Time: The Most Precious Resource

Let’s begin with a simple, but difficult question: Do you know how long you are going to live?

Sure, you know roughly how long the average human lifespan is – around 70 to 80 years old – but do you know your own?

You don’t. We all don’t. No matter what actions we take or choices we make, there is simply no way to predict how long our lives will be, or more pertinently – how long more we have left on this earth.

The above realization should logically lead us to cherish every bit of time we have to live. Every year, every week, every hour, down to each second that ticks by, every moment is more precious than everything else we could possibly own, because once that bit of time is gone, it’s never coming back. Ever.

Lost time is never found again.

– Benjamin Franklin

But if you take a look at your own life and the lives of many others, can we really say that we live as though every moment is precious?

No. I don’t think we can say that. Today is a Sunday, and most likely we are indeed treasuring the time we have today, as it represents what we have left of the weekend, a period of rest which lasts two days of the week. How long is a week? Seven days. So, at most, we treasure only 2/7ths of our week. Since most of us will be working for the large majority (hopefully not the entire remainder) of our remaining lifespans, that means we only value 28.6% of the limited time we have.

What do we do with the remaining 5/7ths of the week? From Monday morning when we wake up bleary-eyed and force ourselves into work clothes, wolfing down some breakfast before stepping into the office, we are looking forward to only one thing: Lunch break. And once lunch break is over? Then it’s time to look forward to knocking off work. Some of us prefer to take a more big picture approach: Instead of looking forward to the end of the day, we look forward to the end of the work week. Which brings us to the wonder that can only be called the magical relativity of time: It is possible for five days of the week to drag on like countless years, but for the next two days to zip by like mere seconds.

Does the above paragraph describe you and your life? Are you enduring a large majority of your life, in order to enjoy the minority? It is this attitude we take with regard to time – that some time is more valuable than others – that explains why the weeks, months and even years pass by so fast. We are coming to the end of 2015. Did you spend this year well? How much of the year did you cherish and value? Or are you the sort that remarks, “Wow, 2015 really sped by, huh?” When you only live 2/7ths of the year, is it really any wonder why the time flew by so fast?

Why do we live our lives this way? What makes us willingly give up a solid 71.4% of our lives? Chances are, the answer is money. We all need money to put food on the table, don’t we? To pay the bills, and take care of all our creature comforts and insecurities about the future. So, this introduces money as another resource, just like time. How many times have we heard of people who yearn to quit their jobs, but stay for the money? We place a very large importance on the value of money, and while few will dare say that money is the most important resource for fear of being labelled money-minded (see previous article with regard to this fear), the truth is that our actions speak far louder than words. Talk is cheap, after all.

You must have heard the following saying:

When you’re young you have time and energy but no money. When you get older you have money and energy but no time. And later when you finally have time and money, you no longer have energy.

– Annette Gulick

What this quote is really saying is this: You need money, time and energy in order to do the things you want. But is this really true?

My favorite things in life don’t cost any money. It’s really clear that the most precious resource we all have is time.

– Steve Jobs

Do the things you really want to do cost an amount of money that is impossible to earn while one is still young? Because that’s what we all seem to be doing: We keep working with no end in sight. We keep earning money, but we also keep spending it too. What are we really doing when we live life this way? We are exchanging one resource for another. That’s right: We are exchanging our time for money.

Let’s look at this from an economic perspective. Money certainly has an intrinsic value, but so does Time. The key thing that separates the two resources is this: Money is a resource of which more can be earned, no matter how much you already possess. But Time is different. When we are born into the world, we are given a certain amount of time to use. Unlike money, we cannot earn more time. Regardless of what we do, time is a resource that is constantly increasing in scarcity – once it’s gone, it’s gone forever. And what does basic economics say about a scarce resource? That’s right – the rarer it is, the more valuable it is.

So, armed with this new understanding, let’s revisit what we are doing when we spend 5/7ths of the week wishing for it to be over: We are exchanging time, a resource which we can never make more of, for money, a resource which we can always make more of. Maybe it’s time to rethink how we are spending this precious resource called Time (see what I did there?).

If you constantly feel there isn’t enough time to do anything, you aren’t alone. There are so many books, websites and articles out there that will claim to teach you the secrets of time management – how to squeeze a thousand and one things into 24 hours. Just like another productivity gimmick like multi-tasking, time management is a fraud – and a very compelling one at that. For those of us who make extensive lists of all the things we want to accomplish, the idea seems like a godsend – finally, the ability to do everything we want to do, and have some time left over for some R&R.

While this certainly sounds nice, it isn’t a concept that works well in reality. We all have the same 24 hours in a day. Why are some of us able to get done the things we want to do, while others struggle to juggle their many responsibilities and activities? The truth is that we don’t lack for time. We lack priorities.

Since we are unable to estimate how long we have left to live, why do we not make the things we really want to do our priority? Are we stuck in a job we don’t feel anything for but stay in just for the money, earning it month after month, year after year, until finally when we are at the end of our lives, we realize we got the short end of the stick in our Time-for-Money deal? Did all that money earned make us happy? Can we say that we lived a good and meaningful life because of all that money we earned? Or is it more likely that we will regret not spending the most precious resource we had, to create significant and meaningful memories and experiences – things that can allow us to say, “I spent the time I was given well, and I’m ready to go.”

Don’t waste your time, or time will waste you.

– Muse, Knights of Cydonia

The saying ‘YOLO’ may sound cliche, but it does bear the ring of truth of it. What is the most important resource in your life, and how will you spend it?

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