What is your time worth?

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The dystopian science fiction thriller In time dreams up a world where everything you buy must be paid for in time.

If you want to pay for a bus ride, you pay using 30 minutes of your time.

When you have no time left in your account, you literally time out and die.

Is this simply science fiction, or is there something relevant in it for us?

The way in which we refer to time suggests that there is. We talk of “spending time” on an activity, in the same way that we talk of spending pounds to do something or buy something .

Clearly, for most people, we exchange time for money and use that money to buy experiences and things.

But then we also “invest time” in activities that we think are worthwhile – education, leisure and time with family.

In other words, the language we use to describe time is not very different from the language we use to describe money.

Stretching the logic a little – we understand the need for financial education so that we can make better decisions about money. We should also understand what time means to us so that we can make better decisions about time.

I remember reading a line that said people who would be anguished at the thought of losing their life suddenly are content to waste it minute by minute.

Many successful people, according to Daniel Levitin in The Organized Mind, calculate what their time is worth to them.

This does not have to be what they earn or what their job is worth in companies but those numbers can inform the calculation.

For example, if you earn £50,000 a year and work 2,000 hours a year, then your time could be worth £25 an hour.

When there are things you have to do – where you need to spend time – using this number to decide whether you should do it or get someone else to do it may be helpful.

For example, if you need to mow your lawn and you can hire a gardener for £15 an hour, perhaps you should hire the gardener and save £10.

There is the old story of the little boy who asked his busy, successful mum how much she earned an hour. She said £20 an hour. The boy went to his piggy bank and counted out £10 and gave it to her. She asked what that was for, and the little boy said, “I want to buy half an hour of your time, can you sit and have dinner with me?”

We perhaps only understand the value of time when we start to run short of it.

And this happens faster than you think.

Tim Urban, in his blog Wait but why, worked out that by the time he left high school aged 18, he had used up 93% of the total in-person time he would spend with his parents during their lifetimes.

He was in the tail end of that time already.

Assuming we don’t manage to invent the technology that lets us live to 1,000, learning how to invest your time well so that you can do fulfilling work and spend time with the people that matter to you could be the most important thing you do with your life.

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