Time, like money, is a resource that we can either fritter away bit-by-bit on activities that give us no real return on our investment, or use wisely now in order to reap the benefits in the future. Pushing the economic metaphor further what if, like money, you could invest time so that it grew with interest and displayed compounding-like effects?
A post over at Tim Ferriss’ 4 Hour Work Week describes the possibilities of such a lifestyle economics. And while I think the post brings up some interesting possibilities, it appears to me to be based on the false premise that time can be compounded. It cannot. For each of us time is fixed (we just don’t know how much of it we’ve got). But what is possible is to telescope the amount of time we spend on work-related tasks to free up the (fixed) amount of time we have for other things. Such task-time telescoping allows us to engage in more important/worthy activities thereby increasing the value of that time, however we cannot say that time itself increases or grows as a consequence.
The question then becomes this: How do we define high-value time, and how can we get more of it? If this question is important to us (and I’m guessing it is), then it is down to us to do two things: define the word ‘value’ as used here, and then set about finding ways to obtain more of it. Creating a definition of high-value time is of course very personal - mine is bound to differ from yours - but it is also the rationale for why you would bother pursuing an answer to the second question - how to get more of it? Unfortunately many people obsessively seek productivity gains as an end in themselves. Indeed, many productivity exponents are great at telling us how to be more efficient or effective in what we do, but not so great at answering why we would care!
It seems apparent to me though, that unless you have defined what high-value time means for you, there is little point in pursuing productivity gains or four hour work weeks. Making it clear to yourself beforehand what high-value time actually means for you, helps to make it clear why you are pursuing greater effectiveness and efficiency at work, as well as giving purpose and momentum to the exercise.
Here are some reasons why I try to telescope task-time:
- To free up time for learning new skills
- To free up time for new experiences
- To free up time to think
- To give me time to produce or improve objects and services of value to others
- To free up time for nurturing relationships with loved ones
- To free up time to enjoy physical activities
- To free up time for laughter and silliness
All of these things (and more) fit within my definition of high-value time, and provide me with all the reasons I need to think hard about how to do things more effectively and efficiently. In fact you could say they’re the basis of my very own - and very personal - lifestyle economics. What are yours?