Please retire the term “time is money”

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If you had to make a list of the 900 most common things that poor-to-average managers say daily, you wouldn’t get very far without hitting “time is money.” Bad managers love to say “time is money,” thinking of it as some kind of catch-all motivational approach for our times.

What if the phrase “time is money” actually has much the opposite effect, though?

“Time is money” research

Love me some Jeffrey Pfeffer over at Stanford. He inspired this post of mineback in the day about companies and moral norms. Now he’s got new research, subsequently summarized here, and let me just get right to the heart of the matter:

Their study concludes that people who are keenly aware of the economic value of their time — people who think of time as money — generally are more psychologically stressed and exhibit higher levels of the stress hormone cortisol that do people for whom the economic value of time is less salient.

In other words: the good old “work stress” problemrears its head again.

Here’s the other money quote:

“We’re moving in the wrong direction in many ways, and this is only one,” Pfeffer says. “People are continually calculating the economic value of their time. And all the research shows that when people are thinking about time and money, they’re not enjoying their lives. They become impatient. They don’t enjoy music, or sunsets. This calculation of what it costs to coach your kid’s soccer game is not a path to happiness.”

Let’s unpack.

A couple of important points on “time is money”

I work in The Gig Economy, as increasing amount of people are doing. It’s hard not to think “time is money” in that context. Like earlier today, someone paid me $391 on PayPal for a project. So now I’m like “I have this bill, this gym fee, and I want to go out a few times this weekend. Is that $391?” Time is money, right?

So if more people are shifting to Gig, and we know from this research that a “time is money” culture is bad, well … look at the second pull quote. We’re moving in the wrong direction in many ways.

This is all tied to a few related concepts, of course:

Until we move away from those intersection points, “time is money” is likely to persist.

But time is money, right?

No. Think about stuff like:

  • Volunteering
  • Working out
  • Spending time with friends
  • Time at the neighborhood bar
  • Family dinners
  • Vacations
  • Watching the sunset
  • A random good conversation

All those things are time, but they don’t necessarily constitute money. And I bet most 92 year-olds on their deathbed wish they had more of this list, and probably less of Larry The Wanker Middle Manager bellowing “Time is money, Kevin! Where are my dashboards?”

So how do we move away from this?

At a micro-level, we shift our priorities and alignment to things we care more about. In short: we “seek the Four-Way Win.”

What most people do:

  • Heads down
  • Please the boss
  • Get home later
  • Some time with kids/spouse
  • No time for connection or intimacy
  • Rinse and repeat
  • Hope the weekend is better
  • Keep telling yourself you’ll open that winery someday, goddamn it

The whole reason for the bigger shift to the Gig Economy is two-fold:

  1. Companies hire less people now (digital/mobile economy) and pay them garbage when they do.
  2. People don’t want to live the above bullets and would rather carve out their own rock.

In short then, we are in some way moving away from “time is money,” but the path is going to be long and circuitous.

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Blogging, largely about work and how to improve it. How I make (some) money:

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