Every time I delete spam from my inbox, I feel a tiny piece of my life flitter away.
Sitting needlessly at stoplights, or watching the minutes tick away as I wait in some line, or being forced to fill out yet another form, our precious time is being coopted by everyone from inconsiderate businesses, to overbearing government, to painful security checks at the airport.
This is what I call “time pollution.”
Little by little, whatever tiny amount of control we thought we had over our day becomes infested with some new life-sucking barnacle that congests our mind and adds surface-scratching aggregate to the smooth day we had planned.
Like a leaky sieve carrying our daily time supply, however much we started with is never even close to what we end up with. And while most of us enter life feeling like we have squanderable amounts of time to work with, as we get older, our rapidly dwindling years reveal a much different story.
We live with two basic currencies – time and money – and we make countless time-vs-money decisions, each based on the running math equation we have going on in our head.
If someone steals our money, it’s an obvious crime. So why isn’t it an equally obvious crime if someone needlessly squanders our time?
Here are some thoughts on how we can rewrite what I’m calling the “Formula of Acceptable Interference” and regain control of our lives.
Running the Numbers
If you were to live to 80 years old, you have exactly 29,220 days, including leap years, to work with. But not all of those days are really usable. So subtract:
- Your first 18 years of working through adolescence. (-6,574) = 22,646 days
- Minus 8 hours a day, of those remaining, for sleeping (-7,549) = 15,097 days
- Minus time at work. If we begin work at age 18 and work until retirement at age 65, 9-hour work days for a total of 47 working years with 4 weeks vacation a year (-4,230) = 10,867 days
- Minus commuting to and from work – 60 minutes a day (-470) = 10,397 days.
Suddenly two thirds of our discretionary life is gone. Now consider how much of our life is being eaten away by other notorious time wasters. These are only rough estimates but you’ll get the picture. (Note, I’m accounting for leap years):
- Cleaning – ourselves, our homes, our cars, etc. - 60 minutes a day (-944*) = 9,453.
- Staying informed – news, social media, emails etc. - 60 minutes a day (-944*) = 8,509.
- Personal inefficiencies – getting dressed, makeup, delays, etc. - 60 minutes a day (-944*) = 7,565.
- Viewing TV commercials – 18 minutes per hour X 2 hours a day (-566) = 6,999.
- Deleting spam emails – 30 minutes a day (-472) = 6,527.
- Waiting for traffic lights – 10 minutes a day (-157) = 6,370.
So in rough terms, each of us is left with a mere 6,370 days worth of discretionary time spread out over a 62-year lifespan (after age 18), with a large percentage of this discretionary time (2,679 days**) coming after we retire at age 65.
Admittedly this is very crude math, but at the same time, it’s thoroughly depressing!
The point I’m trying to make is that our time is very precious and we should be very guarded against anyone who tries to mess with it.
* - ((62 years X 365 days) + 15 days for leap years)/24 hours per day = 944 days
** - 704 min flex per day after age 65 - ((15 years X 365 days) + 4) X 704 flex min per day)/60 minutes per hour/24 hours per day = 2,679 days
“We live in a culture that has been
universally dismissive of our time costs”
Every Time-Crime is a Math Problem
Whenever a petty criminal sits in front of a convenience store trying to decide whether he should brandish a gun and rob the place, he’s going through a series of math calculations to determine if the risk outweighs the reward. However skewed or demented his math abilities may be, virtually every criminal goes through the same process.
This is not unlike almost every other decision we make in life, “will the cost outweigh the benefits?”
- Will the momentary pleasure this candy bar brings outweigh the weight gains that are sure to follow?
- Will the group-envy I cause by buying this purse outweigh the hefty price I have to pay for it?
- Is driving over the speed limit to get somewhere on time worth the risk of getting a ticket if I get caught?
- If I throw this trash on the ground when no one is looking, is it really littering?
Few of us realize we have a rolling calculator that appears in our head whenever a decision is being made. While we may tack on a few emotional variables to override our first results, this image of clicking of calculator keys is a very close analogy to how we make decisions.
However, one element missing from most of our calculations is the cost of time. We live in cultures that have been universally dismissive of our time costs.
Virtually everyone from businesses to government has had free reign to impose a time-tax on our lives with little regard as to whether it’s acceptable to us.
This needs to change!
Arriving at the “Formula of Acceptable Interference”
Whenever our doctor insists on us having another checkup, or our dentists insists on yet another cleaning, or our neighborhood quick-lube place insists on an oil change every 3,000 miles, we cynically ask, “Is this more for your benefit or mine?”
In the past, whenever I went onto GoDaddy to buy a domain name, I was hit with close to 400 attempts to up-sell me on additional items. The transaction time involved in making what should have been a 2-minute purchase quickly mushroomed into 10-15 minutes. Clearly this approach, and all the bad press they received as a result of it, ended up costing them more in the long run than the increases they were making in the short run, and they have since simplified their process.
So when the government insists on us registering for a new healthcare plan, or taking a test to get a license, or have the emissions checked on our car, how much time-interference do we consider reasonable?
Whether or not you’re a Christian, the story of Mary and Joseph having to travel several days with a mule, while she was pregnant, across the barren Israeli countryside to Bethlehem to comply with the orders of Caesar Augustus who was conducting the world’s first census, is the epitome of onerous government interference.
While that level of interference is rarely demanded anymore, as our systems have become far more efficient, the question remains, how much “time interference” is acceptable?
So let me answer that question with a single word. The acceptable level of “transactional time leakage” is always “LESS,” less than what we’re spending today, and even less in the future.
Virtually every business in the world is being asked with doing more with less, so why shouldn’t we be applying that same of metrics to our time costs?
Should Wasting Time Become a Crime?
Business and industry knows a lot about scarcity and works hard to manipulate the math problem in our head so the perceived value of a product, based on its scarcity, closely aligns with the momentary deficiencies we, as consumers, are trying to compensate for. Scarcity, translates into urgency, which in turn translates into a little voice inside our head screaming “NOW!”
Once a purchase has been made, a few nasty businesses have found unusual ways to turn “time” into penalties, extra charges, and reasons to charge more. In fact some have become so blatant in their misrepresentations, with all the customer landmines they’ve put into place, that government had to step in.
Yet the government has a poor track record, at best, for regulating and guarding against monetary system abuses, and they have an even worse record for guarding against time abuses. In fact, most governments, and in the U.S. we have slightly less than 90,000 forms of government, have become the chief perpetrators of time-crimes.
On one hand they use time as a punishment (i.e. 2 years in jail), as a threat (i.e. you have 30 days to comply), or a dangling carrot (i.e. 90 day to reinvest without penalty). At the same time they are stealing our days, even our lives, with an insane number of laws, rules, and regulations to conform with.
So should wasting our time become a crime? At the risk of adding even more to our already massive compendium of laws - YES!
I say yes, because it is a much-needed checks-and-balance offset to the scale-tampering money-dominated society we find ourselves immersed in today.
"Our culture makes us feel like our fast, is never fast enough!"
We all know how important time is. Every time we turn around there are deadlines, time limits, stopwatches, stoplights, speed limits, and warnings to slow us down.
Yet the rhythm of life is constantly pulsing to keep up with our pervasive time culture, a culture that makes us feel like our fast, is never fast enough.
So where does that leave us?
I had hoped to end with a theoretical proof that conclusively states that “time is our scarcest of all commodities.” But I spent all my money on other things, and now I can’t afford the time to make that point. Sorry!
Author of “Communicating with the Future” – the book that changes everything