Time will take your money, but money won’t buy time.”

– James Taylor, musician

Time: such a precious resource and a valued asset.  And once the amount of money you have is enough – once you cover your costs – then possession of  (more) time becomes paramount. What do very rich people do? They pay people to do the time-consuming things they don’t want to do (ironing, cleaning, sleeping with their spouse; they seem to keep shopping and sleeping with other people’s spouses for themselves. There’s no accounting for taste.)

I caught myself passing a useful tip to a friend the other day. It was this: when you go into an important meeting, ask the other person(s) how much time they have for this meeting. Then finish five minutes early. They will feel as though time has rushed by (which feels as though your company is really enjoyable), but they will also feel that you clearly respect them, because you respected their time.

What does this say, by implication? It says you treat someone ill when you waste their time and I fully endorse that. It also recognises that when you give your time freely (doing a favour, doing something properly, volunteering – going that extra mile), it is an act of generosity.

I thought I ought at least to try to back up my (possibly specious) idea, and so went a-hunting (s’OK – is more for me than for you; a case of “enlightened self-interest” in the odd writer-reader relationship we may or may not have).  “What did you find, Imp of Trickiness?” I hear you cry.

  • Well, in 2002, 42% of Brits said they were as time-poor as cash-poor (source: Parceline Chronopost)
  • By early 2005, a large US survey (salary.com) found that almost 40% of workers say they’d opt for more family time than a $5k bonus (this in a country with no NHS, remember)
  • And by 2008, 67% of Americans said they valued free time over – wait for it – cash, a successful career, getting married, or having children (Reuters Life).

But there are some possible problems with these findings. How many people are going to tell a researcher that they value money over everything else? Honestly? And it can be easy to downplay the importance of money when it’s plentiful, but, heck, this is March 2009, for Pete’s sake. Financial fear is the fat, hairy monster stalking the land these days.  In late 2007, the amount of debt for every single adult in the UK was £33k. Thirty-three thousand pounds. Each word has hob-nailed boots on in that sentence.  Today, that figure is down to just £30,400 – that means taking everyone’s mortgages and sharing them out across every British adult. The average debt for households with mortgages is £101,000 (source: Credit Action). Arghhhhhhh.

Or, in these new-fangled days of extraordinary rendition – sorry, I mean quantitative easing (silly me. I get confused with our government’s brilliantly Orwellian lexicon) and 0.5% interest rates, perhaps we should just get philosophical and take the view that debt is just a state of mind?

So, in times of recession, do people want more time or more money? I’ve just been chatting to a chum about his job aspirations. There’s a wonderful and worthy job going, but he needs enough cash to allow him and his full-time working wife to live in the city and also pay for their young daughter to go to nursery. It’s a bleeder of a trap: they both need to be working so that their skills don’t go stale, but the childcare takes a large part of their income. So he can’t take a worthy job (at more than twice the national average) ‘cos he can’t afford it, even though it would benefit both society-at-large and his family (because he would be a personally and professionally satisfied human being). However, with credit crunches, perhaps, come opportunities. If only some b*gger will take them….

If employers wake up to the fact that staff want time – perhaps more than they want money – perhaps we could all be a bit happier. There are lots of jobs where your performance should  not be defined by clocking on and off for your 40 hours every week (obviously, if you’re in charge of the hourly chimes of Big Ben, you’re kind of time-bound). And after all, employment ought to be a fair exchange of your skills for money;  time doesn’t have to be part of the equation. It’s only one way of counting the amount of work done (and it’s definitely no way of measuring the standard).

You see, if my mate could agree other kinds of performance standards with this worthy employer (swapping 40 hours for 35, perhaps, and quite probably having achieved the same outcomes), he could perhaps

  • have a day less working
  • spend 3 out of 7 days a week with his child
  • save 20% of their childcare costs
  • and have the great new job!

(If you’re interested in more of this, it looks as tho’ the latest book from the now dangerously-productive Idler stable might be of use: The Idle Parent, just out.)

Good God. I’ve spent enough of our time on this now. Far too many words for an Imp on a Friday afternoon. Go! Be gone! Enjoy your time!