Give it time

I recently posted on Facebook and article about being a “timeist” from Jim Taylor Ph.D. – original article here “Don’t Waste Your Time (It’s Precious)“.

I’ve been fascinated by the responses it has elicited. As friends have shared it, the piece has been exposed to a real spectrum of people. As with any thought provoking piece, I guess it is challenging to some, and to others the concept of being a timeist is easy to understand.

To explain the responses, some have focussed on the way the piece is constructed, some have said the author is selfish, some have cautioned about being close minded. Others have agreed with the authors premise. 

Me, I’m a timeist. I’m a black and white thinker. I quickly try and resolve areas of grey and park things in the yes or no, right or wrong box.

I think that actually, everyone can choose how they want to explore the concept of being a timeist. And, there is no correct answer other than the one you choose. Many people would look at “Plan, Do, Review” as an example of how to do things at work. Equally, those investing money take a view on risk and return. And why not take time, as with any commodity in the same vein?

To expand the discussion, I think to really get a perspective of the value of time, it is important to look at the frame of reference you make your judgement. Yes it is a physical reference, and as much as I want to talk about two people travelling away from each other at just over half the speed of light, and what they would see of each other -think about that if you have time, a lot of it, I shan’t!

Personally, I think as a commodity, time is often overlooked. But here is my frame of reference, and how I value the commodity.

I think much of this is actually about our general feel, or denial of mortality. In the UK we have an average life expectancy of 81.5 years. So we make choices on our phases of life based on that. Roughly, 20 years growing up, 40 years working and 20 years in retirement. But let’s explore a what if.

When would you change how you live your life, how far out do you need to look before you need to change your behaviour today?

Say you’re 30 today, you’ve 50 years to live – do anything differently? What if a doctor said you’d make 50? I still don’t think many people would choose to live their life differently. My belief is that even if a doctor tells you that you have 5 years to live, still very few people would choose to change their actions. But make it close. Take financial concerns away, what if a crystal ball showed you that you’d get run over by a bus in a month, in a week, or in a day? Yes, there would be panic, but actually, my belief is you’d prioritise your time. And to me this is the fundamental of being a timeist.

We have no such crystal ball. You do not know when you need to make that call of how to prioritise your time.

I learnt being a timeist as a teenager. It went like this. And it is written (oversimplified) from my Dad’s perspective.

General plan – be a success at work, make money, retire with my wife by the sea when I’m 55 and enjoy sailing.

What actually happened.

  • 1947-1973 growing up, loving material things, desires of being upwardly mobile.
  • 1974 Son is born
  • To 1985, being a success in the City of London
  • 1986 Wife has primary lung cancer
  • 1988 Wife develops secondary cancer
  • 1990 Wife dies of cancer (aged 42)
  • 1991-1992 Re-evaluating life choices
  • 1992 Diagnosed with colon cancer
  • 1994 Die from Cancer (aged 47)

From my perspective, my Dad worked hard, seriously hard. Left home at 7am and was generally not home before 7pm. So his time away from the house (it was a nice house) was 60+ hours a week. So, for 48 weeks a year, he invested 20 hours in commuting. For me there were 16 years like that  – that’s 640 days that I lost spending time with my Dad before I could drive.

I spent really amazing time with Mum as a result of their choices, and from 1990-94 I spent a huge amount of time with Dad in a number of different ways and roles.

I don’t resent their choices, not at all. But, as hindsight has been to the opticians, I had many discussions with my Dad about his choices. It was enlightening to see his black and white thinking being challenged by the reality that his life expectancy wasn’t as he had expected.

But, for me it has put a value on time, how many days of time could I have extra with my Dad. Today, as a 41 year old, an hour with Mum or Dad would be beyond any monetary value I can define. To have an adult relationship with them, hell, having a teenage relationship not bound by radiotherapy, chemotherapy, surgery, anti-emetics, colostomy bags, hospital visits, funerals, house moves and all the associated guff that goes with terminal illness, would be priceless.

So, my choices, are bound by this frame of reference – I’ve never expected to live beyond 46. I’ve had a longer relationship, that I’m aware of with my Dog than with my Mum. Could I have acquired more with different decisions? Undoubtedly. Could I have a different set of interactions? Undoubtedly. If my crystal ball showed me dying tomorrow would I live today differently? No.

And that, that is my definition of being a timeist, and it is a comment that came on Facebook that really resonated “Time is the coin of your life. It is the only coin you have and only you can determine how it will be spent. Be careful lest you let other people spend it for you.”

So ask yourself, how could you invest time differently into those most precious people around you? How can you invest in yourself?

That investment may have financial ramifications, but all, bar none need time. Would you give  money without meaning? Why should you do the same with time?

I don’t think the author of the original piece was being selfish or dictating what is a correct or valuable use of time.

I do agree though. Time is not renewable. Spend it wisely and meaningfully.

If the idea of being timeist jars with you. Give it time. I suspect you’ll come round, eventually.