How much do you value your time?

by Pop on March 6, 2011

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The pain of being paid by the hour.

Would you work less time for less money?

I would. I’d take a 20% pay cut to never work another Friday again without hesitation.

I don’t get paid hourly, but if I did, I might answer differently. In a study of U.S. Census data a couple years ago, Stanford professor Jeffrey Pfeffer and University of Toronto prof Sanford DeVoe found that workers who get paid hourly would work more to get paid more, if given the choice. That answer held true even when the professors controlled for income, age, marital status, gender and educational attainment.

What might be happening? When you work hourly, it seems you think of time in terms of billable hours. When a lawyer watches his kid’s baseball game, he’s ticking away in his head the $100 an hour he could be earning by working.

We non-hourly folks don’t have as strong a connection between the hours we work and the money we earn. No time cards to file. No overtime to earn. But no penalty for working less time than usual either.

But Pfeffer and DeVoe found that you could make exempt employees (that’s HR-speak for “salaried”) feel just as harried as the hourly workers, simply by making us calculate our hourly wages. So somebody who makes a $100,000 per year salary is more likely to opt to work more for more money if you tell him he’s making $48 per hour.

And that will seriously stress you out.

But let’s get back to your kid’s baseball game. You should be enjoying time spent watching your son or daughter, not stressing over income that you lose by not working at that moment. Unfortunately, that’s exactly what hourly workers supposedly do.

Another Pfeffer/DeVoe collaboration discovered that getting a raise made people more impatient. If the value of your time goes up, you felt greater pressure not to waste it.

So, in effect, that lawyer has less fun at the kid’s baseball game if he makes $150 per hour than if he makes $100 per hour, because now he values his time more.

I’m waiting for the study that shows a causal link between making more money and spending less time on frivolous, “low value” activities, like watching T.V. Maybe it’s the high salary that keeps people from sitting in front of the tube, rather than the T.V.-watching that leads to the low salary.

One solution? Delegation.

Since I began a new job several months ago, I’ve felt much more time pressure. I do get paid more, but I’d like to think I actually have less time, too.

So far, I’ve dealt with it in a few different ways. Method number one was that self-imposed penalty if I didn’t work on the blog that I’ve talked too much about.

While I did complete the six-month term of that contract while hitting my goal of two posts per week, it made clear to me that my time scarcity was not just an illusion brought on by poor focus but an actual time crunch.

I’ve done a few things to try to rectify that.

— I cut cable (but getting a gift of Netflix did not help one bit).

— I’ve pushed back just a tad at work, not doing things at home that I’d normally have done just to get ready for the next day.

— Lastly, I’ve tuned down the number of posts on this blog to one per week, and I haven’t really put much effort into growing it by writing guest posts, etc.

It’s the cutting down on PopEc, that bothers me the most, because I really enjoy doing it. So I’ve been trying to think of ways to cut down on the other stuff to bring some of the Pop back.

If you feel like you’ve cut out as much work and as much low-value fun time as you possible can, the only other solution is to farm out some of the necessary stuff to somebody else. So for the first time, I’ve (gulp) started to use a personal assistant.

My first month with an assistant

No, it’s not the hard-core, $35,000-per-year dedicated kind. Instead, I pay $35-per-month for an assistant to take 15 tasks off my hands that can be done over the phone or internet. I picked FancyHands in part because I saw the owner give his spiel in person, but there are a lot of options out there.

If you haven’t used a personal assistant before, you won’t believe how difficult delegation is at the beginning. It’s not a natural thought process to think, “My assistant could do this,” instead of just doing it yourself.

My first tasks were simple restaurant reservations. Yes, it takes me about as long to type out the request in an e-mail as it would take to call myself. However, it lets me decide when to spend time to make that reservation. I can write out the task at 3 AM and let someone else remember to call the restaurant when it opens the next day.

I’ve also tried them out for more intensive tasks. Last month, I was in the market to buy a limited edition print by a certain artist as a gift. Galleries are notoriously bad about listing current inventory online and almost never post prices. So the assistant called up nine or so galleries in the NY area to see what was available and at what cost. That would have taken me hours and was worth more than $35 in itself.

It’s still a process though. If you’re similarly clueless about delegating, check out this great How-To by Inc. or hilarious narrative in Esquire where the writer literally delegated his entire life to assistants in India.

My Fancy Hands assistants are based in North America—communicating with native English speakers saves a lot of explanation time. Anyway, check them out, if getting those extra hours back in the day is worth the money to you, too. (N.B. That’s a referral link that gets me a free month of service, rather than money, if you sign up.)

Didn’t mean for that to be a long commercial. But maybe, just maybe, a little delegation will help me get back that last hour in the day and spend more time here.

In the meantime, how do you get back hours in your day? I’m obviously looking for ideas.


{ 78 comments… read them below or add one }

Daniel Reeves March 6, 2011 at 11:50 pm

I think most important is to cut down on things that suck up more of your time than you mean them to (commenting on blog posts?).

That means tracking where your time is going. But there’s a big problem with time tracking tools:
You either have to be completely OCD about logging or use your own highly unreliable perceptions of where your time is going. Attempts like RescueTime [] that auto-infer your time usage based on what applications or web pages you have open really seem to miss the boat for me. You might be hashing out an API design over email, working out an algorithm on paper, or testing your Facebook app in, surprise, Facebook. There’s no automated test to distinguish wasted time from productive time!

The other extreme, obsessive logging, doesn’t actually cut it either (for me anyway). If someone comes by and distracts you, it’s not always realistic to punch out on your time tracking tool. Or if you just space out and start daydreaming about sugarplumbs, you can’t capture that. (By definition, if you could think to clock out then it wasn’t spacing out!) Maybe I have attention deficit disorder or something but time-tracking never worked well for me.

I wanted something completely passive that doesn’t try to automatically infer what you’re doing. You might think “completely passive without automatic inference” is an oxymoron. But I hit on an almost magical solution: randomness. The idea is to randomly sample yourself. At unpredictable [1] times, a box pops up and asks: what are you doing right at this moment? You answer with tags. At first this yields noisy estimates but they’re unbiased and over time plenty accurate. It’s just a matter of getting a big enough sample size. It doesn’t work for fine-grained tracking but over the course of a week or longer, it gives you a better picture of where your time goes than anything else can.

My co-hacker, Bethany Soule, and I have been using this — as a collection of perl scripts — for a few years and just recently decided to put it on github and recruit fellow nerds to help us turn it into something useful for non-nerds. Note to non-nerds: it’s not there yet! For nerds:

[1] The key to making it fully unpredictable — knowing exactly when you were pinged you in the past tells you nothing about when it will ping you in the future — is to use a memoryless distribution. I.e., it should ping you according to a Poisson process [].

Rob Bennett March 7, 2011 at 8:46 am

You mention the one thing I ever did that made a big difference — canceling cable.

It would make me happy if I could get by on less sleep. I think that one is genetic — some people need more than others. I don’t think clearly on less than seven hours of sleep and I need eight to feel refreshed.

We all love your blog regardless of how often it shows up, Pop!


Kathryn March 7, 2011 at 2:13 pm

Work isn’t such a big deal to me. I’m salaried, I don’t take my job home with me, and while I’m committed to doing a great job, I’m NOT committed to living my job.

The area in which I’m really posessive about my time is my down time. I’m busy enough with school, work, kids, critters, friends, church, exercise, boyfriend (and thus boyfriend’s kids), and maintaining a home that finding time to do nothing on my own can be daunting. TV? A nap? Those are delicious and rare moments. These are becoming the things for which I might be willing to pay a little extra.

Kyle March 7, 2011 at 5:04 pm

I’m paid by the hour and I used to find that result to be true. That I would work more hours for more pay if given the chance. However, my company adopted a policy 2 years ago that basically meant that I couldn’t work overtime any more.

Since then I’ve come to the realization that if given the choice, I would take a 20% pay cut to take one day off a week. They’re in the process of rolling back that policy, but I don’t think I’m going to start working more overtime, even if I will get paid more for it.

Matt March 7, 2011 at 5:14 pm

“how do you get back hours in your day?”

Me, I got them back when I started meditating. It really helped me to start the discipline of carving out a chunk of time every day to do a specific activity that was important to me. I gradually started noticing that it was crowding out other stuff I didn’t care about as much (TV, specifically), and it made it clear what other activities I *did* care about (aikido practice, in my case). It made it easier to drop some things and emphasize others.

So based on my experience, I’d suggest taking up a calm daily practice, maybe not meditation if that’s uninteresting to you, but a consistent 30 minutes a day for reading a good book, going for a quiet walk, playing a game with a kid, something you really value. And then pay attention to what effect that dedicated time has on your other activities; what are you dropping in favor of that important activity?

Yes; gain more hours by spending even *more* time! Sounds contradictory, but it worked for me :)

I think trying to pick up spare minutes by outsourcing would just make me feel more harried, and add to the list of things I feel I should be doing something about.

Jan March 7, 2011 at 5:30 pm

My son in law works hourly. He does not get any pay when:
there is an icestorm and work is closed
my daughter and their child are both sick and someone needs to help
he is ill
they want to go on vacation.
His pay is HUGE in comparison to what mine is.
Still, I am finding that he tends to miss two or three days a month doing things that usually only takes an hour or so.
I think the burn out is much greater in an hourly not salary situation.

krantcents March 7, 2011 at 8:32 pm

Hourly people are supposed to support salaried people. They are supposed to be directed to do things that make salaried people more effective. In many cases, it is just as effective for the salaried person to do the task him/herself. It only makes sense when the tasks are repetitive and routine in nature to pass it on to an hourly person. In many cases, you have take time to show them what you want them to do. I like what I do, so I look forward to go to work. I try to be effective and efficient in my routines. I have to be, I get very little administrative support.

Emmy March 7, 2011 at 10:42 pm

I’m a wage slave, and I probably would work a little more if my company didn’t HATE overtime. Sometimes I do think of it in terms of, “Oh, it’ll take me two and a half hours to earn back the money those new jeans cost.” When it’s slow at work, though, I tend to leave early because the money I would make in that last hour of the day is small compared to how much I’d rather be out with friends or at home watching movies on my couch. Of course, my paycheck doesn’t really inspire a great deal of joy OR stress. It’s too small!

Hel March 7, 2011 at 10:45 pm

For most of college, I had both an hourly wage job (overnight facilitator at a homeless shelter) and a salaried job (technology/teaching assistant). The salaried job always felt like less work, because I only had to work as long as it took to get what I needed to do done. I eventually just had the hourly job (the professor I was TAing for retired), and at that point I started valuing my “free” time much higher, because it was fixed. I couldn’t just work faster or harder or smarter on something and get it done sooner (or work on it at home), like I’d been able to with the salaried job. Now, I had to be at work for a set number of hours on a set schedule. This led to me being way more willing to spend money than time on things, even tho I now had much less money than I’d had while working both jobs, because time was my far more limited resource.

Elysia March 8, 2011 at 10:09 am

Re: Krankcents “Hourly people are supposed to support salaried people” — I am not sure where you get this idea. There may be some jobs where this is true, but certainly not all. My job is hourly. My company is pretty much all hourly. We’re all professionals with very few administrative/support staff. And nearly all of us work from a home office.
Here’s what I experience – in order for me to have a reliable budget that I can count on, I must work at least X hours a month. I have six paid holidays and five sick days a year. My vacation days are calculated based on both the number of hours I’ve worked in a month and the total hours I’ve worked at the company (so you can accumulate more time off the longer you stay at the company).
This makes me very, very conscious of my vacation days. It also makes me quite hesitant to use my holidays… I only have one every two months! Then again, I have a spouse and two relatively young children. I have keep my household going as well. It can be hard to balance that and the work that is waiting for me any time I want to go back to it…

Miles Goodwin April 28, 2011 at 11:37 am

As a practicing attorney for over 30 years, I can attest to your comment about the more you get paid per hour, the harder you work. Although the increase in pay is one motivation, there seems to also be an unintended consequence, i.e., if you are not billing, you feel like you are wasting time (the example of the attorney at the ball game is all too true). It gets to be dangerous if a person’s ego and feeling of self worth becomes tied to the hourly rate. “I bill, therefore I am.” becomes a trap.

After the kids were out of college, I decided that time was becoming more important than money. I started taking Mondays off. An added benefit to Mondays as opposed to Fridays was that there was no longer the Sunday afternoon/early evening “slump”. I no longer was faced with the “I’ve got to go to work tomorrow” feeling that usually dampened the enjoyment of the second half of the second day of a weekend.

Also, I started a blog on investment books in an effort to acquaint individual investors with the books which can truly help a person learn how to handle stock purchases based on something other than emotion or tips from in-laws.

This is my first visit to your site. My compliments.

Miles Goodwin

horti April 28, 2011 at 2:12 pm

Hello I can feel that as I have gotten older and yes I am on salary (age 48) that my time is much more important than the money I can or could be making at this moment. I work with radiation oncologist and as rewarding as my job is I would still prefer to to have more quality time with my family. I also agree that most people should find something they enjoy doing and make it part of your life each and every day. Money is not everything in this world although it does take money to move the world, but what good is working for increased income if you cant enjoy the benefits.

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