Time is NOT Money

Time is NOT money.

That’s just a metaphor.

But this metaphor filters the way you see the world. And it might be blinding you to the actions you should be taking.

Stay with me for a minute while I set this up. I think you’ll be surprised.

In modern Western culture, we typically associate “work” with “time”. It’s become customary for employees to be paid by the hour, for professionals like lawyers to work with “billable hours”, for hotel room rates to be charged based on time, etc. You get the picture.

We tend to think of time this way, whether we’re conscious of it or not.

We act as if time is a commodity. A resource. And so we use expressions like:

•    You’re wasting my time.
•    How did you spend your time?
•    You’re living on borrowed time.
•    I lost a lot of time when I hurt my knee.
•    That mistake cost us three hours.

Sounds familiar, right? I bet you use these expressions without even thinking about them.

They highlight an aspect of time that’s centrally important to our culture. A core value that many of us—especially those of us who are entrepreneurs—hold true.

But here’s the thing…

These metaphors also hide other core realities about time. And that unconscious filter influences our actions and our decisions.

Time isn’t really money.

Unlike money, if you spend your time on something that isn’t aligned to your life’s purpose or goals, you can’t refund it or earn it back. You can’t save time in a bank. If I give a you a lot of my time, you can’t give me that same time back.

When we act as though time is a commodity that we can harvest, save, spend or invest and reap more of, we miss one very important realization:

In choosing to do one thing, you’re also choosing NOT to do many other things.

It seems obvious when you state it, but it never occurred to me until I’d spent nearly 20 years studying martial arts—and not much else.

When I chose to dedicate my time and energy to martial arts at the age of 15, I also unwittingly gave up a lot of other experiences. Don’t get me wrong, I’m thankful for everything the martial arts taught me. And it made a profound difference in my life. But would I have taken it that far if I knew the price of what I was giving up to get it?

It was an important revelation, because it made me very conscious of everything I commit to. All those small day to day things that might pull me off-purpose. All those things that could move me away from my goals.

I think most people take the opposite approach.

They strive to do “more” without ever stopping to think about exactly what or how much they need to meet their goals. And in the process they risk getting caught up in someone else’s agenda—their boss’s or the company’s or someone else’s goals—while losing site of why they started on that track in the first place.

Unfortunately, you can never get that time back.

But don’t worry. There’s a very simple way around this trap.

Learn how to say, “I’m sorry, I can’t commit to that right now.”

Stay focused on the “North star” that orients the direction of your life. Choose in favor of actions that take you towards your Purpose.

Sure, it took a while for me to get comfortable saying “No”. I was one of those people who hated to see work left undone, and who always piled more on my plate. And as a result, I got a lot of stuff done for other people. But my goals were treading water, and I wasn’t much closer to fulfilling my dreams.

Focus your efforts—like I did—by learning to say, “I’m sorry, I can’t commit to that.”

You’ll become much more conscious of what you DO agree to—to others and to yourself. And you’ll stop saying yes to things you have no intention of doing, just to get yourself off the hook.

I don’t mean that you should never commit to anything again. What I’m suggesting is that you take a close look at what you do agree to, because you’re going to have to follow through on those things.

Don’t get yourself into situations that drag you away from your purpose simply because you spoke without thinking. Get in the habit of thinking first, before you open your mouth. Evaluate those requests or opportunities, and hold them up against the measuring stick of your Purpose. And then decide.

Time is not money. That’s just a metaphor.

But time IS irreplaceable. Choose wisely.

[Ed. Note. Ryan Murdock is the author of Personal Freedom: A Guide to Creating the Life of Your Dreams. When not helping people find their own brand of personal freedom, Ryan travels the world’s marginal places as Editor-at-Large (Europe) for Outpost magazine. He recently released his first travel book, called Vagabond Dreams: Road Wisdom from Central America.]