Making Value-Based Time Decisions in Your Personal Life

By Dirk Zeller

Although personal time may seem straightforward, there really is a difference between chores and leisure activities, and the way you approach your time‐management decisions hinges on that difference. When you consider the way you live your personal life, divide your focus into two categories: chores/responsibilities, and leisure time.

However you spend your personal time, you can assign that time a value equal to your work worth — even though no one’s paying you — to help you decide how to spend it.

Deciding whether to buy time: Chores and responsibilities

When you have a handle on the value of your time in hourly increments, you have the information you need to make better time choices. The chores have to be done, whether you do them, or delegate, or even pay someone else to do them. The question with chores is whether you want to do them yourself or to exchange dollars for someone else to do them.

You have to ask, “Is the cost of the time this task would take me greater than or less than the cost to hire someone to do the work?” Here, you’re simply comparing numbers. Think of the laundry list of household chores and personal errands that can eat up every bit of personal time you have. If you could pay someone to do some of those tasks at a rate equal to or well below your hourly rate, wouldn’t that be a good return on investment?

All time in life is a trade. You are trading your time for something you desire, want, or need. The evaluation is based on your value of time and enjoyment of a particular action or activity. If you have all kinds of free time on the weekend — and you enjoy being out in the yard — paying someone else to cut your grass may be a money‐time trade that has no value for you.

If you love to garden but hate cleaning the house, and cleaning the house takes you 4 hours ($200 if your time is worth $50 per hour), why not pay a housecleaning service $70, $80, even $100 to buy back the four hours it’d take you to do it all? And you buy yourself four blissful hours puttering over your zinnias and scarlet runner beans.

Making time-spending decisions: Leisure activities

With leisure activities, your decision simply hinges on whether you want to do them at all. Unlike chores, which you have to deal with in some way, you can get away with forgoing certain pastimes. When you’re faced with decisions on whether to accept an invitation or volunteer for a committee or do any other activity, that can affect your leisure time.

Looking at rewards

A leisure activity has to bring you as much joy or value as your hourly income rate. Some things you do will be priceless, whereas others are worthless or even less than worthless because they drain you rather than fill you up. So with leisure activities, you aren’t comparing numbers — you simply decide whether a given activity is worth your hourly value. Consider the value of the activity in terms of

  • Your personal enjoyment

  • The service you want to do for someone

  • The support to those who are less fortunate than yourself

  • The desire to pay it forward

  • The legacy you want to leave to others

Factoring in monetary and time costs

Another factor to consider when choosing leisure activities is the cost of your free time. Often, that time isn’t so free — you undertake activities that require some recreational funds. When you have to pay to enjoy certain ­recreational or leisure activities, take the cost of the activity and add it to the monetary time‐cost you’d have to pay for the activity. In short, would you pay the cost in your hourly value (plus any costs of the activity itself) to ­participate in that activity?

Say your income equates to $35 an hour. If an acquaintance you’re not all that crazy about invites you to her jewelry party on a weeknight, you’d be looking at, say, a two‐hour cost of $70, plus any money you’d spend while there. Should you go? Probably not, if this acquaintance really isn’t someone you prefer to spend your time with.

Or how about this scenario? A local nonprofit asks you to be on a committee that requires an average of ten hours per month. Total value: $350 worth of your time each month. Is the value earned from your time donation worth the cost to you? How does it factor into your overall goals? Do you enjoy being on the committee and do you feel passionate about the nonprofit’s mission? Do you have other more important things you have to tend to first?

The money‐to‐time‐value consideration extends to even the seemingly most mundane of activities — for example, dining out. Going out to a two‐hour dinner with a family of four may rack up $80 or more. If you earn $80 in one hour, this may seem like a fair trade — you’re paying $80 for something that would cost you $160 in time.

But if your income is $20 per hour, you’re essentially paying $80 for something that’s worth only $40 in time. That may seem steep for a midweek convenience grab; however, if you’re celebrating your child’s first straight‐A report card, it may feel like a fairer trade.

How about a week of vacation? Travel, hotel, and food on the road can add up fast. If you and your partner total up $3,000 in expenses for a beach resort getaway, at $80 an hour, that’s 37.5 hours — not quite a week’s worth of work hours . . . and not a bad deal, you may think.

The fact of the matter is this: The decision of whether an activity is worth its cost is completely subjective. That idea is certainly empowering and freeing, as long as you make conscious choices about where you dole out your hours.

Staying open to experiences and using time wisely

The process of evaluating your leisure time is meant to help you use your time well, not to limit your experiences. If you’re unsure about a certain activity but you had fun and found it worthwhile in the past, you should probably go. Also consider going if it’s part of your current or future goals. If you enjoy the people but not an activity, you can suggest a change of venue and make the outing more worthwhile.

If you give up activities and find yourself mindlessly wasting the time you gained in front of the TV or online, you likely need more clarity in your goals. Or your goals may not be compelling enough.