Time is money

Select your fixed and variable times

Time management writers frequently remark that time is money. By doing so they hope to convey the importance of time. But of course, there is no comparison. Time is so much more valuable than money. It is life itself. And yet, some people treat time as though it were money. It slips through their fingers as they squander it relentlessly.

Just as we sometimes engage in impulse buying, we similarly engage in impulse spending of time. And just as we sometimes discover that our money has been depleted with little to show for it, one day we discover that our life has been depleted with little to show for it. But there is a big difference; we can always earn more money, but we will never be able to earn more time. When time’s gone, we’re gone.

In industry, there are fixed costs and variable costs. Variable costs vary with sales, such as the product’s direct costs, shipping costs and royalties. Fixed costs must be paid regardless of the volume of sales, such as rent, utilities and licensing fees. In your personal life, there are fixed costs as well, such as mortgage payments, taxes, and food and clothing, regardless of the volume of work that you do or the number of hours you work. You have variable costs as well, such as gas for your car, entertainment and travel.

One way of saving involves treating an otherwise variable cost as though it were fixed. Thus a lump sum would be diverted into a savings or RRSP or RIA automatically each month. Most people who do this find that once they have adjusted their variable spending to accommodate this new “fixed” cost, they seldom notice any perceptible drop in their standard of living.

Similarly we should consider treating a variable time amount such as family time, vacation time, and quiet time, as a “fixed” cost of living. Schedule that time in your planner first, as though it were as much a necessity as sleep time and work time. Then use what is left for everything else. You may find activities such as vacations, exercise or reading can be realized without sacrificing any essentials of life. It may cut into TV watching, idle time, or window shopping; but those activities are probably not priorities.

When we find that meaningful activities are being crowded out of our lives, it’s not a case of too little time, it’s a case of irresponsible spending. There is plenty of time in life for the things that really count. But we must budget time for these things and let them be realized at the expense of the trivial.

Just as there are forms for budgeting money, there is a time management form designed for budgeting time. It is called a time planner, diary, agenda, calendar or a host of other synonyms. Choose it carefully. Many planners limit scheduling or budgeting of time to a nine-to-five day, yet the most meaningful activities could take place beyond the normal workday. Others sacrifice much-needed space in order to make it fit into a pocket or purse. Some treat Saturday and Sunday as afterthoughts, and allocate a small amount of space to those days. Day-at-a-glance planners prevent you from seeing the whole week in perspective, while month-at-a-glance planners do not have enough space to facilitate hour-by-hour budgeting. There are digital planners as well, and some people are able to use them effectively.

As a time management consultant, I have been able to design my own planner, geared to my own needs. If you also have the opportunity to design a planner that will reflect your philosophy and style, do so. The best planner is one you design for yourself. Otherwise, shop around. Don’t settle for a planner that has been given to you free of charge each year. It could be costly. Time is life, and life is the most precious resource we have. Budget it wisely.