra time? With the time you have to allot to your big pile of tasks and things you want to do and read and watch … how will you best use this time? There is no right answer, but ask the question.
- Pick and block off. With this list of priorities, block off your time. You can get by without this, but it is a way to budget your limited time and to protect the things you believe are most important to you.
- Now work and act with appreciation and focus. In each block, pour yourself into the act. Really be there with that task, You have chosen to include it in your limited time, so it must be important. Appreciate the task, and appreciate the space you have cleared for it.
All of the above will be done imperfectly, of course. You will still try to fit in too much. But at least it will be more realistic, and over time, you can stop trying to cram so much into your time blocks. But with practice, we can accept that this is enough. The time we have is a precious gift and we can appreciate it just as it is, without needing it to be more.
*** Reprint of my Madison, WI, Capital City Hues newspaper article, of October 2020.