The Economy of Time

Every day when the clock ticks over at 00:00, we all have the same 24 hour time allotment. Yours is as precious as mine, as is that of the homeless man down the street, the 6 year old at school and the terminally sick 86 year old in hospital. Time doesn’t care about race, social status or where you come from. We’re raised in a society largely based on numbers, however accounting of and accountability for time spent is something very often overlooked. And terribly misunderstood.

There’s a very fine balance between too little and too much idle time. Both can be stressful. Here’s a few things to think about …

Non-evolutionary concept


Time and clocks is something very recent in the context of our evolution. It was always only ever defined by light, mostly sunrise and sundown. Daylight having been a major window of opportunity to migrate, hunt, settle or outrun a predator. Night time to recharge. If you sucked at managing it, you’d either die of hunger (not find food as weather changes) or be eaten (the saber-tooth tiger caught up). Survival of the fittest, in this case merely just being on top of a single soft skill, time management, got your very very far.

Today, you probably won’t die for getting it wrong, but your life won’t be optimal either.

The world is concurrent

HK-Sai Yeung Choi Street South, Mongkok, Hong Kong

Unless you’re living in a Soviet bunker somewhere in the woods and not dependent on anyone or anything, your world and life is concurrent. While you’re swearing while doing dishes, someone else is watching TV, another friend is having sex and your sister on holidays in Tokyo’s waking up and someone else just finished a run. Your and their daily agendas are independent swim lanes. Of people, work responsibilities, admin overheads, exercise (hopefully :-)), parental duties etc.

It’s tricky to plan a day in isolation. Almost impossible to do perfectly with others. Don’t fight nature and concurrency – try, but do and comply with what you can, in the moment. The things you didn’t do, if it was really important, it’ll find it’s way back into your schedule again. Sometimes when getting round to a task, concurrency (read: someone else) already took care of it …

Wall time VS perceived time


Scenario: I agree to accompany and back you up in a meeting that would not exceed 1 (uma, una, one, een, ) hour (in theory :-))

We talked about it during lunch, I thought about it weighing impact on my own schedule, discussed it with my better half, helped prepare a presentation, did some research and we rehearsed it the day prior. It went well and we had a Q&A session afterwards. What was the total cost of this meeting? One hour? Two hours? NO!

  • lunch discussion – 30 minutes
  • weighing options – 1 hour
  • chat with partner – 15 minutes
  • research – 3 hours
  • presentation – 1 hour
  • rehearsal – 1 hour
  • dressing for and driving there – 1 hour
  • presentation – 1 hour
  • wind down cocktail and Q&A discussion – 1 hour
  • drive back home – 30 minutes
  • decompressing after – 2 hours

12 hours and 15 minutes . One and a half work days. Or HALF a day!

Everything takes longer

As with other things in life, we can choose to see data points and signs for what it really is and react to it. OR fly blind, ignore the signals get stuck in a rat race of 101 things to get through and never being honest about how much time something really takes. An hour run will be 90 minutes – you also need to warm up, warm down and shower. The drink with a friend you haven’t seen for ages won’t have you back home before midnight.

Time for the likely and worst case scenarios, not the happy path.

The whole world is late


The vast majority of the population however skews time accounting. EVERYBODY’s late. It’s a constant trade off of meeting VS work VS gym VS a healthy meal VS spending quality time with your spouse etc. The times you do get it right, something, someone else and even you pay for it though.

Opportunity cost

While doing something, you’re not doing something else. This is NEVER a problem if on average most of your time’s spent being productive, both in the sense of getting things done as well as being uplifted and energised by what you do. Tasks shouldn’t constantly leave you feeling drained – that’s merely a symptom of working on the wrong things.

Before saying HELLS YEAH!!!, think of the opportunity cost.



We all have “friends” that yield a net negative investment in relation to time spent with them. Every time you’re investing 2 hours of free time listening to how bad the life of another, his/her relationship, their career etc. is, time accounting works like this:

  • Adjustments made to set aside the 2 hours – 15 minutes
  • Face time – 2 hours
  • Recovering from this energy drain – 1 to 2 days
  • Missing out on doing something productive (opportunity cost) – priceless 🙂

If you can’t filter and prune them out easily, allocate them less time.

Quality, not quantity

Thus, it’s now how much time we spend, but how we spend it. You have around 16 daily hours to work with, if you sleep normally. On a regular work schedule, you’d spend 8 hours working and maybe 1 or 2 getting there. 6 to 8 hours of leisure time. 2 to 3 of those for daily chores. And suddenly there’s only a 2 to 3 hour window of quality time left to spend on and with the people and things dear to you. Make it count!

Getting real with training

On average I train 8 to 12 hours a week, depending on where it is in a training block, recovery weeks being shorter than build weeks. However, the time overheads of that’s quite a bit more. Time to change clothes, warm up, warm down, stretch, drive up to the mountains, figuring out appropriate routes to fit the plan, extra load of washing clothes etc. probably puts that figure more in the 15 to 18 hour ballpark. That’s OK. I see it as such. And try to plan accordingly …


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