Often we can find ourselves stumbling through a day, exhausted. Our work feels draining, our meal times aren’t refreshing, and our nights are spent tossing and turning. This often comes from a lack of balance, and that lack of balance can be corrected if we think of our lives in terms of having three resources available to us. Those resources are time, money, and energy.
Time is a resource that is under ever greater strain in today’s world, and so it requires constant protection. If you have plenty of income and energy to complete a project, but no time to invest in it, that money will sit unused and the energy will transfer to anxiety as the project wastes away. Time our ability to invest in what is important.
Money is the expression of power in the world, money can give you food, access, and collaborators to accomplish your goals. Without it, all the time and energy in the world can’t remove the obstacles a lack of funds creates. Money, unlike time, is infinite.
Energy is a less tangible resource than either of the other two, but it is no less important. Energy is the excitement and willingness to perform the work needed to achieve a goal. Certain things drain our energy, certain things refuel it.
All the time in the world is meaningless if we cannot spend energy to enjoy it. Likewise, all the money in the world matters not if we have no time to enjoy the things that can be bought with it. When these are out of balance we are unhappy. What steps need to be taken in order to accrue these three resources will differ greatly depending on each individual situation.
“Some people live more in 20 years than others do in 80. It is not the time that matters, it’s the person.” – Doctor Who
Time is finite. You’re only twenty-one one time, and then you’re not—forever. We only have the moment we’re in and we’re about to lose it to the next one; so we must be diligent with our time. Plenty of things assert themselves over our time and we have to work hard to protect it and spend it wisely.
Paul Jolicoeur outlines three questions he asks himself to manage time well:
- Is it worth it?
- Is there something better to do?
- Am I consuming or producing?
We know not to overspend our money, if someone wants to charge an exorbitant price for something (say, a beer at a baseball field), we’re far less likely to spend our hard earned money on it because we know it is wasteful. Sure, that drink might be nice, but the fact that you could buy twelve of them at a gas station lowers the likelihood that you’ll want to buy it.
The same should be true of our time. If someone wants to spend one hour of your day in a meeting where you’re truly only needed for five minutes, that costs you fifty-five minutes every day. That time adds up (one month of meetings like that is more than half a day wasted). That isn’t worth the cost, and you should make every effort to change it. How might that time be better spent? If you can spend those fifty-five minutes being productive rather than twiddling your thumbs at a table you’ll accomplish far more.
Worth Your Time
Lastly, we should be sure that we aren’t taking this to mean that anything we don’t like isn’t worth our time. On the contrary, many things we love don’t meaningfully move us toward our goals at all (watching television, going to movies, etc.,). That doesn’t mean these things are bad, but we must ensure that we are contributing well to the work we want to do before we take a seat and relax. In fact, when we’re sure that we are doing what needs to be done in order to move towards our goals those restful times where we’re consuming will feel more restful.
This might seem counter-intuitive since most of us spend our days worrying about not having enough of it, but money is an infinite resource. Unlike time, which is much harder to buy back, money can be found in a variety of ways and is, therefore, limitless. Time and money can often be exchanged, but time is much harder to get back so we should leverage our money wherever we can to protect our time.
Money is not an end in and of itself, but a means to an end. It doesn’t matter if you have lots of money if you have no time at all to spend it. It doesn’t matter if you have lots of money if you’re so exhausted from getting it that you can’t enjoy any of the things you spent the money on.
Many people can live more than half their lives before realizing this. When they were young, they had plenty of energy and time but were broke. They spent most of their adult life investing their time and energy in order to get money. But kept putting off actually using it for the things they wanted. Then, when they were old and had time to go along with the money. They lost the energy needed to enjoy those things. Not much use in owning an expensive deep-sea fishing boat if you don’t have the strength to hold the rod.
Don’t let money become the object of your life, don’t let it be the goal. Money is a resource, an important one, but it is not the end we should be striving after. One key to not let money rule over you is to understand that having more of it by doing work you hate is not going to make your life better.
Trading Time for Money
People who maximize, who push as hard as they can to make the “optimal” choice in every scenario, are actually prone to be disappointed more often than those who choose what will satisfy their needs.
Example: You’ve been offered two jobs, one that pays well but has a long commute and comes with an expectation that you may have to stay later than your allotted worktimes in order to ensure things are finished. The second job has less pay, but is much closer to home and will not encroach on your free time at all.
Many people will choose the first job, thinking that the increase in pay will outweigh the costs. But, when you factor in the loss of time from the increased commute (not to mention the stress from a long commute with traffic and the wear and tear on a vehicle) alongside the loss of time by being kept later at work, the extra money isn’t all that worth it. The extra time you get in the other job more than compensates for the lower pay. Trading your time for money is actually the least efficient way of accruing wealth.
No one, not Elon Musk, not Bill Gates, Oprah Winfrey, or any other titan of the industry you can think of, has unlimited energy to do the work that they do. That might seem unlikely, after all, these people do incredible things, move institutions and money at levels that few can hardly fathom.
The fact remains that human brains have a limited capacity for executive function, for decision making. When we make a decision, when we focus on a task, we’re spending energy. Energy, as we said before, is the ability to engage in the work we want to complete. If we’re working on a task with high energy, it might take ten minutes. If we have exceptionally low energy, something mundane and trivial could take hours.
Energy, even more so than time and money, needs careful management if we are to be productive people. But most of us don’t spend a single moment considering how our energy is spent, we just spend it. Those titans of industry are exceptionally good at managing their energy, and they’re ferocious about protecting it.
Imagine that your ability to make decisions and perform tasks is allocated evenly into a 100 point system. Having to spend the first fifteen minutes of your lunch break trying to decide what to eat costs you energy. Tackling a difficult problem that needs to be finished before the end of the day costs you energy. Sitting in a meeting that isn’t relevant to you or your work costs energy.
Look at the places where you’re spending energy and ask the same questions we asked about time: is it worth it, is there something better to do, am I producing or consuming? It the task is worth your energy, great. If the task is worth your energy but something else is more important, stop and tackle that problem first. If you’re spending energy on something and it isn’t productive, if it doesn’t increase your time, money, or energy, then you need to consider making a change.
Welcome discipline and routines into your life. The more decisions you can make automatic, the better your performance will be. The best version of this is when you can make those preparation moments restful (by making lunch for the next day with your partner or your children while talking about the day you had), so that you are not only preparing yourself to succeed by removing a decision from tomorrow’s equation, you’re actively restoring yourself.
Not all rests are made equal.
Some things that many people do to “rest” aren’t restful at all and actually, worsen their mental health and decrease their energy. There is an element of subjectivity here, examine your life and think deeply about what things you engage in when you aren’t at work. Do you feel more refreshed, more energized, more capable of doing what you want to do afterwards? If the answer is no, then it isn’t truly restful.
Resting to recharge is vitally important, and it takes time. So we need to be careful about how we spend our time away from our work. We must ensure that those times rejuvenate us. Self-care and sleeping are far more important than finishing that series you’ve been watching.
Striking a balance
There is no universally true ratio of time, money, and energy to lead to a fulfilled life. For some people, like a chef in the prime of their career, having less free time isn’t a concern so long as they have money to invest and energy to spend doing the work that they love. For others, like parents who have just begun raising a child, time and energy to invest in their child is far more important than the money they might have spent on frivolous things before.
What is most important is to set your priority, and what that requires of you in terms of resources. Do you want to be a gifted writer? Consider the resources that will cost (time and energy, most of the time). Time to spend writing and energy to focus on it, and work to shape your days around that goal. The three pillar resources, when balanced correctly, can help us to achieve the goals we put before ourselves.
Show me where you spend your time, money and energy and I’ll tell you what you worship. – John Wimber
I feel like I don’t have enough time, no matter what I do. How can I find more?
Especially in the western world, humans love and value busyness. This might make our social media feeds interested to look at (why in the world do we expect ourselves to curate a stream of entertainment for our friends and acquaintances anyway?), but it doesn’t help us find satisfaction in life.
Make a list of all the things that take up your time in a week. Circle the things that are most important to you. Now, why are you doing the things that aren’t circled? If you can cut them out without unbalancing your life, do it. Also, unless you’re a parent of a young child, you can probably stand to get up an hour or two earlier in the morning. You’ll be amazed what even thirty minutes of time in the early morning can do for you.
I’m always drained, at work, at home, no matter what. What is wrong with me?
The answer to that is probably nothing that can’t be fixed. Do you find yourself constantly checking your phone, your social media feeds, especially late at night? Studies have suggested that having your phone turned off and put away for an hour before you try and sleep. It will dramatically increase your ability to go to sleep quickly and spend more time in those precious REM cycles that give us that energized, refreshed feeling.
Consider your diet. Are you eating well? Eating smaller meals five times a day can often be much better for your energy than eating three larger meals. Breakfast is vitally important as well. Eating early jump starts your metabolism and helps you digest the food you eat at lunch or dinner more effectively. This can keep that sleepy-afternoon feeling away.
Think about your mental health and your habits of self-care. Are you taking care of yourself? Eating is one part of this. But so is exercise and not being cooped up in your office or house all day. Make sure you’re trying new things, exploring the world around you. Consider seeing a therapist and discussing whether or not the lack of energy you feel is a symptom of depression. Or maybe constant stress is making you anxious. These things are endemic to our world, so there’s no sense in trying to knuckle through it. Ask the people around you for support.