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Time affluence

Dr. Sonia likes the finer things in life.  She walks into her clinic dressed in the latest fashions, having just gotten out of her brand new Tesla that she drove from the exquisite example of architectural brilliance that she calls home.

Can you picture her?  Her bespoke outfit complements her eyes, her make-up is perfect, and her face is framed by hair that is styled at the best salon in the city. Her expression is happy, confident, content – right?

Maybe not.

Time poor

Like many doctors, Sonia works a lot.  She works so much she can barely remember the last time she felt truly relaxed.  There’s always more that needs to be done but there just aren’t enough hours in the day.

Sonia is affluent.  She works hard, can afford a decadent lifestyle, and enjoys those luxuries. They are the reward she has earned for working so hard, and the motivation that keeps her working.

But the best measure of affluence might not be in dollars, but hours.

Sonia is money-rich but time-poor.

A “normal” famine

Unfortunately, this is the norm, and it likely means Sonia’s inner life is far less pristine than her outer one.  Research shows that time affluence, the feeling of having enough hours in the day to do what you want to do, is at an all-time low.  In fact, our time deficit is so severe that many experts are calling it “time famine”.

I could count on one hand the number of doctors I know who are time affluent, but the ones who are “so busy!”, exhausted, and on the verge of burnout could fill a medical school.  Being overworked is the norm, not just in medicine, but in our culture as a whole.   In fact, time famine is more common among higher than lower earners, despite the fact that, presumably, higher earners have more options.  We want to be seen as “hard workers”, even if it means sacrificing our own happiness. 

The effects of time famine

And, let’s be clear, we are sacrificing our happiness.  Research shows that people who feel time-poor have lower happiness and higher levels of anxiety and depression.  What’s more, they are less physically fit, less healthy overall, and even have higher rates of divorce.  They laugh less, are more stressed, and less productive at work.  Time stress is worse for happiness than being unemployed.

The sad irony

But here’s the irony: even though the average person feels like they’re working longer hours, the data tells a different story – we actually have more discretionary time than ever.  In the last 50 years leisure time has risen by about 7 hours per week.  So, why do we feel so starved for time?

The answer for most people is money.  We trade our time for money because we think more money will make us happier.

But it doesn’t.  Research shows consistently that the happiest people prioritize time over money.  Time to spend on relationships, fitness, meaningful hobbies and philanthropy fills the happiness tank far more than mansions and Maserati’s.  So, why don’t we prioritize time over money?

Scarcity and value

It comes down to value.  To understand this, it helps to be aware of something called “Commodity Theory”, which states that if a resource is perceived as valuable, it is also perceived as scarce.  This cognitive bias would have excellent evolutionary advantages when resources actually were scarce.  It’s almost like we don’t know what to do with ourselves in this age of abundance.

A scarcity mindset describes how our thinking changes when we feel like we don’t have enough of something that we need.  We get tunnel vision on that one thing.  Everything inside the tunnel becomes crystal clear.  But all the other things that make for a complete life that live outside that tunnel are neglected.

We think, “Time is valuable.  I need more time!”

But we also think, “Money is valuable.  I’ll just work a little more.”

The conflict is obvious.  The solution may not be.  But I’ll take a stab at it.  

Clarifying questions

I think the solution takes the form of questions rather than answers:  Why is time valuable to me?  Why is money valuable to me?  What are time and money for?

Here’s what I think.  Time is a container, maybe 80 or 90 years, if we’re lucky, to fill with deeds and activities that make our journey bearable and might leave the universe just a little bit better for us having lived it.  Money is, at its best, a tool to aid us in those efforts.  

Perhaps your answers will be different, but I’ll bet you won’t have to dig too deep to discover that time and money share a common purpose for you.

And that purpose might reveal a simple fact:  we can learn to manage our money so we don’t run out, but we’re all going to run out of time.  Unlike money, time is not scarce because it’s valuable, it’s valuable because it’s scarce.  The highest purpose of money is to give us the ability to use our time wisely.

If you want to learn more about your relationship with time and money as a physician and how to create a financial plan that will allow you to focus on what really matters to you, please consider registering for a moneySmartMD course.

If you know someone who could use a little more “time affluence”, please feel free to forward them a link to this blog:

This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. Mark S

    Excellent! The story you gave in the course about the fisherman and the businessman was profoundly memorable, and I believe shows how money is a means to an end, the end being a life fulfilled and well lived. A lot of times, the most important things in life are things that money can’t buy, and even serves as a distraction to those treasured things. Good read!

    1. Matt

      Awesome to see you here on the blog, Mark. “Money is a means to an end” – exactly. But it’s an absolutely essential means to accomplish those “important things”. If we understand it, we can use it well. Yes, I realize I just paraphrased your comment 😉

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