The Economy of Time, and Ways to Buy More of It

The Economy of Time, and Ways to Buy More of It

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the economy of time

When we think of value or worth, our most immediate tool of measurement is currency. I could spend £30 on this, or I could spend it on something else. Which is worth more to me?

We look at the profession we’re going to enter and think about what will give us the right salary to enable us to exchange that for the life we want to lead. That salary may be exchanged for meals out, property, holidays and other things we enjoy. Larger salary = more access to those things. 

It’s a useful tool of measurement. It allows us to think about our choices, and make decisions about what something is worth to us. 

But is having lots of money really the ultimate luxury? 

Photo by Annette Schuman on Unsplash the economy of time

The pursuit of money can be valuable if you’re clear that what you plan to exchange it for, is worth what it takes to get that money.

But what it takes is, in my opinion, the most valuable resource any of us have. And also something that equalises us, as humans.

Time. Weeks, days, hours, minutes. Ours to spend as we choose.

Wherever you go in the world, time has the same exchange rate. Something which is of course not true of money. In the US, $30 might buy you a meal out, at an average restaurant, without wine. In Cambodia, for the same price you could probably add a bottle and pay for your friend’s meal. In London City Centre £400k might buy you a studio flat. Head to the North of the UK and you’ve got eight extra rooms for the same amount of money. Time has no exchange rate. You don’t get to increase the length of a minute by moving to Geneva.

This is something we know, but we rarely actually think about, reverting instead to money as our choice of measurement.

Our collective economy grew when we started to trade skills; you are quicker at building a table, I am quicker at maths, let’s exchange. Today though, we tend to assume that money is something we get for our time, rather than thinking of time as something we can get from our money.

It’s this relationship between money and time that I am particularly interested in. Whilst money can’t literally extend time, it can in many ways buy you time. The world’s greatest luxury.

A simple example of this is paying for a cleaner. You save yourself that two hours cleaning in exchange for money.

You can buy private healthcare to reduce waiting time for treatments.

An accountant. That’s something you can buy so you don’t have to spend a day processing your tax information. Deliveroo; for money, you can buy time you would otherwise have spent cooking. A tutor; for money you can buy someone to help teach your children so you don’t have to put your own time to it. For yourself, say you want to learn the piano, it’s perfectly possible to do so without lessons. However, for some money, you can speed up the process by paying for a teacher.

You can spend your money on things which look good to other people (jewellery, nice furniture, even Instagram followers). But you can also spend your money on things which extend the time you have available to do things you love.

I wonder how things would change if we started looking at time as our most valuable commodity? If we said thing like, “Ah it cost me a weekend, but it was worth it”, and meant it. We sometimes joke after an unhelpful meeting, or bad date, “there goes two hours of my life I can’t get back”. But it’s a true statement. Time isn’t energy. It isn’t an infinite resource.

“The price of anything is the amount of life you exchange for it.” — Henry David Thoreau

It is so important to think for yourself about what you want to give yours to. To ensure it is an active decision. Because unlike money, you can’t give it to someone you think may be better qualified to invest it. It is both your birthright and your own independent economy to exchange.

In order to write and DJ alongside a full time job, I had to find time. I wanted to find time to see where my ideas might take me. These are some of the things I’ve given up or reduced, in order to gain more time:

  • Hangovers
  • Cooking
  • Long holidays
  • Social Media
  • TV Series
  • Ironing
  • Certain friendships

As is my right, I may decide soon to take some of those up again. That they are actually a worthy use of my time. But for now — I’m happy with my investment decisions.

“And every day, the world will drag you by the hand, yelling, ‘This is important! And this is important! And this is important! You need to worry about this! And this! And this!’”

And each day, it’s up to you to yank your hand back, put it on your heart and say, “No. This is what’s important.’” 

— Iain Thomas

About the Author

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