In Search of Time Affluence: Part 1

Is time really money? Or is it the other way around?

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You know that feeling you get when you realize there are not enough hours in a day to do everything you need to do? Apparently there’s an academic term for that, being time poor. And, according to the research of author and Harvard Business School professor Ashley Whillans, chronic time stress can have a stronger negative effect on happiness than being unemployed. People who are time poor laugh less, experience less joy, and are less healthy, less productive and more likely to divorce.

You can see why I’m newly obsessed with the topic after hearing an interview about it on CBC Radio (Canada’s version of NPR if you’re American).

I managed to track down a digital copy of Ashley Whillans new book Time Smart: How to Reclaim Your Time and Live a Happier Life and I’m going to share my experience working through the various toolkits/worksheets with you over the coming weeks.

Why I’m Concerned About My Time

Looking back, I would say I experienced peak time stress right before I went on my sick leave from work. Because of my depression, I never felt like I had enough time for anything - work, leisure, anything. This was mainly due to the fact my head wasn’t a very happy place to be and it took me much longer than normal to get anything done.

Since we moved, my mental health has stabilized somewhat, but I’ve still been feeling time stressed. Just for different reasons.

My commute to work is longer now, I’m working more hours at my day job and I’ve taken on some freelance work in the evenings. Essentially, I’m trading time for more money and now I’m starting to feel the crunch.

Which is why I’m so fascinated by Time Smart. The basic premise of the book is that we (as a society) are overvaluing money and undervaluing our time. This can happen in big actions (like choosing a job far away from family), or in small actions (like spending hours researching deals to save you money).

Ashely’s research findings are controversial. I get that. They contradict what we’ve been hard wired to believe, that time is money and that more money is more valuable than more time.

What Time Smart tries to explain, using Ashley’s research, is that money is time. And time is finite.

As someone constantly on the search for the ideal minimalist/intentional life, I am fascinated by what Time Smart’s implications could mean (such as that spending hours thrifting might not be the best use of my time).

If you glean even a small insight from my experience, then this series will be worth it.

Chapter 1 of the book explains the six most common time traps and then asks readers to examine their own time habits within those categories.

Time Trap One: Technology

Aka: checking texts, emails and other notifications and letting them fragment your time or using websites to research purchasing decisions, etc.

I have a pretty bad habit of checking my social notifications fairly frequently in the evenings and don’t even get me started on how much time I spend on TikTok. I do also tend to spend lots of time researching secondhand purchases like clothing and electronics.

Time Trap Two: Work Obsession

Aka: focusing on earning more money in hopes you’ll reach a point where you’re satisfied, and it will free up time then.

This is much less of a problem for me. I am under no illusion that making more money now will buy me more time later. I am also pretty adamant about not doing work in my ‘off’ hours, current freelancing excluded. I don’t have a work phone right now, but even when I did in my old job, I very rarely checked it in the evening. My employer may pay my salary, but they don’t get to take over my evenings. They just don’t.

Time Trap Three: Undervalued Time

Aka: choosing the cheapest price no matter how much time it costs.

I’ll be honest, I do this a lot. I will spend hours researching some piece of secondhand or vintage clothing that I want or a refurbished electronic, trying to find the best version at the cheapest price. I am curious to do more reading on this topic later in the book, because this research for me isn’t just about price as I prefer to buy secondhand items for environmental reasons, and I derive joy from thrifting clothes.

Time Trap Four: Busyness as Status

Aka: appearing to be working at all times and tying self-worth to work.

This is a definite no for me. I have almost an aversion or repulsion to busyness. I am not the person who wears ‘busy’ as a badge of honour. And I don’t find it admirable when other people do. But, I have struggled with self-worth and work, especially when I don’t think what I’m doing is valuable or meaningful (this might be a millennial issue).

Time Trap Five: Idleness Aversion

Aka: fearing that downtime is wasted time and filling it with low-value activities.

This one is a bit of a mixed bag for me. I am perfectly content to spend an afternoon knitting or pickling something or anything else that I would consider downtime (or what other people would consider a waste of time). Especially when I am on my own. I am the happiest when left to my own devices.

However, I do get frustrated when I know people around me want to do something, but then don’t feel motivated to do it. Then I definitely feel like I am ‘wasting’ time.

Time Trap Six: The Yes…damn! Effect

Aka: committing to too many future activities because it seems you’ll have more time in the future.

As an introvert, this one is not really a problem for me. I am very against making plans or committing to things as a general rule. But, I do feel awkward when I have to say ‘no’ to something or someone. I still do it, but like, I’m awkward about it.

Most of these categories are a mixed bag for me. I know I have some work to do in some areas (like not letting my technology fragment my time or undervaluing my time when researching purchases), but other areas are fairly easy for me (like not finding pride in being busy). I also know that I am going to struggle more with some categories in my new work situation, so I’m curious to learn more about how to protect my time.

What I do believe strongly, and why I am probably so interested in this book, is that time is not a renewable resource. More importantly, none of us truly know how much time we have.

Stay tuned for Part 2 of my In Search of Time Affluence series. Chapter 2 of Time Smart is all about finding time and funding time. And I can’t wait!

Do you feel time stressed? What time trap would be the most difficult for you?

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