Buying Time

I think the phrase “time is money” has it exactly backwards.

Money is time. From the very first time I paid a bill, I realized that what money really represented was the length of time before you had to worry about anything again.

Time is what I really want. I’ve never been a “fancy toy” kind of guy. I’m a material minimalist, so I’m not generally racing to have the shiniest sarcophagus. So when I hustle, I’m looking at my hustle in terms of the hours I buy with the hours I put in.

When I was 20, I briefly worked a temporary gig in on a factory assembly-line making eyeglasses. They had a process I loved – every day when we came in, we had a quota of orders that had to be filled that day. We got paid for a full eight hours, regardless of how little time it took us to complete the day’s orders. So if we got all the orders out in 3 hours, we got paid for the full day and got to leave. This sounded ideal to me, but there was a snag.

I, and a good friend Scott that worked with me, recognized the value in working our butts off to get out early. We’d work as hard as we could, skip all our breaks, and hustle like madmen because what we really wanted was time, not ease. An easier job that took longer was (obviously, to us) strictly worse than a harder job that was done faster.

But here’s the thing about assembly lines – it’s a team effort. And not everyone bought into our concept. Some people just didn’t get it. We couldn’t understand why people even wanted breaks – why stop for 15 minutes that you still have to spend in this building, when skipping it would mean getting out at least 15 minutes earlier and doing whatever you wanted? But despite our frustrations, we discovered that there were some people that would genuinely rather work in a low effort way for longer than maximum effort for minimum time.

One person really maximized our frustrations when they told us why they didn’t want to work as hard as us: “Why work harder? We get paid the same no matter what.” We were practically pulling our hair out. Yes, we get paid the same amount of money. But if we work harder, we earn more time.

But then – I had a breakthrough. One of the biggest epiphanies I’ve ever had, in fact. I asked the person what they were planning to do after work. Their answer explained everything – they had no plans. Doing nothing. Sitting around, drinking a few beers, watching TV and waiting for the next day to start.

That has never been my life (and it wasn’t my friend’s, either). We did stuff. We absolutely always had some project, some activity, some engaging thing we wanted to do. I can genuinely never remember a time in my life where I was bored, waiting for something to happen.

I learned a lot that day about what people will pay for time, and how not all hours are equal. It guides many of my personal decisions – I value remote work very highly because I hate wasted commuting time; those are hours I can spend with my children, my own projects, and so on.

So my time was more valuable to me than theirs was to them. They valued ease; I valued freedom.

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