Time is not money

I’ve been thinking lately about the difference between time and money. Both are precious, limited resources; both are a flow, rather than a set quantity; in both spheres, no matter how much you have, you will always want more.

Yet I am far less bothered about the limits of money than the limits of time.

This is probably largely because I am privileged enough to have enough money. Not a lot, especially by local standards, but plenty, really. Enough that we don’t have to worry for a second about not having enough.* Enough that I can look at, say, an amazing but unnecessary pair of shoes, and file it away under “wish list” without much of a pang. And of course, since I already far too much stuff (yarn, books, clothes – not that I believe in “too many books”), I really don’t mind not adding to my clutter.

In contrast, I do not have nearly enough time (and am almost as sick of whining about that fact as you no doubt are of hearing me whine). Or, I feel that I do not have enough. But this is silly. My kids now sleep through the night. Even M is in playgroup four mornings a week, giving me around 10 uninterrupted hours all to myself. If I get up at 5am (which I actually sort of enjoy), that’s another seven hours or so. I only rarely have contracted work to do in those 17 hours. I limit the number of commitments I make (though possibly I have not limited them enough). And even in my childwrangling hours, I sometimes have a chance to sit and knit, as the kids are getting better at playing independently. So why do I still feel so time-poor?

Everybody has the same problem: time, like money, is a scarce resource. Everybody wants to do more than is possible with what they have. Everybody needs to budget their time, just as they do their income; everybody needs to decide what to prioritise, and what to forget. But budgeting my time is soooo much harder than budgeting my money.

Maybe it’s partly because with time, there is no possiblity of accumulating funds for the long term. In fact, it’s the opposite. Every passing year uses up more of our store, means we have less time to get to the big things we always hoped we’d do, whether that’s write a novel or travel the world or master a new skill… And of course we cannot know how big or small that store really is. 

Some of the most painful (but true, and useful) time management advice I’ve read recently was that you’ll never get to everything on your list, whether short- or long-term. You just won’t. And you won’t just be dropping trivial things – you’ll be dropping meaningful, worthwhile things that you really, really want to do. Understanding this, accepting it, should help you pare down that list and reduce the burden of guilt, but you still won’t get your list short enough to actually tick everything off. 

I’ve been working hard on creating a structure to my days and weeks that gives me at least a decent shot at achieving the things I most need to achieve. Meeting my actual commitments, of course. Then delivering on my promises to myself: getting done what I personally want to do – and making time to actually switch off; to play, rather than “work on” anything. Yet every time I get sick or incapacitated, being forced to really switch off, I realise what a gulf there still is between my scheduled down time and actual down time.

At the same time, when I’m taking it easy (and this includes spending playgroup hours on work that feels like fun: knitting on a deadline design in front of the TV may honestly be the most urgent thing on my list, but it seems like cheating!), in the back of my mind I wonder: where’s the line between looking after myself, being more reasonable about my expectations, and… well… slacking?

And yes. I’m sure that restricting social media and other time-sucks would help, in more ways than one. (I’m more concerned about how it might improve my concentration, actually, rather than actual time savings; you’d be surprised how little Twitter infringes on any time I might conceivably be using for anything more productive.) But the main problem is simply dealing with the fact that enough is never enough. And it’s amazing how hard that is to swallow.  

* Not counting, for the moment, retirement worries. That’s a whole other thing, but it’s still easily two and a half decades away, so lalalala can’t hear you…

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