In today’s society, we are very concerned with the value of money. The problem with this approach is that when we consider money as our most valuable resource, we forget other resources that are sometimes more valuable than what we have saved in the bank. As a mother, an academic, an economist, and a time-use researcher, I am here to remind you of your most valuable resource: your time.
We generally start the year off by discussing various planning principles, goals, and objectives. The primary aim of these discussions is to ensure that the goals you set for the year will be realistic and achievable, in addition to a number of other descriptors, depending on the planning framework you will be using. But this year, I want to urge you to take a step back from this ‘doing’ process to ask yourself whether the plans you are making and the relationships you are fostering are worth your time.
When we make a poor purchase or seek reparation from a dodgy supplier of goods, we are often given a monetary value as compensation, whether it be a refund, or a court order for a specified amount to be paid back to us. With time, we, unfortunately, do not have this luxury – we simply can’t get back spent and/or wasted time. Think about a time you sat on the telephone with a service provider trying to sort out your cellphone contract or fiber line. Or being sent from pillar to post by staff within a bank to solve a simple issue. Often the errors made in such instances are not our fault, but we are never given back our spent resources: our time.
There are many private sector firms who steal our time on a daily basis by understaffing a call centre, for instance, or a government department under-capacitating a clinic or a home affairs office. Many of us have no choice but to wait. It is unfortunate and unsurprising that research has found that the cost of waiting is borne most heavily by the poorest in our societies.
But, it is not just others who waste our time, we also tend to waste our own time. We waste our own time by signing up with service providers who charge us low fees for services but cost us a lot of time by providing those services poorly. We waste our own time by being unable to say ‘no’ to commitments that won’t yield any benefits in the future and often additionally drain our energy; leaving us with even less time for the things that truly matter.
But how do you decide what is worth your time and will be worth your time going forward? This is a difficult question to answer, especially if you want to avoid the socially expected goals and objectives many peers fall prey to. To help you out, I am listing three questions for your to chew on as you think about how you are going to spend your year:
Who do I want to be?
Distinct from the ‘what do you want to be’ that we often get asked at a young age, ‘who do you want to be’ requires a different framing of how you view your future self. Who is the character when it is stripped of all its possessions and titles. Outside of being a mother and an academic and someone with a particular car or certain bank balance, who am I now, and who do I want to be in the future?
I often think about this question in the context of the first few sentences of an obituary. These are generally dedicated to the character of a person, not what they had or who they had, those things come toward the end.
If it means that I want to be remembered as a helpful person, this would mean taking time out of my day to assist a colleague or fellow student, often taking time away from my own important tasks. If I am an extreme introvert, however, and small talk drains me, being a friendly or talkative person probably won’t come effortlessly.
If I want to be remembered as extremely generous, then my plans to accumulate as much wealth as I can this year, toward my ultimate goal of owning a private jet will probably not gel. (Note: nothing wrong with not wanting to be generous). The point is, you need to decide who you want to be, bearing in mind that you cannot be everything to everyone!
What is important to that person?
If you have decided who you want to be, it will be easier to determine what is going to be important and what is not. If you are hell-bent on becoming the CEO in a fast-paced industry, then spending 15 minutes of your day helping your colleague align the margins on her Word document is probably not the best use of your time, unless you view this as an investment in the future towards your identified goals.
Look, there’s a reason politicians are hyper-visible before an election and missing thereafter. They don’t have time to chit-chat, but when they need votes, they need to do the grunt work. After an election, there is simply no need to do this, they already have the job!
As horrible as this sounds, it is a simple truth. You don’t need to be as calculating as a politician, but you have to reflect on whether what you are busy with is going to help you become who you want to be in the future, bearing in mind that there are multiple ways to be what you want to be.
For instance, let’s go back to the CEO example. Most CEOs are extremely busy and thus need meticulous time management skills. This forces them to decide on a daily basis what is important and what is not. But this is an example of what you want to become not who you want to become. If you want to be someone who will be remembered for being patient and making time for every single person who needs you on a particular day, but you also want to be a CEO, you need to think about whether what you want to become is congruent with who you want to become. And yes, maybe you will trailblaze a new model to CEOing by being the first CEO to behave like they have an infinite amount of hours in their day, and if that’s going to work for you, then do that. But remember, this will not be your primary job description, and the things you need to make time for will suffer, because no one has more than 24 hours in their day.
For now, this may mean dropping your books and supporting a friend, because you want to be a good friend, and sometimes it means missing a party to study because you are a hardworking individual. Can you be a good friend and a CEO in the future? Yes, you can! Can you be hardworking and a CEO in the future? Absolutely! The point is, who needs to be more important than what, but the closer you get to your what, the more vital decisions about various time-related trade-offs will become. If you do the work of deciding who you want to be now, making those decisions in the future will be far easier.
Which choices should I make today to become that person tomorrow?
This is my favourite question of the three because there is nothing more tempting than a good dose of procrastination. But don’t worry, I’ve given you time till tomorrow and tomorrow only.
If you value, really value, your time, you will quickly realise the wastage that’s happening right now. But wastage doesn’t always look the way we think it does, it simply means spending time on things that don’t matter.
If you feel like you need a walk in the park because you’re a bit stressed out, go for it! Not wasting your time doesn’t mean not doing anything, it also doesn’t mean doing things you don’t want to do, it simply means doing things that don’t matter and that you don’t want to do. On the odd occasion, we may need to do necessary tasks which we don’t want to do, in which case we just need to be brave. If you’re having trouble deciding, consult the matrix below:
So, go ahead, don’t be afraid to scrap that project or relationship that does not fulfill you and will not allow you to reap any future benefits. Let it go and watch the fruits of choosing quality over quantity grow!