Trading in Time

(“Why am I Always So Tired?” – How Discerning the Cost of Anything is Essential to Living Well, Part II)

This is Part II of a series looking at how discerning the non-monetary cost of things in our lives can help us figure out why we’re so tired – and how we can live better.

In Part I, I wrote about shifting our definition of “cost” from that of mere monetary valuation to a more accurate weighing up of the amount of life something requires of us. How much life do we have to trade in to get the thing?

Most of us aren’t used to thinking of cost in terms of life: we’ve been trained from an early age to consider the price tag as an accurate representation of how much something is worth, rather than asking ourselves what the life-cost is to us.

There are three main ways to start thinking about life-cost: time, energy, and emotional expenditure.

Let’s talk about the life-cost of time.

All of us have the same amount of time in a day – most of us lament not having enough of it. But perhaps part of our struggle is that we don’t value the things in our day by the time they take from us: we just pay the cost without pausing to consider if it’s worth it.

Many of us seem to value our time much less than we value our money. We rarely pause to consider how much time we devote to anything – and yet, time is a much more fixed asset than money. In a free market economy, we always have the possibility of making more money – but there is simply no way to make more time.

Day in and day out, there are twenty-four hours available to us. Do we know how we spend our time? How can we start being more attentive to the time cost of things?

Practical Tips for Discerning Time-Cost in Our Lives

If you’ve never tracked your time, now’s a good time to start. Find an app you like, make a spreadsheet, or just go analogue with a pen and paper. Choose one average day and make notes, from the moment you get up to the moment you go to bed, about how you are spending your time. Or, map out your (actual, not scheduled) time over the course of a week. Colour-code it if you’re feeling energetic. You might be surprised by what you find.

Here’s a simple example of how trading your time for a task might not actually be worth it to you, even if it saves you money:

Everyone needs to care for their clothing, which takes some amount of time. How much of your life do you mind spending on laundry? Some people aren’t bothered by the time-cost of things like folding, ironing, handwashing, or dry-cleaning. Some people are. If you feel that laundry is positively a waste of life, why would you own clothing that requires a lot of time – a lot of life – for upkeep? If laundry just makes you tired, why not minimize how much time you give it?

Could you pause to consider how to stop trading so much of your time for something you don’t consider to be valuable? Maybe you could get rid of the dreaded “to be ironed / handwashed/ dry cleaned” pile in the corner, by replacing most of your clothing with “easy care” fabrics? If that’s impossible, could you give the chore to someone else in the family, or pay someone else to do it?

If money is tight, remember that you’re currently trading your life for laundry. Would you rather spend your time on something that you enjoy and earns money? (Even if that money only covers the cost of paying someone else to do the thing you hate?) How could you make that happen?

Remember, ultimately, time is limited. We can’t make more of it, we can only trade it for other things. What do you want to trade yours for?