In the summer and fall of 2011, shortly after completing my two-year degree, I worked as a secretary for a local masonry company. Among other inane tasks, I was asked to salvage scrap paper from printed pages that were no longer needed, by cutting the blank portions with scissors. Explaining that this was not a task worth $9.00 per hour was surprisingly fruitless. It seems that simply understanding the time-value of money may be a threshold concept for some.
As we progress through life, if we have any inkling toward personal growth, doubtlessly our time becomes progressively more precious. Tasks that previously seemed a good use of our time are simply no longer worthwhile. Hence, my time will henceforth be forever too valuable to do X. (While I do not wish to delve into interpersonal interactions here, this principle could apply to them as well.)
Making this determination is hard. Friends and family may protest against our newfound “laziness” or reticence (e.g., the construct of social drag discussed by Pavlina, 2006). However, the alternative is far worse—selling ourselves short by wasting precious, nonrenewable time on low-impact tasks is a travesty, perhaps remaining concealed to many people due to a conceptual learning curve.
It is said that people who grew up in the Great Depression often retained their fixed, scarcity-based mindsets in middle- and old-age, even when achieving high income and material abundance. That is, they would continue to do dumb things to save money, like reusing napkins or refusing to part with broken items. Motivational financial writer, Ramit Sethi, characterizes this as the dichotomy between spending less and earning more, and argues people are too focused on cutting back, even though the return-on-investment (ROI) for cutting back is often far lower than increasing one’s income. Similarly, the ROI on many of our personal, ingrained habits is often far less than our usual hourly income, yet we fail to recognize this. This is perhaps a form of financial illiteracy, and certainly a psychological quirk that largely hinders us.
From brainstorming at my keyboard, I came up with the following examples of things one’s time might be too valuable to do. Not all of these apply to me—as a lowly graduate student, I obviously haven’t reached the point of outsourcing my laundry and grocery shopping, but I recognize that when I achieve a six-figure income, I probably won’t be interested in doing these mundane tasks (in fact, it would then be antithetical to social justice to waste time on them, because a highly skilled person’s debt to society can never be repaid via low-impact tasks).
My time will henceforth be forever too valuable to …
… clip coupons
… scrape the last bit of food out of a can, jar, or other container
… roll coins
… receive pointless emails
… receive pointless phone calls
… go grocery shopping
… do laundry
… use laced shoes
… do yard work
… play video games
… peel sunflower seeds
… collect scrap metal, bottles, or cans
… do other people’s work
… put others’ interests before my own
… use cheap, crappy products
… keep clothes that don’t fit me
… reuse cooking oil
… put off upgrading or replacing essential items
… save junk for unspecified potential future use
… put up with bullshit (if I don’t have to)
From this proposition, two questions immediately emerge: 1.) regression (not the statistical version) and 2.) environmentalism.
1.) What about when one regresses, for example, due to being laid off or retiring?
Yes, if one’s income goes down or one’s propensity toward greatness falters, tasks that were previously a waste of time may become worthwhile again. However, this does not mean they were always worthwhile, nor that they might not become a waste of time again. The idea that retirement should be relegated to low-impact tasks is sad and unnerving. At the pinnacle of one’s achievements, with decades of accumulated wisdom, why would puttering in the garden be an option? Surely if one derives immense personal satisfaction, it may be a worthy endeavor, but few retirees are satisfied by busywork.
2.) What about the environmental impact of the wastefulness you are advocating?
For people who are highly skilled and charismatic, more good can be achieved by focusing their efforts on high-impact tasks, even if other areas of life produce more landfill pollution and carbon emissions. Consequently, it may not be hypocritical for an environmental advocate to jet-set around the world giving speeches; in fact, said actions may lead to returns that are orders of magnitude greater than the requisite costs. While I will not advocate for wanton wastefulness, within reason, a hard-working and highly skilled person is more valuable when employed at full capacity. There will always be plenty of low-skilled people to willingly perform low-impact tasks, with commensurate compensation.
Ponder on what has changed in your life in recent months or years. What activities, tasks, or even people is your time now too valuable to spend on? This is not to say that volunteering is bad, but you must be volunteering for the things that are right for you. Think: my time will henceforth be forever too valuable to do X. What are your X’s?