Ever miss an exit on the highway? Doesn’t it seem that the few minutes it takes to go to the next exit, cross over, find the on-ramp in the other direction, and get back to where you should have turned off in the first place seems like an eternity? Not just an eternity, but an personal affront at the loss of life-span?

Time’s funny that way. Ten minutes recovering from a navigation boo-boo is a travesty, while a couple hours idled away watching television reruns is nothing.

Why might this be? Fact is, we are liberal with the time that we decide to expend, and stingy when it’s burned against our will. It’s why we get so wound up when people steal tiny bits of our time. Your friend who’s always late, the person driving slowly in the left lane, the co-worker who has no awareness of how busy you may be, the person ahead of you at the supermarket who waits until the last minute to fish around for a credit card, the customer who hasn’t figured his order out when he reaches the counter, and many others, prioritize their own time above yours. Courtesy, as important a social lubricant as there is, imposes upon each of us an obligation to be respectful of others’ time, and it is when that obligation is violated, either willfully or negligently, that we are often prompted to sharp spikes of rage.

Most of us don’t mind those bits of time waste if the culprit is demonstrating a legitimate effort to move things along expeditiously. A single mother with four kids trying to get off an airplane ahead of us is of no bother if she’s working hard to wrangle them. If she displays indifference, however, or worse, the entitled apathy of “I’ve got four kids, what do you expect me to do…” people have suffered strokes over such affronts.

Thing is, we should mind, at least a bit, even when the waste/theft is mitigated by genuine effort. Not necessarily to lay blame on the maker of that genuine effort, but we should recognize the loss. Time is the scarcest resource there is.

Yes, it’s ours to waste, and yes, few people can survive their lives without down time or just frittering it away on occasion, but even those wastes should have some purpose. We should all manage our time better.

An old lesson from business school comes to mind.

Work can be broken down into four categories:

1 – That which you do that advances your goals.
2 – That which you do that advances others’ goals (e.g your boss).
3 – That which others do that advances your goals.
4 – That which others do that advances others goals (e.g. your co-workers for your boss).

The secret to success, whether it be in the corporate world, in a small business, in self-employment, or in investing, is to maximize #3. Time is the scarcest resource, and the best thing to do is harness others’ time for your benefit. That, in turn, is best accomplished by finding ways to make that time also work to their benefit. If you’ve got people working for you, the jobs they do should advance their own goals as well as your own. This is win-win, it builds respect and loyalty, and it makes everyone happier.

It’s also a winning strategy for building wealth. Many have said that no one ever got rich working 9 to 5. Or, more broadly, working for a wage. That wage, the translation of an hour of your life into cash, is wholly dependent on and wholly limited to the hours of your life that you devote to work. When you can make money from other people’s time, however, the sky is the limit. Save some money and invest it somewhere – a business (yours or another’s), stocks, bonds, whole life insurance, or even an interest-bearing savings account, and you put other people’s time to work for you. That’s what everyone who starts a business does, as well, even if it’s a one-person shop that subcontracts manufacturing or services, and that’s what everyone who’s ever created something that earns royalties does. Other people’s time (traded in exchange for compensation), magicked by compound interest, is how people become wealthy.

People constantly steal your time. They may do so consciously or unconsciously, and out of indifference, carelessness, or selfishness (and, occasionally, malice). The why is less important than the act itself, and our social upbringing, our desire to be polite and accommodating, enables the worst offenders. We may take enormous umbrage from others’ callous wasting of our time, but we rarely get upset with the biggest waster of our time: ourselves. While down and idle time are essential to mental health, lets be honest – most of us waste a lot of time. Recognizing this, honestly, is a good and worthwhile thing to do.

Space I can recover. Time, never. — Napoleon Bonaparte

Peter Venetoklis

About Peter Venetoklis

I am twice-retired, a former rocket engineer and a former small business owner. At the very least, it makes for interesting party conversation. I'm also a life-long libertarian, I engage in an expanse of entertainments, and I squabble for sport.

Nowadays, I spend a good bit of my time arguing politics and editing this website.

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