You know what’s weird? What’s weird is how much time we’re willing to waste to get a bargain or “save money,” even though time is limited and money is not. We sometimes say that “time is money,” but that’s only true in a very constrained and specific way. Time is the only thing that money cannot buy. Time is the only thing we cannot replace. This is why it can be helpful to think of time in financial terms.
What if we thought of time spent as a tax on our resources?
Which it is, of course!
Being busy costs extra time, and that’s a tax. Extremely busy people feel that they don’t have time to do certain things, such as calling ahead to find out if a store is open or if they have something in stock. Lack of focus on preparation and organization leads directly to wasted time.
I was a witness to this recently. One of those so-busy-we-suspect-drugs people picked me up on the way to a meeting. We were already late. My ride felt a level of time pressure that can only be described as Warp Speed Desperate Frantic Urgent Emergency. The reason? Trying to buy an item that wouldn’t be needed for 18 hours. We made the stop, we asked two employees, we looked all around the store, and the item was not in stock. My ride bought another unrelated product and we stood in line for it.
When we got to the venue for the meeting, half an hour late, it turned out that both items were already on hand. Both the one we were looking for and the one we stood in line to buy.
Not only did we drive around like bats out of hell, showing up late and scattered and frantic, wasting time and money for things we didn’t really need. We also wasted the time of no fewer than eight other people.
Multiply half an hour times ten people (us and the eight others) and that is FIVE HOURS. Five person-hours that could have been used to do other things. What can be done with over half an entire business day? Who knows? We could start, though, by making a list of all the things we “never have time for.” Writing a major report, holding a planning meeting, catching up on email, taking inventory of the supply closet, conducting a training, finally learning to set up the A/V equipment or use an advanced feature in the software... anything other than having eight people stand around waiting on the most chronically disorganized person.
The busy one.
The worst part of this is that a person who is capable of this kind of thing, is capable of doing it more than once. It becomes habitual, as certain as death and taxes.
Having your time taxed by a professional superior, a person whom you can’t disobey, is taxation without representation.
I’m in a situation in which I am often waiting on other people. This is pretty typical in the business world. My dentist is one of the few professionals I know who is always ready on time; my boxing instructor, on the other hand, often starts early. Everyone else, who knows what on earth they’re up to. This creates a lot of predictable time gaps, a tax on my time.
What I do about this is to try to be prepared. This is equivalent to calculating your withholdings ahead of time, so you don’t have to write an unexpected check.
I prepare by keeping a small backlog of minor organizing tasks reserved. When someone makes me wait, it’s not like I’m going to leave for a five-mile run or start watching a movie. I know it’s probably only going to be a few minutes. I can do a lot with five minutes, and every time I do, it makes my to-do list that much shorter.
Do a brain dump and put things on my to-do list
Add something to my online shopping cart
Update my hydration app
Check movie times
Look at my calendar for the week and the month
Unsubscribe from spam email
Delete unwanted email
Read a few messages
Research vacation activities
Read a short article
Curate recent photos, which means deleting most of them
Delete apps off my phone
Honestly, there’s no way I ever feel like I have enough “free time” to do all of these things in a big block. It’s boring.
More importantly, large blocks of uninterrupted time are hard to come by. This is partly because we’re affected by the disorganization of others around us. That, in turn, is why there are so many professionally printed signs on display in businesses around the world that say “Your problem is not my emergency.”
When an uninterrupted block of time does pop up, it can be used for something constructive, like taking a long nap, reading a novel, clearing space for an awesome new project, or going for a walk with a friend.
Time should be ours to do with as we will. It’s taxed at a pretty high rate for the demands of living. Try as we might, we can’t completely avoid the pragmatic needs of eating, bathing, cooking, housework, and dumb administrative tasks. Which reminds me, it’s almost time to renew my drivers license, and hopefully get a much worse photo than I’ve ever had before.
The best we can do is to avoid taxing ourselves. We can be organized enough to prevent that frantic sense of scurrying around, making multiple trips, losing track of things, forgetting appointments, and creating situations where we need to put in double the effort. Every time we have to apologize for screwing up, every time we have to fix problems that we created, every time we have to redo our work, that is a tax we pay for being too busy.
Let’s reclaim our time and focus. Let’s start treating our time like it’s more valuable than money, which, of course, it is. Down with the busy tax!
I've been working with chronic disorganization, squalor, and hoarding for over 20 years. I'm also a marathon runner who was diagnosed with fibromyalgia and thyroid disease 17 years ago.
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