Valuing, Capturing & Investing Time Empowers & Feeds Well-Being
“The trouble is, you think you have time.” – Buddha
Time plays an essential role in life. So much of what we do is measured by it.
It’s how we organize and structure our days, with calendars and schedules, and how we mark milestones like birthdays and anniversaries. Our seconds and hours, our months and decades – all catalogue the uninterrupted, progression of life’s events.
Most valuable of resources
On average, each of us get about 28,215 days on earth. And no more.
That’s if we’re lucky. Many of us won’t get near that many.
Our time is limited, and life is short.
Even shorter now: that average lifespan is now a year-and-a-half less than just a couple of years ago due to the impact of COVID. That’s a loss of about 550 days.
Not a one of us knows how much time we have left. That’s what makes life precious, and time, the most valuable of resources.
“Discipline is your relationship with the time that you have left.” - Barbara McNally
Time may be money, but once it’s gone, it’s gone
The value of money has long been used as a way to value time.
As limited resources, both can be spent, invested, or squandered.
Our consumer culture feeds the myth that the more material things one has, the happier one is. In focusing on the almighty dollar and all that it affords us, we can give short shrift to an even scarcer resource: our time.
The general idea is that we give up one for the other. But time, unlike money is strictly limited.
Once gone, you can never buy it back, earn it back, win it back, steal it back. No matter what you do or who you are or what you have, time can never come again.
Valuing time, money & happiness
Research by Harvard Business School professor Ashley Whillans, et al. (2015) found that overall well-being in life is significantly impacted by how we regard our time, and how we use it.
Their study showed a strong connection between people that tended to value time over money, and greater levels of happiness. This was true regardless of income level, marital status, or level of materialism or affluence.
Underlying this link is how valuing time over money impacts time-use: both in what we choose to spend time doing, as well as how we maximize and capture the time we have.
“It is not enough to be busy … The question is: what are we busy about?” – Henry David Thoreau
Valuing time drives life choices, happiness
Valuing time is more than a motivational screensaver or bumper sticker.
Instead, it’s active. It’s behavioral.
Lee-Yoon and Whillans (2018) found that those people who prioritized time over money reported greater well-being and happiness. This was in part due to their increased likelihood of using time in ways that made them happy.
Researchers found the connection between valuing time over money and time use behaviors big and small. The key seemed the pursuit of ‘intrinsically motivated’ interests, disconnected from external catalysts or rewards.
Whillans, et al. (2019) tracked 1,000 university graduates and compared those that valued time over money and vice versa, for a year post-graduation.
The researchers found that a year after this big transition, the graduates who valued time over money tended to select more intrinsically fulfilling pursuits, and were happier a year on.
Ultimately, how we value our time is how we value ourselves. This can mean knowing who we are enough to pursue a life that is our own or not wasting time on people undeserving.
Valuing time over money has also shown to extend to daily behavior and consumer choices.
The quality of life is a culmination of the quality of many moments in time. While you can never buy time back, money can be used as a tool to expand the quality of the time we have.
This can mean exotic vacations but it also can mean paying for closer parking, opting for direct flights that get you in earlier, or eating the cost rather than spending your time to return small problem orders.
Though it makes for a way-less-exciting social media post, your time: more hours for you on this day – becomes just as important as the new toy or designer whatever we can spend our money on.
“Time is a created thing. To say ‘I don’t have time’ is to say ‘I don’t want to.’” – Lao Tzu
Aligning time spent & goals, purpose
Many of us have goals and dreams.
Whatever they are, we’d better get on it. The clock is ticking. We’re either taking advantage of these days or we’re not.
Rule #1: don’t complain you don’t have the time.
We all have the same number of hours in a day: you, me, Yonce’.
We all make time for what we consider important. Every little thing we spend time doing adds up to our life. The question is whether it matches what we had planned.
The difference is in how we either maximize those hours, or watch them float away. I can’t speak to Mrs. Carter’s time management skills but I do know she’s not sitting around waiting for something to happen.
The degree to which we can capture and manage the time we are given will determine our success. If our busy calendars, schedules and to-do lists do not reflect repeat, strategic action aimed at where we’re trying to be, we’re doing it wrong.
This is where learning to better recognize the significance of, and harness those fleeting hours can help.
“You have more power than you think.
You have more authority over your life and your days than you think.” – Shauna Niequist
Capturing, managing, prioritizing time
Because of its of precious value, we must seize the day.
There’s no shortage of ways to organize daily list of tasks and responsibilities and time management techniques to move things along. Just ask any search engine.
But there’s a fundamental skill that makes any of that effective: To be able to know, all the time, what’s the most important. Is it making dinner reservations or looking at the 4-year-old’s art project they brought home?
To be able to clearly compare A vs. B: What’s more critical? More urgent? More valuable? More meaningful?
Next, to be willing and able to prioritize those items of greater importance first, and move all the rest, from less-important to clear distractions to the bottom.
This ranking is fluid and new things will come up, and somethings will drop in importance. Being able to constantly re-adjust and focus on what’s most important, is a beautiful skill indeed – especially if humanity and empathy rise to the top.
If you can recognize and prioritize the most important and fulfilling things in life, you’re halfway there.
“Waiting is surrendering a block of time to someone else, or to a schedule, which is not of our own making, and may not even be in our own best interests.” – Sarah Ban Breathnach
Defending and protecting time
Incoming emails, texts and phone calls are everybody else’s to-do list for you.
While much is unavoidable, it’s us that allows the demands, and even just the random stream-of-consciousness of others, to cut in line ahead of our own prioritized list for our life. We do not have to react to everything that comes our way.
In a never-ending sea of distractions and diversions, what is truly worth our valuable time and attention?
Perception of time & age
There’s actual time and there’s our perception of time. More than sometimes, the two can diverge.
Chronoception is the study of time perception: how individual subjective experience influences a person’s sense of time.
As our brains age, we tend to perceive time passing more quickly. We also tend to underestimate the amount of length between time periods the older we get.
That’s something to look forward to: No matter what’s happening in your life right now, at some point soon, this will all be a blur.
For some of us, this year just flew by. For the younger set, it just dragged on and on.
“Time, consoler of affliction and softener of anger.’” – Charles Dickins
Time changes things and changes us
So, time flies, flies, flies.
But it can also serve to put things in perspective and help us see the value in the increasingly-limited time we have left. It gets easier to separate what’s truly important from everything else.
As we collect the years, we change and circumstances change. Time can soften things and soften us. It can turned authoritative parents into acquiescent grandparents.
She takes a lot of heat but she also comes bearing gifts.
Sometimes, time is the only way out of pain. It helps us forget the rancid details and dulls the sharp edges of real life.
In that process of rosy retrospection, we can take stock of all the good that time brought us and leave the no-longer-useful in the dust.
“Every moment counts. Every second matters.” – Elie Wiesel