1. The Value of Time

In my classes, I frequently run a little experiment. First, I ask the students to tell me what is meant by the expression, “Time is money.” The answers are generally along these lines:

• “Time is very valuable; it’s as valuable as money.”

• “You can use time to earn money.”

• “You can use money to buy time—to hire help around the house or at work.”

• “If you waste time, you’ve lost the money you could have earned during that time.”

I then ask the class to raise their hand if they believe the expression is true. Most do.

“Let’s test that,” I say. “How many of you, in the past month, participated in a meeting or phone call that went way past the point you thought useful? And yet, you didn’t leave that meeting or call, and so you wound up wasting half an hour or more of your time?”

In most classes, nearly every hand goes up.

I then ask a second question: “How many of you, if an acquaintance or stranger walked up to you and asked you to give them fifty dollars, for no particular reason, just because they wanted it, would give them the money?”

In most classes, there’s a moment of silence as students ponder this odd scenario. Then, no hands go up, and everyone starts to laugh.

The lesson is clear: even though most of us believe that time equals money, and some of us actually go around using that expression, we tend to value our time far less than our money. Many of us, in fact, are perfectly happy to waste loads of our “valuable” time not just on superfluous meetings and conversations, but on things like video games and junk TV.

Undervaluing your time is a terrible mistake because time, as it turns out, does not equal money: it’s far more valuable than money. The fact that relatively few people understand this is probably why so many people, including so many people with lots of money, live unhappy, unfulfilled lives.

Time is more valuable than money not just because it is a finite (limited) resource, but because time, invested properly, can bring rewards that money never can.

Picture two people, both trying to get physically fit. The first guy has lots of money but no time, while the second guy has not much money but lots of time.

The first guy uses his money to join a fancy health club, hire a personal trainer, and acquire lots of fancy sports equipment. But he doesn’t make the time to actually go to the gym, work with the trainer or use the equipment.

The second guy can afford only a used set of weights from a garage sale. But he uses them for an hour a day, plus runs for another forty minutes.

Guess who’s going to get fit?

We’re all familiar with the parent who never spends any time with her children, but tries to compensate by buying them expensive stuff. Is she likely to win her children’s affection through her presents? Not in any meaningful way. She can only do that by spending time with them.

There is also no question that time is more valuable than money when it comes to activism. We’ve all seen situations where buckets of money were thrown at a social problem, or at an activist or nonprofit organization, with little or no result to show for it. We’ve also seen situations where activists achieved amazing things on a shoestring budget. That’s because, in activism as in life in general, time is far more powerful than money. You can get much further with a little money and a lot of time well spent, than with a lot of money and only a little time well spent—or with a lot of money and a lot of time badly spent.

Activists, in my experience, are less likely than most people to trade their time unthinkingly for a superficial material benefit. But, like most people, they are not particularly good at using their time in a focused manner to achieve their goals.

Time Management = Life Management

Time management is important because it really is “life management.” The basic premise of time management is this:

Time Management Premise

The things you spend time on, and devote quality attention to, are the things you will improve at or make progress on. In contrast, the things you don’t spend time on, or devote quality attention to, are the things you will not improve at or make progress on.

This is one of the most fundamental pieces of wisdom you will ever encounter. It means, basically, that how you spend your time determines where you will end up. Spend a lot of time and quality attention on your health and fitness, and you will end up healthy and fit. Spend a lot of time and quality attention on your activism, and you will end up an accomplished and successful activist. Spend a lot of time and quality attention on television and video games, however, and you will end up accomplished at these low-value activities.

“Quality attention” means not just putting in your time, but putting in your mind: being focused on, and thoughtful about, the activity at hand. Of course, it’s possible to devote forty, or eighty, hours a week to something and not really be focused on it. In that case, your odds of making progress are little better than they would have been if you hadn’t devoted time to it at all.

Time, invested properly, will help you achieve the Activism, Health & Fitness, Relationships, Money and Whole Person goals you set for yourself in your Personal Mission Statement. A lifetime spent working toward these important goals, as opposed to the wrong goals or no goals, will most likely be one of accomplishment, peace and joy.