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How Much Time do You Have Left?

Time as a currency, or how to become rich.

Photo by Kevin on Unsplash

There is an infinite amount of activities we could–and probably would love to–fill our lives with: playing golf for hours on end, going on an extended vacation with our lover, reading, knitting, sailing… whatever floats your boat, you have probably dreamed of dedicating larger chunks of your life to it.

Sadly, the amount of time we have at our disposal is not unlimited.

As human beings we are confined to certain physiological and social obligations. We need to eat and sleep. We function within a society which requires us to adapt to certain norms, such as taking time to wash ourselves, respectfully standing in queues, or attending particular events–even if we’d rather be somewhere else.

On top of all that, we all have relationships that likely require quite a lot of our time and energy. Not to mention work and education, which take a significant bite of our life before we even manage to start pursuing our dreams. In order to remain healthy, we spend hours working out at the gym (or, if we are less lucky, visiting doctors and hospitals).

There are also spontaneous impulses and cravings, as well as lazy afternoons, hungover mornings, and dark days when we do not want to come out from our own safe shell. Finally, there are commitments such as children, pets, or people whom we want to support.

There are 24 hours in a day, which equals to 168 hours per week, which amounts to an average of 8766 hours in a single year.

How could we fit all the things we have to do and all the things we want to do, while still have some time to rest and simply enjoy life? Is this possible at all?

The Pie-chart of Time

Let’s stop right here and take a look at our time from a different perspective.

Imagine that from this moment on you have all the time you wish at your disposal. There are no commitments, no work, no physiological needs. There is absolutely nothing you have to do.

How would you like to allocate your time?

Let’s play a simple game.

Draw a circle. Imagine it as an empty pie chart representing all the time you still have left. The aim of the game is for you to divide the chart as you wish. There is nothing you have to do, but you can do anything you want if you chose to. For example, you don’t need to work, but you can if you want to.

There are only 3 more rules:

1. Finances are not an issue.
If all you want to do is skydive, you can simply fill the entire pie chart with this activity without worrying about how you would pay for it.

2. Forget about your biology.
You don’t have to sleep or eat. You can if you chose to, but it is not a requirement in order for your body to function.

3. You cannot change the world around you.
If you are spending a lot of time supporting your sick mother, you cannot simply flick your fingers and make her well. You can, however, chose not to support her if that’s what you wish (no commitments, remember?).

Take a few minutes to divide the time in your chart.

The Only Tax Nobody Can Evade.

I have some bad news and some good news for you.

The bad news is that unfortunately it is impossible for you to live your life according to the pie chart you’ve just drawn.

The good news, however, is the reason why is it impossible.

At this point of evolution, your body requires you to spend time on its physiological needs, such as eating and sleeping. Some people claim that you can sustain yourself on the energy from the sun and air, but for the purpose of this exercise let’s assume that you are not one of them.

The tidings of the Industrial revolution divided our days into 3 equal sections: 8 hours for work, 8 hours for recreation, and 8 hours for sleep.

Let’s take this dissection as a starting point and allocate 8 hours per day for our sleep. Then let’s add another hour to accommodate other physiological needs. It totals to 9 hours per day, which translates to 37.5% of our time. Let’s add another 2.5% to round things up, and we end up with a 40% of “physiological tax”–in other words, this is the time you need to spend on maintaining your body in order to remain alive.

We are left with 60% of our total time. That’s 5260 hours per year, which means that you have 315,600 yearly minutes at your disposal. You have just spent 3 of them reading this article so far.

The less time you have, the more value it has.

What I want you to take away from this exercise is that your time is limited, and consequently, incredibly valuable.

Every time you take a breath, yet another moment moves from the reality of the present into the impalpability of the past; and each time the sun goes down and the moon rises in the sky, another chapter of your life begins and with it new possibilities open up before you.

Have a look at your pie chart and compare it with your life at the moment. How have you been using your time so far? Are you doing the things that make you fulfilled? How close are you to your desired lifestyle?

Who Owns my Time?

Around a year ago, I was invited to speak with high school students in Portugal.

Knowing that I have the advantage of not being a “boring teacher”, but instead a “cool young guy” with a relaxed attitude, I wanted to use their initial curiosity to share something practical and useful. Therefore, I shared with them a perception-shifting tool which I believe would have changed my life should I had been exposed to it back in my high school times.

Apart from the inevitable hormonal confusion of puberty, I can confidently state that I wasted a big part of my teenage years. I am not even talking about the long hours spent playing computer games (although my parents would strongly disagree), but I do recall there were countless moments when I wasn’t doing anything specific. I was neither studying, resting, nor having fun: I was simply passing time without any awareness of my own existence in that very moment.

I remember trying numerous activities, in search of something that would excite me for longer than a few weeks. It would rarely happen. I usually lost interest very quickly, and I would never persevere to achieve significant results–or even to finish what I had started.

When I think about it now, I didn’t feel like I owned my time. To my teenage self, “time” was simply an abstract concept, something that passes by, without affecting me in any way.

In hindsight, if there could be one adjustment I could make to my coming of age, it would be this: to realize the importance of time; to understand that I can have a direct influence over each moment of my life, and that no minute will ever happen twice.

Time Isn’t Money. Time Is a Currency.

Merriam-Webster dictionary defines currency as “something (…) that is in circulation as a medium of exchange.”

Everyday we exchange our time for many different things. The most obvious one is money, which we receive for the time we spend working. We can also exchange our time for experiences (internships or volunteering), love and attention (relationships), knowledge (learning) or even pleasure (dancing, reading, or watching a good movie). We can even donate our time to an idea we support or a person we want to help. We surely have plenty of options.

No matter how we decide to spend or exchange it, time remains an universal currency, applicable to all people around the world.

One question remaining to ask is:

How much is your time really worth?

WHO sets the average life expectancy worldwide at 71.4 years. This means that at the age of 18, when an average young person becomes legally independent, they have approximately 468,095 hours left. That’s before “tax”.

At the age of 18, you are left with 280,857 hours at your disposal. When you further subtract the time spent commuting, waiting, and daydreaming, you are left with even less. And with every passing hour, the amount left in our “time account” is inevitably evaporating.

How can we attribute a value to such a scarce resource?

“What Do I Want to Spend My Life Doing?”

Here’s a scan from my notebook. Numbers indicate amount of days per week when I am not sailing.

I’ve drawn my first pie-chart of time during a major life transformation.

My partner and I had just separated. I decided to leave the city where I had been living for 7 years, and I had just informed my manager that I was quitting.

Facing a blank sheet of paper, I could sense the amazing potential of being the master of my own time, but I was also aware of the trap I’d fallen into back in my school days.

In order to avoid wasting time doing random things which wouldn’t bring me anywhere I wanted to go, I had to answer a straightforward question:

“What do I want to spend my life doing?”

After a couple of minutes I covered the entire page with amazing ideas–my imagination never fails me. But when I looked at the pie-chart, I immediately realized that I couldn’t fit everything in.

I had to decide: I could either focus on a few things which I really wanted in my life, or I could try to do everything, get scattered and lost, and end up running around cluelessly like a headless chicken. I took the first option.

A few hours later, when I was finally happy with what I had drawn, I reached two major conclusions:

1. There is nothing unachievable about my dreamed time distribution.

2. The amount of money for which I am exchanging my time at the moment is not worth preventing me from living my ideal lifestyle.

With those realizations, the fear of facing this new chapter of my life was gone.

Let Your Pie-chart Be Your Compass

Illustration by Sílvia Bastos.

It’s been almost a year since I’ve drawn my first pie-chart, and I must admit that I still haven’t reached the desired time distribution I originally drew.

However, with every passing month, I am taking steps that bring me closer to my ideal lifestyle. I have now covered about 40% of the way without getting lost. I know exactly where I want to be and I know it takes time to get there. And that’s okay.

There is no silver bullet answer which will “fix” your reality and make you dream come true. Figuring out the lifestyle you want to live and actually getting to the point when you are living it is a long and hard process. What’s worse, despite all the effort, there are no guarantees that you will succeed.

On the other hand — what if you will? Wouldn’t it be worth the effort?

The purpose of the pie-chart of time is to help you shift the way you perceive time, making you aware of it’s scarcity–and consequently of its value–while prompting you to set a well defined direction to reach towards.

Laurence J Peter said, that “if you don’t know where you’re going, you will probably end up somewhere else.

Whenever in doubt, have a look at your piechart and let it be your compass.