Time, Using Our Most Valuable Resource
Our time is arguably our most valuable and finite resource. We all know that we should use it more effectively, and yet we’re all indoctrinated into the false belief that our personal value stems from our investment of time. But, this is bullshit, time is not an effective measurement of productivity or value.
We all hear people say things like, “I was working until 10 last night”, as though they should receive a pat on the back. We see people posting on social media that they’ve been “grinding” or “hustling” as if it were a badge of honour. We all have that one colleague who lets you know they’ve been on endless Zoom calls today. But these people have missed the point. They have not used their time effectively, they’ve frivolously wasted it.
“People are frugal in guarding their personal property, but as soon as it comes to squandering time they are most wasteful of the one thing in which it is right to be stingy.”Seneca
Time is important, but the narrow assumption that time alone is what will determine our success is completely misguided, and not only that, there are better ways to use time and measure inputs.
By commoditising time, we’re simply offering something that everybody has relatively equal quantity of. We may be willing to part with more of our time, but ultimately, there are many people in the world who are in the same situation as us. What separates us is actually energy. The currency of productivity therefore shouldn’t be hours on a clock, but energy and experience (the latter itself a consequence of good use of energy and time).
It might not always be in our control. We might not get the opportunity to not be on calls all day, but by taking control when we can, we can improve our lives, whether at home or work.
Once we fully appreciate the value of time, we must defend it. It is ours and we choose where to “spend” it.
Giving away more valuable hours can help make up for lack of effective use of time. But isn’t it better to learn to focus properly, to make use of our energy more optimally, and to balance effectiveness with happiness? We shouldn’t have to choose between work and friends, or family, or hobbies, or any of the other things that matter to us and make us happy. Anything that demands that of us isn’t really worth it.
If we’re lucky, we’ll have around 4,000 weeks of life on this Earth, and then that’s it. After that, there’s nothing left for us, our limited time on this planet is up. A 30 year old has lost around 1,560 of those weeks already. Our time isn’t infinite and we should value it more. We shouldn’t be so willing to give it away to others who don’t appreciate it, or to businesses who don’t respect or use it properly. We don’t have enough time to do everything we could possibly do in life, so we have to make decisions and ‘value judgments’, so we can focus on what really matters. Using time is always a balancing act, but ultimately, it is only ourselves who are really accountable for it.
If we don’t respect our own time, others won’t do it for us. Every time someone turns up late to a meeting, or invites us to a Zoom call we have nothing to contribute to, is an act of disrespect and an example of time being wasted. We should see it as theft; the theft of a valuable asset that didn’t belong to them. We should also see how we ourselves might be robbing others of their time too.
Each time that we tolerate the wastage of our time by others, we’re setting a precedent.
Once we value time, we protect it more, and we end up using it more wisely and encouraging others to do the same. We can then make informed decisions on when and where we’re really needed.
Deep Work (Time In a Work Setting)
There are many articles, books, podcasts, and material on the concept of “Deep Work”, but ultimately, it’s about focusing on one thing at one time, rather than juggling many tasks. More than that, it’s also about dedicating time to tasks that are important or aligned to our experience and capability, and delegating tasks that may not be appropriate for us to work on.
Less is more – if we cut out distractions, focus on the job at hand, and complete to a high quality, our time is better spent. Tasks that are best completed by others, or are not a priority for us, should be delegated and reevaluated.
We can improve our Deep Work capabilities by seeing our working hours as blocks of time to be spent in a planned and structured way, rather than approaching whatever comes in on an ad-hoc basis (which is what most of us gravitate to). We should schedule tasks according to priority, and block out sessions in chunks to that task until complete. Some tasks can be completed in a 30 minute session (or “block”), whereas some may span sessions over various days, weeks, or months – but each session should have a milestone, or an objective.
Our cognitive functions should be dedicated to higher value and higher reward tasks, where lower reward tasks are deprioritised or moved away. We shouldn’t allow distractions to seep in until we’re happy that we’ve either completed the task, or achieved what we set out to achieve for that session.
Deep Work is about introducing the discipline of focus to our working lives, and cutting out distraction and noise (such as social media, or Zoom calls).
A handy guide to implementing Deep Work strategy might look like (but in all honesty, is down to the individual to decide the best approach):
- Block out either a session per day (spanning several hours), or block out several days per week. These sessions are for completing particular scheduled priority tasks only. Emails and calls can be handled outside of the sessions.
- We should block time according to our productivity levels. For example; If we are naturally more energetic and motivated in the morning, then Deep Work should happen in the morning so we can maximise our energy on complex or high reward tasks. Any low-reward tasks can then be completed when our energy subsides so less cognitive effort is needed to complete.
- It’s not possible to be in “Deep Work” mode all the time without burning out, so we must optimise these sessions for when we can commit to them.
- To prevent meetings or calls being placed into our diaries, we can simply block out the time in our calendar, just as if it were a meeting.
Personal Balance is the True Goal
All of this is well and good, but we don’t live purely to be productive (that would not be a very rewarding existence). But by being more productive when it’s needed, we free up the rest of our time to build in other things that are equally or more important. By using ‘productive time’ effectively (e.g. career, business, self-employment, charity), we allow ourselves the space needed to spend time on family, home, pets, and ourselves; it means we can go for walks, have hobbies, watch TV, or stare at walls (if that’s your thing).
There’s a time for productivity, and there’s a time for doing whatever the hell makes us happy. Our definition of success is ours, and ours alone. Chasing other people’s dreams, will never lead to true happiness. Success to one person may be getting rich and famous, to someone else, it may be living comfortably with a family and a job they don’t hate. We all get to set our own bar for success, based on what will make us happy, and without putting unrealistic expectations on ourselves. Once we do that, everything else falls into place.
It’s important to remember, that even if we love our job, we are not our job. That is rarely what defines us. It’s important to create a barrier between home and work, to decompress, and to spend time on the things that make us happy.
Some people “make it” by “hustling” at all hours of the day and night, many don’t. There are many roads that lead to the same place, but we all have to make a decision on whether to compromise on our time and our happiness, or to live in the present. It’s true that we get out what we put in, but time isn’t our only input. There are many attributes that can make us successful, but most importantly of all is the energy and experience we put in. Time can be a good substitute for energy and experience, but I know I’d rather maximise my energy so I can maximise my down-time, and I know others are increasingly seeing this too.
And One Last Thing… The Flexible Working Revolution
All of this is exactly why the Flexible Working revolution happened, and as some have called it, The Great Resignation.
The COVID pandemic may have been the catalyst, where home working was a necessity, but it forced us to focus inwards, to value ourselves, our families, and our hobbies. It forced us to see what life without hours spent commuting felt like, or what it meant to be home straight after work, or not to bed early and get up at 5am to sit at a desk all day.
I don’t believe fully remote working is right for most people. There’s a lot of value to socialising and collaborating in an office, for ourselves, our knowledge, and our career. But I also believe it is not a dichotomy. The alternative isn’t 5-days sat in an office, it’s about flexibility.
You can read more in my previous post, Hybrid Working: The Best of All Worlds