Time beyond money

Written on February 06, 2018

The concept of time is inextricably linked with money. Just like money, time is “spent” and we’re cautioned not to “waste” a great imagined stock of it. Benjamin Franklin’s formulation “time is money” still holds huge currency today, although we’ve actually been making this connection for centuries: as early as 430 BC – far before modern capitalism emerged – Ancient Greeks made the case that “the most costly outlay is time.”

It’s certainly a very relevant concept – thousands of service-led businesses worldwide use time as the main measurement to charge for their work, billing by the hour and tracking time to measure of profit. But is it actually useful? Whether you approach it literally or metaphorically, the connection is problematic and often counter-productive. By understanding time in terms of money, we often only serve to cheapen its value.

The problem with monetizing time

By literally suggesting time is money, any time not spent making money would, by default, seem to be “wasted” or the equivalent to losing money. Spending two hours on vital unbillable company work? Time wasted. Taking time off? Time wasted. Spending time with the kids? Don’t even go there.

The analogy falls flat when you realize money and time operate on different planes. Money is a fluctuating value we come in and out of contact with, and we have some ability to shape how much we make, spend and save. Contrastingly, time is a finite resource that is constantly depleting; it’s dumb to think of it as a possession, since it operates outside of our control and cannot be accrued. Whilst money has the potential to be reacquired, time, once used, is gone forever.

Viewing time as money also undermines the honest trade leading most service-based companies. If time only meant money, companies would only be interested in working as quickly as possible to take on more billable work. Those with a fixed set of clients would, contrastingly, be weary of losing out on money by working “too quickly”. Although this is not how such companies operate, in a language of time as money there is no room for quality, personalized service and love for a trade.

Time as opportunity

Time signifies other forms of enrichment beyond monetary gain: enjoyment, relaxation, discovery, growth and support all require it. Whilst we should stress the urgency to make good use of time, we shouldn’t position billable hours as our only valuable time.

We need to change how we think of time. Instead of “time is money”, we should instead say “time is opportunity” – it equals fulfilment and meaning, whether the means to that are productive or indulgently unproductive. As the single resource we all share, we need to consider what time’s value means to us personally.

We also need to change how we measure our time. Instead of just tracking time to calculate our earnings, we should track our personal time to make it just as accountable. By tracking and scheduling our own personal time, we can plan value into the hours we spend outside of work – making sure we don’t just fall into familiar routines of crashing and killing time before the next work day. We need to treat downtime as equally valuable as our billable hours.

All time is profitable, but not purely in a financial sense. Forget the dollar signs, track all the time that matters to you and – if you find comfort in the words of famous dead guys – try Leonardo Da Vinci instead: “Time stays long enough for those who use it.”

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