We have long heard that time is money. But at the same time, we know that money does not necessarily bring happiness. Indeed, the quest for money can lead to a feeling of time poverty, which Canadian-born Harvard Business School professor Ashley Whillans says has become chronic in today’s society.

“Most of us, myself included, fail to value time as much as money. This focus on money contributes to epidemic levels of stress, unhappiness and loneliness that many societies struggle with,” she writes in her new book Time Smart.

You probably know if this applies to you or not. But to help, she asks you to consider two archetypes – Taylor and Morgan – and decide which is you:

Taylor values time more than money, so she would rather work fewer hours and make less money than work more hours and make more money.

Morgan values money more than time, so she would would rather work more hours and make more money than work fewer hours and have more time.

Research shows that people like Taylor are happier, healthier and more productive than people who value money over time. But she notes that most of us focus on money because we underestimate the value of our time, tell ourselves we will have more time tomorrow than we do right now (which isn’t usually true) and underestimate how long it will take us to complete our daily tasks.

The problem does not stem from societal pressures robbing us of time. Ms. Whillans found that most people actually have more time for leisure now than in the 1950s. “Time poverty doesn’t necessarily arise from a mismatch between the hours we have and the hours we need. It results from how we think about and value those hours. It’s as much psychological as structural,” she writes.

Leisure has never been less relaxing, in large part because of our many screens. Technology saves us time, but also paradoxically takes it away. Researchers refer to “time confetti,” as our concentration and time becomes scattered into little bits of seconds and minutes spent in unproductive multitasking.

The solutions can range from whether to take that money-saving red-eye flight to what job you accept and how much commuting you build into your life by where you choose to live. To build a time-affluent mindset, she urges you to take three steps:

  • Convince yourself that time is at least as important as money.
  • Remind yourself of those values when faced with critical decisions.
  • Make deliberate and strategic decisions that allow you to have more time – be it for today, this week, this month or many years.

Keep asking why – why am I doing this activity? What other option is there that will allow me more time? She investigated the possibility of taking an Uber to work every day instead of driving to free her up to read and listen to music and found that while it initially seemed extravagant, when she subtracted the cost of parking she was spending US$100 to gain back 15 hours a month – and getting rid of her daily coffee-shop purchases could help fund that time relief.

She warns that in trying to find and fund time, people can become so overzealous they pack their schedules too tight. So she encourages you to schedule slack time, allowing for spontaneity. Create explicit intentions that can help you make better use of time. So instead of saying you want to read more books – which may never happen – be explicit, saying you will use your commute to read more books.

We constantly make decisions between money and time. Keep in mind that choosing money is not necessarily the wise move.

The Globe and Mail, October 8, 2020